This offseason we will count down various topics from Monday through Friday, bringing you the top five of the important and definitely some not so important issues in college football. It's the Doc Five, every week until we will thankfully have actual games to discuss.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S BEST CINDERELLA STORIES
NO. 5, UTAH OVER ALABAMA
There isn't a lot of room for Cinderella stories in college football. The sport is generally built for the big boys. It has been almost three decades since a team went from unranked in the preseason to national champions.
But in the spirit of Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle and all of the great underdog tales in the college sport that dominates March, we're counting down the best Cinderella stories in college football over the last 30 years. And Utah has been prominently involved in two of the best ones.
We didn't have room for both the 2004 and 2008 undefeated Utah teams on the list, so we picked the one that finished with the best Cinderella moment, when it thoroughly outplayed mighty Alabama in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2008 season.
Utah's 2008 season started with a win at Michigan, included a win against Oregon State and a demolition of the Mountain West that included a 24-point win against a pretty good BYU team. Unlike most non-BCS schools who run the table, force their way into the BCS system and are given the worst possible matchup in the bowl game, Utah was given a shot to play Alabama.
The Crimson Tide was undefeated and No. 1 in the nation before it lost in the SEC Championship Game to Florida. The next season, Alabama went undefeated and won the national title. No matter what is said about Alabama's motivation for that Sugar Bowl against the Utes, this was far from some overrated Crimson Tide team that played Utah. The seeds of Alabama's mighty dynasty were already well in place, and had it beat Tim Tebow and the Gators for the SEC title, it probably would have won the national title. And the Utes simply pounded the Crimson Tide.
The Utes were up 21-0 in the first quarter and won 31-17. The game wasn't a fluke either. Utah outgained Alabama 349 yards to 208, thoroughly dominating an offense that included future NFL star Julio Jones and future Heisman winner Mark Ingram. Utah had eight sacks in that game.
Utah didn't have a lot of stars. Unlike the 2004 team, there was no Alex Smith. Of the key players on that team, the one who went on to the best NFL career is probably outside Paul Kruger, who recently signed a big free agent deal with Cleveland, or cornerback Sean Smith, who signed with Kansas City this offseason. Matt Asiata, the leading rusher on the 2008 Utes, has 9 career yards in the NFL. Quarterback Brian Johnson, an excellent college player, never made the NFL and was released from the UFL's New York franchise about two months after he was signed in 2009. Leading receiver Freddie Brown was taken in the seventh round of the NFL draft and never appeared in a NFL game.
This truly was a Cinderella story, a collection of very good college players who came together and finished as the only undefeated team in the BCS that season. Beating an Alabama team that had just been No. 1 in the nation stamped Utah as one of the best underdog tales in college football the last 30 years.