Block U: The Dawg Sports Interview

Because my last poll question generated so much interest, I decided to follow up on my report on the results of the voting by posing a few questions to fellow SportsBlogs Nation college sports weblogger Block U, who is good people, even if I think he is wrong to like Kristin Davis for her left-wing political views.

Does this wholesome all-American gal look like a raging liberal to you? (Photographs from Celevs.com.)

I sent several questions Block U's way and these were his responses:

Dawg Sports: Based upon the results of the recent Dawg Sports poll, it appears that the showdown between Utah and Texas Christian will be not just the game of the year in the Mountain West, but also the season's premiere contest between non-B.C.S. teams. How important is that one game to the national stature of the M.W.C. and of so-called "mid-major" conferences around the country? What impact, if any, will that game have on the national championship race?

Block U: It's difficult to predict how important this game is to the Mountain West Conference because no one really knows how good Utah or TCU will be when they meet later this year. I would like to think both teams are in the top-25 and if this is the case, it very well could be the most important game in conference history. I say this because the winner most likely would be favored to go on and play in a BCS bowl game, which would give the Mountain West two BCS bowl bids in three years. This is an important development because I believe it legitimizes the conference as a whole and would probably raise its standing within the BCS community. Couple that with the fact that if the new rules had been in place last season, TCU would have made it two straight BCS appearances for the Mountain West, a pretty astonishing feat considering that prior to 2004 no non-BCS had been able to crash the BCS party.

As for this being an important game for other non-BCS conferences, it very well could be. When non-BCS teams make national waves, I do believe it validates something all non-BCS fans have known for a long time, that there really are good teams outside of the BCS.

Whether the game will have national championship implications probably hinges on how the season progresses as a whole. I think it realistically will have minimal impact when it comes to deciding which teams play in the national championship. I say this with experience because in 2004, even with going 12-0, Utah was mostly left out of the national championship picture. Generally it was decided that Auburn had the most legitimate gripe when it came to playing in the title game, with little mention of Utah's legitimate gripe.

I do however think there might be a possible scenario in which the game could play a role in deciding which teams compete for the national championship. Though I admit that the following proposal is not likely to occur. What I think it would take would be not only for Utah to run the table, but UCLA to finish with no more than 3 losses and a top-25 ranking, with Boise State and TCU both finishing the season with their only losses at the hands of the Utes. That would most likely give Utah three wins over top-25 teams and possibly two wins over top-10 teams (assuming Boise State and TCU rise in the polls). But even then the Utes would most likely need every team in the country to finish the season with at least one loss. If, like in '04 and '05, two strong BCS teams finish undefeated (say Ohio State and Notre Dame), Utah's success, and their win over a possible top-10 TCU, would probably not be enough to get them into the championship game. However if Ohio State were to lose to Texas, who loses to Oklahoma, who has a loss or two themselves, I guess it's a possibility, but one that I would not believe to be possible until it actually happens. And even then, I might think of it as nothing more than a really sweet dream.

Dawg Sports: Assume that the Utes go undefeated in 2006. Will that guarantee Utah its second B.C.S. bowl berth in a three-year period? If not, what else will have to happen for a major bowl bid to come Utah's way?

Block U: If Utah went undefeated this season I would be shocked if they weren't invited to a major bowl game. In 2004 the Utes needed to finish 6th in the BCS rankings to be guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl game. However this year the rules are a bit more lenient, as Utah would only need to finish in the top-12 to be guaranteed a BCS bowl bid. Last year, with one loss, TCU finished in the top-12 of the BCS rankings and if today's rules had been applied back then, the Frogs would have been bowling in January.

In fact, I would say Utah could probably lose its opening game against UCLA and still have a shot at crashing the BCS, assuming they go undefeated and both Boise State and TCU have strong seasons.

Dawg Sports: T.C.U. joined the Mountain West last year and won the conference in its first season as a member. Is the league legitimized by the presence of a former Southwest Conference school or does the admission of a peripatetic league-to-league vagabond like Texas Christian harm the Mountain West's stature?

Block U: TCU was once an established football giant that saw their bottom fall out once college football's landscape changed in the 1950s. Currently the Frogs lack the stability offered to many teams and I think that has hurt their image. Since the late-90s, when the SWC broke apart, TCU has played in three different conferences. Yet they've also been able to sustain success over the past few years, even with the challenges of adapting to a new conference. I believe that the addition of TCU will only strengthen the Mountain West Conference as the strongest non-BCS conference in the country.

However the success of the conference may not rest in what TCU does, but rather whether a team can step up and match TCU's success. The Mountain West can't become a league with just one dominant team and a bunch of mediocre ones. Last season and the season before that, this was essentially what the conference was, basically a one trick pony on the national stage. For the conference to benefit from the TCU move, Utah and BYU, the two most recognizable members, need to step up. If the conference can legitimately have three top-25 teams in a season, success will most likely follow. Obviously BYU has retreated over the years and while Utah has had success recently, they need to capitalize off that recent success by sustaining it. If the Mountain West can field three really good teams, a few good teams and the predictable cellar-dwellers, I think the conference can find an even keel that will only mean future success.

Dawg Sports: Myles Brand and the commissioners of the B.C.S. conferences come to you and tell you they're looking to improve the system for allocating major bowl bids. What advice do you give them?

Block U: Just allocating bowl bids and not completely revamping the system? I would tell them to either scrap the system altogether and implement a playoff, or shove it where the sun don't shine. I will admit that the BCS has made it more accessible for non-BCS teams to play in a BCS bowl game, however it still fails to address the concerns that it's nearly impossible for a non-BCS team to play in the national championship game. 2004 for Utah fans was bittersweet because we never really got to see how great Utah was. Could the Utes have defeated USC? Probably not, but I guarantee you that they would have given them a better game than Oklahoma did.

Dawg Sports: While college football fans around the country became familiar with B.Y.U. in the 1980s, folks from the Midwest to New England to the South only recently became aware of Utah.  For the benefit of those of us who know less than we should about the history of the rivalry, tell us about the Holy War and its importance to the M.W.C.

Block U: The Holy War is probably college football's most underrated rivalry and I'm not saying this just because I'm a Utah fan. In fact the rivalry is so heated that neither BYU nor Utah agree on when the first game was played. The Utes insist the rivalry dates back to 1896 when BYU was known as Brigham Young Academy, while BYU insists the rivalry dates back to 1922, the first year the Cougars began playing football. In the first game between the two schools, Utah fans relentlessly taunted the BYU student section to the point where Cougar fans finally snapped and there was a game ending brawl. Nearly 85 years later and it isn't much different.

The Holy War essentially gets its name from the fact that the University of Utah is a public school, while BYU is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the dominant religion in the state of Utah. While a plurality of the U's population is LDS, it's often a game between Mormons and non-Mormons, State vs. Church, good vs. evil. Though it's important to note that LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley is a Utah alum.

The rivalry is also intense because the University of Utah and BYU are only separated by 40 miles of freeway. The U is located in Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah while BYU is located just south in Utah County. And since there are many LDS Ute fans and a lot of LDS BYU fans, the rivalry also often divides families and neighborhoods. It's not uncommon to have a BYU alum's children attend the University of Utah, much to their parent's chagrin.

The rivalry is probably the most important rivalry in the conference because both teams have strong tradition and it's also between two conference foes. The only other rivalry that I think of that comes close to this one within the conference is the Border War, the rivalry between Colorado State and Wyoming. I think the Holy War is probably the closest the Mountain West gets to great tradition within the conference. It's a rivalry that is often compared to the most hated in the nation (Florida and Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan, etc).

It also doesn't hurt that the margin of victory over the past few years has been razor thin. In fact, since 1999 the average score for the Holy War has been 21-19, with Utah winning 5 of the 7 games. Last year's game went into OT for the first time in rivalry history, with Utah squeaking out a 41-34 victory. The biggest blowout over the past 7 years came in 2004 when the Utes won 52-21, a rarity in recent history. It's an emotionally driven rivalry that pits family and neighbors against one another. It's hate at its best descriptions and a game every fan in the state of Utah has circled. And since it's played at the end of the season, the Holy War is often for conference championships, winning seasons and in the case of 2004, BCS Bustin' as well.

Dawg Sports: It is common knowledge that Urban Meyer had breakthrough years in his second seasons at Bowling Green and Utah. Will he have the same success in his second season at Florida?  Now that Coach Meyer has defected to the S.E.C., do Utes fans want to see him succeed and become the Urban Legend or fail and become the Urban Myth?

Block U: Urban Meyer has done wonders in his 2nd year at both Bowling Green and Utah and so it's not surprising that many expect Florida to do the same this year. With that said, I'm not so sure Meyer will do considerably better this year than he did last season. I don't question Meyer's coaching because I do believe he's a fantastic coach, however to accomplish anything better than last year would need some very lucky breaks and looking at the schedule, I don't see the chance of that happening.

With their schedule, I wouldn't be surprised if Florida finished the season with 3 or 4 losses and I wouldn't consider that a better finish than last year's 9-3 team. I also am not sold on Meyer's offense under Chris Leak. To run the spread option successfully you need a solid and smart quarterback to do it. Alex Smith at Utah was fantastic in his ability to not only make the right reads from the line, but to get the defenders to commit to him when optioning the ball. That's a key aspect of Meyer's offense and something I'm not sure can be utilized with Leak running the show. I also still have my doubts that the offense can run as smoothly against SEC defenders as it did at Utah and Bowling Green, but I'm hesitant to doubt a great coach like Urban Meyer.

Whether Utah fans want to see Meyer succeed or fail varies from fan to fan. Generally, I don't think Utah fans are openly rooting for his failure, though I'm sure many Utah fans are still bitter over the way Meyer left. I don't really care what happens with the Gators, just as long as my Utes continue to win. Though obviously if Utah begins tanking and Florida goes on to dominate, I'm sure there will be some resentment for him leaving, but I'm not anticipating that to happen. I liked Meyer when he was here and am now indifferent now that he's gone. I do feel he fooled many Utah fans into believing he would return at least one more year, but that's the game and as fans we're all expected to play it and deal with the results.

Though I will admit I smiled a bit the day Steve Spurrier and his Cocks beat Florida. Ok, that sounded unintentionally dirty, but I think any topic discussing South Carolina is unintentionally obscene.


My thanks go out to Block U for taking the time to provide his perspective.

Go 'Dawgs!

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