Why can't Utah be No. 1?

You know you've thought about it these past 36 hours or so, ever since the Utes' 31-17 Sugar Bowl blasting of Alabama.

Utah will be the only major college football team to complete its season undefeated. And the Utes have four wins over teams ranked in the Top 25 at one time or another, including TCU (11-2), Brigham Young (10-3), Oregon State (9-4) and Bama (12-2).

This isn't to say that Utah would beat either team taking the field Thursday night in the BCS title game, but Florida and Oklahoma each has a loss. Nevertheless, because they're in the title game, the winner will be crowned BCS champ and awarded the Coaches' Poll title.

Judging from their Rose Bowl rout of Penn State, Southern Cal's Trojans may actually be the country's top team, but they lost to Oregon State, which, of course, lost to Utah. And Texas beat Oklahoma but lost to Texas Tech, which lost most of its remaining respect by its big loss to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.

Boise State entered the bowl season undefeated but lost to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl, and TCU - in case you forgot - lost to Utah.

All of which brings us to the one poll the Utes can still win: the Associated Press poll. The AP poll has run continuously since 1936, its rankings determined by media votes. It originally was part of the complicated, convoluted, controversial BCS equation but broke with the BCS in 2004, just after Auburn and, gulp, Utah, both went undefeated but were left out of that year's title game featuring fellow unbeatens Southern Cal and Oklahoma.

But the poll still exists and it may enjoy a vast rebirth if the nation's college football fans aren't satisfied that either Florida or Oklahoma would easily have beaten Utah if they'd played.

"If Florida-Oklahoma is close either way, I think Utah will get some consideration for No. 1," AP voter Maurice Patton of the (Nashville) Tennessean said Saturday evening. "The one argument that they hadn't played anybody got knocked out of the park against Alabama."

Birmingham News writer Doug Segrest also has one of the 65 AP votes nationwide. Like Patton, he isn't yet sure where he'll vote the Utes in the final poll, but both voted them sixth in the final pre-bowl poll.

But Saturday afternoon Segrest admitted, "I would love to do a protest vote (for Utah), but I think I'll wait and see how (the title game) comes out. However, when all is said and done they're going to be the only undefeated team, and if there was a playoff, I think they'd have a legitimate chance."

Since he works for the Provo (Utah) Daily Herald, Jason Franchuk has had plenty of chances to see the Utes. He voted them 25th in the preseason and sixth in the final pre-bowl poll.

"I worry about making some political statement when I vote since I work in Utah," he said. "But right now I'm inclined to vote them No. 1. Before Friday night the biggest argument against them was that their best wins had come at home, but against Alabama they proved they could do a lot wherever they play."

Indeed, matched against a Bama team that had bludgeoned opponents early, the Utes led 21-0 after three possessions. Facing a Tide squad that had never trailed going into the fourth quarter, Utah led. Against a Bama bunch that had allowed 16 sacks in 13 games, the Utes collected eight. Against an Alabama gang averaging nearly 200 yards on the ground, Utah surrendered 31.

Our newspaper's David Paschall votes on the Harris Poll, which helps determine the BCS standings. But the Harris Poll is over as soon as the BCS bowl spots are determined.

"I'm glad our ballots are done," Paschall chuckled Saturday evening. "I've always said I'd like a plus-one model, but you could argue that this season has made the case for an eight-team playoff."

Like more than a few of us, Paschall has long argued that the four major bowls - Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Rose - should be used as quarterfinal games while maintaining the existing bowl tie-ins as often as possible.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive requested this past summer that the plus-one be used in those years when the BCS title game might not clearly decide a champion. It was voted down, which is one reason we have this current mess.

"It does (hurt the BCS)," Segrest said, "and that's a good thing."

Added Franchuk: "I just hope it pushes the system forward to create something more fair."

Something more fair would be a complete, um, U-turn from the current format while retaining the bowls for the Vanderbilts, Kentuckys and Buffalos of the world to have their postseason fun.

But between now and the time the AP votes are cast late Thursday night, I'm encouraging everyone to adopt the slogan: "We Want 'U'!"