Ben Burns continues to impress with his bowl picks this season. Last night was his biggest play to date with Utah plus the points and not only did they cover the 10-point spread with the bowl game odds, but they beat Alabama outright!
I’m taking the points with UTAH. Last year, I successfully backed the favored SEC team (Georgia) against the undefeated non-BCS team, Hawaii. The Bulldogs dominated the game, showing that Hawaii’s undefeated record wasn’t as great as many had previously believed. A lot of people remember that game and are expecting a repeat with the big bad team from the SEC (Alabama) beating up on the lowly Mountain West school. I don’t expect that to be the case this year though as I believe that Utah, which currently has the longest winning streak in the country, is a much stronger team than Hawaii was last year. Sugar Bowl executive Paul Hoolahan concurs, stating: “They’ve played competitively against top-name schools. To go 12-0 with the schedule they have, with the way they play, the way they get after it, I think it’s a safe bet with those teams. Particularly Utah. We’re comfortable they will compete at a very high level.”
Utah QB Brian Johnson took it a step further, saying: “If you look at it, it’s clear that we’re a much better team than Hawaii was last year and I think us (and Hawaii) being two non-BCS teams, that’s where the comparison starts and that’s where it ends. You look at their strength of schedule last year and you look at the teams they played to get there and look at what we did – I think it’s completely different. … We deserve to be here and hopefully after (the game) there won’t be any more questions about that.”
While their schedule admittedly wasn’t as tough as Alabama’s schedule, as both Johnson and Hoolahan acknowledged, the Utes have performed well against top name schools and/or teams that went to a bowl this season. They beat quality teams like BYU, TCU and Oregon State while also winning on the road at both Air Force and Michigan. Overall, they outscored opponents by an average score of 38.2 to 14.5 on the road. Opponents managed an average of a mere 227.7 yards of offense in Utah’s road games.
This is a big bowl game and the Utes are thrilled to be here. As Johnson’s comments reveal, they’re also thrilled However, the same can’t necessarily be said of the Crimson Tide, as they were 15 minutes away from a spot in the BCS title game. However, they couldn’t make a 20-17 fourth quarter lead hold up against Florida and therefore had to “settle” for a spot in the Sugar Bowl. Nick Saban didn’t try to hide the fact that his team was disappointed, saying: “Our players are certainly disappointed…” While the Tide are saying all the right things about “bouncing back,” that can often be a lot easier said than done. Note that Alabama is just 3-7 SU the last 10 times it was coming off a loss vs. a conference opponent in its previous game.
The Utes have been terrific in the underdog role for years. In fact, they’re a highly profitable 40-19-1 ATS the last 60 times that they were getting points, winning more than half (32) of those games outright. Look for the Utes to improve on those numbers here, delivering a huge effort and showing that, unlike Hawaii last year, they fully deserve to be here. *Bowl GOY