Both are respected because they overachieve and are mentally tough. Both are seen as the little guy that plays bigger than they are. Utah and their former wideout Steve Smith have made the sports media take notice of their success, but they still do not receive their just due. Utah is the only undefeated team in the FBS and has just beaten Alabama in the Sugar Bowl yet they will finish behind one-loss Florida or Oklahoma or USC or Texas in the final polls. Steve Smith returned from an early suspension to finish 3rd in the NFL in receiving yards and made multiple big catches down the stretch, but many people do not mention him as one of the elite receivers in the league. I would only rank Larry Fitzgerald above him as the one receiver I would want on my team right now. Ever since Smith was at Utah, the two schools have experienced a rise to the pinnacles of their respective categories yet they get short-handed; Utah out of a national championship, Smith out of respect in the NFL. Steve was on the sidelines to watch his Utes in the Sugar Bowl, and he no doubt had a huge grin on his face at the end. I'm sure Smith had a chance to talk with some of the Utah players before the game and they drew inspiration from him and as the Panthers begin their playoff run, Smith can draw inspiration from the Utes.
The aftermath of media coverage following the Sugar Bowl really grinds my gears. Those that want to discount the Utes from the national title discussion are arguing from both sides of their mouths. The first point to be made is that many people who claim to be knowledgeable about college football have not even seen the team play before the Sugar Bowl. Worse yet is that people who vote in the Harris Poll, a poll that factors into the complex and nonsensical BCS formula failed to view a Utah game as pointed out by Dan Wetzel. These people are responsible for determining who the best teams in the country are and they have no clue what is going on besides from the games they watch on mainstream TV or see the highlights of. Stop and ask yourself, how many Utah games have you seen this year? I watched the Oregon State game the week after the Beavers knocked off USC(which according to the pundits does not count for much because it was at home and Utah only won by 3), I saw them grind out a tough win over TCU, and Catfish and I made it a point to find a sports bar to watch the game against BYU which secured their spot in the BCS. I have no say in the national championship but at least I have watched the Utes play multiple games this year.
Yes Utah did struggle in conference games this year, but they won. If margin of victory and style points are going to become the basis for pollsters to pick teams, why even play the games in the first place, just have a vote American Idol style on who people think should be the best teams. The point is Utah won every contest they played, if you want to look at numbers stare at the 0 in the loss column. The Boise State weak schedule argument does not apply as the Utes played four top 25 opponents. Also, if people had bothered to find the BYU game on the Mountain Network, they would have seen how Utah was playing at the end of the year. The Utes thrashing of the Cougars in a heated rivalry game displayed clear evidence of what they could do to Alabama; they hit, they tackle, they have speed and they are strong up front on both sides of the ball.
The credit for the victory in the Sugar Bowl, which I know a lot of people did not watch since it was not an enticing match-up and fell on a Friday night, was a back-handed compliment at best. Despite few people giving Utah a chance to win the game because Alabama was just too strong, the excuse was then laid out that the Tide was disenchanted about missing a title shot and not giving their best effort. This puzzles me. You are saying that these bowl games are a showcase for the conferences and shows which programs are for real yet if the supposedly SEC powerhouse loses it is because the game means nothing. If these games are pointless why the hell are we playing them and don't crap out and say money I am talking in context of the sport's bowl system. The Sugar Bowl was not close, Utah blew up Alabama on both lines and the Crimson Tide secondary had no answer for Freddie Brown and the receivers. John Parker Wilson was put on his back 8 times and picked twice. Brian Johnson, whom no one discussed this year as a good quarterback despite finishing just shy of 3,000 yards and throwing 27 TDs, threw for 336 and 3 TD on a elite SEC defense. Alabama without a doubt suffered from the suspension of Andre Smith, but it was not a outcome-altering difference.
It is being said that Utah should just be happy to get a slice of the pie, especially by the "big" names at ESPN. On the very day the bowl match-ups were announced Kirk Herbstreit was asked if the Utes or similar teams would ever deserve a title shot. Kirk, who I do find insightful and wise when it comes to college football analysis, slapped every team not in the BCS in the face by saying they do not deserve it or never will due to who they play on their schedules. It is not my intent to attack Herbstreit but rather his attitude about non-BCS schools like Utah who prove themselves throughout the season and fail to lose a game. Why should Utah be denied a shot at the title? They put the tough games on their schedule and proved it on the field and when every one of their games finished they were ahead on the scoreboard. The disturbing effect of the BCS conference-only thought process is that when a worthy team like Utah comes along or whatever incarnation it is in the future, from the outset of the season that team is going to be told they have zero chance to play for a national championship. As talented assistants take their first coaching jobs in non-BCS conferences and as more talented players choose non-big name programs in order to secure playing time schools like Utah and Boise State will continue to improve.
The final contention we are hearing from the mainstream media is that if Utah were to get a chance to play a big program for the title such as USC, Florida or Oklahoma, then the Utes would not even be favored to win. They love to spout off about, "Would you bet on Utah to win that game?" Of course a betting man would choose the traditional powers, and right now I don't think Vegas would have anyone favored over the Trojans. But isn't that what is great about sports? Utah would only have to win one game, on the field. I believe Utah could beat any of those teams in a one time scenario if they played like they did against Bama. If the other sports took college football's attitude then we never would have had Jimmy V in '83, the Giants of last year, or the wild card in baseball. Right now FBS has only 65 of its teams eligible for the title, 66 if you include Notre Dame. The rest of the teams are playing for a spot in a bowl game telecast a week before Christmas or a week after New Year's or a possible BCS game that is "just an exhibition". It can be said that Utah may not be as good on paper as the other teams, but to say outright they would have no shot against them is ludicrous after the way they beat Alabama.