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Gimino: Utah deserves to be in debate for No. 1

Utah wide receiver David Reed (16) breaks away from Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson (3) in the second half of their NCAA football game in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Friday, Jan. 2.

Utah wide receiver David Reed (16) breaks away from Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson (3) in the second half of their NCAA football game in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Friday, Jan. 2.

I have an AP vote, and I’m not afraid to use it on Utah. Don’t let anyone else tell you the Utes don’t deserve to be No. 1. They do. They’re 13-0. Nobody else has a big zero to the right side of the record.

They went into the Deep South and depantsed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, leaving the Tide like that guy hanging from a ski lift.

They beat TCU, which beat unbeaten Boise State in the postseason.

They beat Oregon State, the only team to beat USC.

They beat BYU, which was considered Top 25 timber for most of the season.

They didn’t lose.

A vote for Utah doesn’t have to be a protest vote, a jab in the eye of the Bowl Championship Series, whose rules all favor the big ol’ boys, and not a team like Utah from the Mountain West Conference.

A vote for Utah just has to be a vote for a dang good team from a dang good conference that won all its dang games.

Is that enough for the Utes to be No. 1 on my ballot?

Let’s wait until the last piece of evidence comes in.

The AP poll isn’t part of the BCS system, and the 65 voters aren’t bound to pick the winner of the supposed national championship game that takes place Thursday night between Florida and Oklahoma.

The coaches’ poll mandates that its voters select the winner of that game as the BCS national champion. One problem. Well, two.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says he’s voting for his team. Texas coach Mack Brown says he’s voting for his team. USC coach Pete Carroll doesn’t have a vote this season, but, if he did, you can bet his $4.4 million annual salary that he would pick his Trojans.

Welcome to the greatest of the BCS messes.

The national championship game might do nothing more in the court of public opinion than to pare down the list of possible champions to four.

Great. Four teams who “deserve” to be No. 1.

Style points will matter Thursday night.

Will Florida or Oklahoma play better than Utah did in the Sugar Bowl? Will Heisman-winning quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford be guttier than the Utes’ Brian Johnson?

What if the teams just muddle through the game?

That’s why I want to see the final evidence. The AP instructs its voters to cast ballots based on performance and not reputation. Since the opening kickoff of the season, we have been gradually replacing what we thought we knew (reputation) with what we do know (performance).

We didn’t know several months ago that Utah would even be worthy of the Top 25.

We now know the Utes could beat anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Is Utah better than Florida or Oklahoma or Texas or USC? I don’t think so, but I’m not arrogant enough to pass that off as fact. Who really knows?

I don’t, you don’t, and the oddsmakers who probably would list the Utes as a double-digit underdog in those matchups don’t know, either.

That’s the thing. It’s not about what we think we know about college football, because we’re all wrong about that every week. It’s about what we know. It’s about performance.

Utah wasn’t always the most dominating team – critics will point to a series of close victories – but margin of victory is for suckers.

Maybe the Utes were a bit lucky to overcome Oregon State and TCU, but they did it. Florida failed to overcome Mississippi. Oklahoma whiffed against Texas, which fell one play, one measly second, short against Texas Tech.

Victories equal performance.

Utah won with defense, with offense, with speed, with smashmouth play on the line. The Utes played about as tough a schedule as a midmajor team can play – winning at Michigan and winning at home against Oregon State, which nearly won the Pac-10.

Still, Florida and Oklahoma each played overall tougher schedules than Utah – and that just gets more impressive when one of them walks away Thursday night with a Waterford crystal football trophy and another signature victory.

Could the Utes have run undefeated through the SEC, or would they have tripped, like the Gators?

Could the Utes have run undefeated through the Big 12, or would they have tripped, like the Sooners and Longhorns?

When the final piece of evidence comes in, 13-0 might be the strongest argument.

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