- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SALT LAKE CITY | The governor already has proclaimed Utah national champions, and the state attorney general is threatening a lawsuit against the Bowl Championship Series.

Football season hasn’t quite ended in Utah, where there is a desperate push to get the unbeaten Utes the No. 1 ranking in the final AP college football poll. Fans have been swamping poll voters with e-mails, hoping Utah can make an unlikely leap to the top.

“The bottom line is we’re the only team in the country that does not have to explain a loss,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Whittingham has been fielding calls all week asking where the Utes should end up in the final rankings. The BCS national championship will be decided Thursday night when No. 1 Florida plays No. 2 Oklahoma, but AP poll voters are under no obligation to put the BCS champion on top of the final media poll.

Utah finishing No. 1 might just be a bigger upset than what the Utes pulled off in New Orleans, where they beat No. 4 Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl, but it’s technically possible.

The athletic department isn’t making any official effort to promote the team, but Whittingham gladly has answered the repeated questions about whether the Utes are worthy.

The Associated Press poll has 65 voters, and none of them cast a No. 1 vote for the Utes at any point this season. At least one plans to for the final poll, and others are considering it - with plenty of pressure from Utah fans.

Molly Yanity of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer posted an online message this week asking Utah fans to stop with the e-mail overload - she watched the Sugar Bowl and planned to consider the Utes before she was inundated by fan mail.

“I got over 300 e-mails in about 36 hours, but I understand what they’re after,” Yanity said Tuesday. “There is still a game to be played, and I have them on my mind as is and don’t need any more e-mails.”

Tom Keegan of the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World said unless Oklahoma routs Florida, he believes Utah deserves to be No. 1. Keegan is among the voters who have received countless e-mails pleading the Utes’ case and noted how polite the fans were but said he was basing his vote on what he saw the team do during the season.

“They’re the only unbeaten, plus look at who they’ve beaten,” Keegan said. “It’s not like they’ve been playing stiffs in conference or out of conference.”

Utah’s plight has become the latest rallying cry for BCS opponents.

The Utes won the Mountain West Conference title, but the league does not have a guaranteed spot in one of the lucrative bowl games. Florida and Oklahoma have one loss each and will be playing for the title, but the Utes (13-0) only can watch - just as they did in 2004, when they became the first team from an outside conference to make a BCS game.

Utah easily beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 4 in the final rankings.

Boise State was in a similar situation two years ago after beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and the underdog argument is back to bug the BCS again.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he is investigating the BCS for a possible violation of federal antitrust laws, contending the bowl setup unfairly puts schools like Utah at a competitive and financial disadvantage.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, issued a similar statement last week, calling for BCS reform.

Shurtleff and Hatch will win points with their constituents by taking a popular stance against the unpopular BCS, but there is little they can do the help the Utes in the next two days before the final poll is released.

Utah was ranked No. 7 entering the postseason, and No. 5 Southern California and No. 3 Texas won their bowl games. Utah somehow would need to leapfrog the Trojans, the Longhorns, Florida and Oklahoma to claim the national title.

Whittingham said he is supposed to vote for the Florida-Oklahoma winner in the final coaches poll but plans to break the rules and put the Utes at No. 1.

“I’m not a guy that’s going to go out and campaign and politic, but if somebody asks me I’ll give them my opinion,” he said.

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