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Posted: Saturday January 3, 2009 2:44AM; Updated: Sunday January 4, 2009 6:41PM
Cory McCartney Cory McCartney >

Behind QB Johnson, Utah busted the BCS like no mid-major before

Story Highlights

This puts massive pressure on the powers that be to give mid-majors a title shot

Four years after watching Alex Smith's run at glory, Johnson enjoyed his moment

'Bama's loss puts a major damper on what has been a surprising turnaround

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Brian Johnson
Utah QB Brian Johnson earned game MVP honors after throwing for 336 yards and three touchdowns.
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NEW ORLEANS -- The small contingent of Utah fans chanted "No. 1, No. 1" as Brian Johnson stood bobbing back and forth on the podium erected on the Superdome field, his fingers held aloft in a "U."

Four years ago, Johnson, then a freshman, watched as Alex Smith led the original BCS busters to an unprecedented Fiesta Bowl win. But if Smith and Co. had thrown a stone at college football's elite, this David instead casted a boulder as No. 7 Utah (13-0) dominated No. 4 Alabama 31-17.

"We're the best team in the country," said Johnson, who completed 27 of 41 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns. "All we heard is how they were the better team. It was all about Alabama. Nobody thought we could do it -- the national pundits, no one."

There was good reason. This was an Alabama (12-2) team that carried the nation's No. 1 ranking for five weeks and was 15 minutes from playing for the BCS title. In '04, the Utes routed an overmatched, three-loss Pitt, and Boise State resorted to sandlot play-calling to stun Oklahoma in '06, but neither of those teams had faced a team from a conference that had so ardently believed itself to be head and shoulders above the rest of the BCS, let alone the mid-majors.

This is a different kind of respect than that of the past BCS busters; it's the kind that puts even more pressure on the powers that be to give mid-majors more than merely a seat at the BCS table, but a real shot at a national title, a chance Utah coach Kyle Whittingham believes his team shouldn't be denied.

"I don't know why they wouldn't' deserve consideration," he said. "Somebody explain to me why they wouldn't. There's only one undefeated team in the United States of America in Division I football."

Utah will end the season as the only unbeaten, but it stands a better chance of getting the winner of Florida-Oklahoma to commit to a Rocky III-like Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed battle behind closed doors (as one reported suggested to Whittingham), than to ever play for the actual title.

Because no matter how much we all say we root for the little guy, deep down it seems collectively we don't want stunning upsets to become commonplace.

A year after Hawaii's 41-10 beatdown at the hands of Georgia, which coincidentally also came in the Sugar Bowl, some began to question whether the new rules that made it easier for a mid-major to qualify for a BCS game had made it too easy. Entering Friday night's showdown, the Utes had beaten three teams ranked in the latest AP Top 25 (No. 11 TCU, No. 17 BYU and No. 24 Oregon State) and had a higher average computer ranking than the one-loss Tide, yet they were a double-digit underdog.

They also received added motivation from Alabama coach Nick Saban. After the SEC title game loss, Saban said that 'Bama was "the only team that plays in a real BCS conference that went 12-0, which is very difficult to do."

"I know from my perspective, I was angry, not just because of what Saban said, but because that we were 10 1/2-point underdog, people making comparisons to last year with Hawaii and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl," Johnson said. "It made me angry and we had a chance to go out and play with a chip on our shoulders."

Said Saban of the bulletin board material: "I guess if that gave them their motivation then I'm responsible for the way they played and I'm responsible for the way we played. I guess I'm responsible for the whole damn kit and kaboodle."

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