It was all relative for the Utes

Updated: November 15, 2004, 7:26 PM ET
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah quarterback Alex Smith owes his uncle a big thank you.

When coach John L. Smith's Michigan State team upset Wisconsin on Saturday, it cleared the way for Alex's Utes to get back in position for a Bowl Championship Series automatic berth with just one game left in the regular season.

"We're one game closer and I think that pretty much affirmed that if we do win out, we will get in. But obviously there's still that `if.' We have to win this game. It's a huge game," Alex Smith said.

And it isn't just any game. It's BYU, Utah's hated rival. A win over the Cougars (5-5, 4-2 Mountain West) would give the Utes (10-0, 6-0) a perfect regular season and what they hope will be a guaranteed spot in one of the four BCS games -- the Fiesta, Rose, Sugar or maybe even Orange Bowl.

Utah was No. 6 in Monday's BCS standings, exactly where the Utes want to be when the final results are released next month. The champions from the Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and Southeastern Conference are automatically in the BCS, with the top two teams in the final standings playing in the Orange Bowl.

No team from outside the six major conferences has appeared in a BCS game since the format started six years ago.

"I'd play in any one of those. It wouldn't matter at all. Absolutely not," Smith said.

Wisconsin fell from No. 5 in the BCS to 13th with the loss Saturday. If the Badgers had won, the Utes would have needed some help to get back in the BCS picture.

Utah had been clinging to the sixth spot for two weeks until Texas jumped over the Utes last week. That put the Utes in danger of finishing outside the automatic spot and possibly having to settle for a second straight trip to the Liberty Bowl as Mountain West champs.

The Utes needed somebody ahead of them to lose and got it Saturday afternoon when Michigan State beat previously undefeated Wisconsin 49-14.

Utah then beat Wyoming 45-28.

"We've just got to beat BYU and we're there," Smith said.

That actually isn't guaranteed. Even if the Utes beat the Cougars, funny things can happen in the complex BCS formula of polls and computer rankings, which decide which two teams will play in the Orange Bowl for the national title and who will play in the other three games.

But it's definitely a better position than No. 7 and hoping somebody gets upset.

Utah has a BCS score of .8062, placing the Utes between Texas (.8140) and Michigan (.7494).

"When you're talking about Michigan and Texas, that's good company," Utah coach Urban Meyer said.

Meyer banned his players from talking about going unbeaten after a few early comments in August got back to him. But with only one game to go, he's given them the green light to talk about the possibility of an undefeated season.

"I still remember when I walked into a press conference and someone said 'Hey, your players are guaranteeing they're going to be undefeated' or something. That's nonsense," Meyer said. "It's here and they can talk about it. Because if we do win the last one, that is the coach's dream."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press