Not much of a blueprint

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

If something as tame as politics creates strange bedfellows, then the pairings of the dozens of bowl-eligible teams at the end of each football season must be something akin to waking up next to a complete stranger with a totally inexplicable tattoo.

To the casual observer, the selection process appears totally devoid of rhyme or reason. Teams with virtually no common history are set up blind-date style, a factor that makes direct comparisons virtually impossible.

Utah and Tulsa, for example, have only played each other three times despite fielding football teams for the better part of the last century. In other words, the Utes and the Golden Hurricane meet only slightly more frequently than Hailey’s Comet makes its rounds.

More often than not, connecting two such teams via common opponents requires more degrees than connecting movie stars to Kevin Bacon. In the case of Utah and Tulsa, however, one need only look about 45 miles south to find a team that both schools played in 2006: BYU.

Utah and Tulsa each found themselves on the losing end of a contest with the Cougars, though the games followed two completely different scripts. While the Utes lost a heartbreaker on the final play of the game, Tulsa’s showdown with BYU was all but over at the end of the third quarter.

After keeping the Cougars in check for the first 15 minutes, the Golden Hurricane fell apart defensively, giving up 49 points and 467 yards of total offense en route to its worst loss of the season.

Although Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith put up numbers comparable to those of BYU’s John Beck, it wasn’t enough to keep up with the Cougars, who ran roughshod over the Golden Hurricane to the tune of 227 rushing yards.

Meanwhile, Tulsa’s ground game found itself stuck in neutral. The Golden Hurricane rushed for a paltry 82 yards, an anemic total for a team that takes pride in running a balanced offense.

While fans might find it comforting to know that Tulsa looked utterly helpless against a team that the Utes should have beaten, the players and coaches are taking any such comparisons with a grain of salt.

“We watched that game on film, but I don’t think it will be very helpful,” Utah safety Steve Tate said. “That was only their second game of the season, and I think that they have probably improved since then. We didn’t look too good at the beginning of our season either.”

Most football aficionados already know that predictions based on common opponents are inherently problematic, especially concerning an up-and-down team like the Utes. After all, BYU manhandled Wyoming, a team that had walked all over the Utes just a few weeks earlier.

“They’re a very athletic team,” Tate said of Tulsa. “They have a balanced offense with a good back and a mobile quarterback who can make plays when no one is open. We’ll have to be at our best against them.”

Of course, there is much more on the line than a second-tier bowl win. With the way that this series has been going, the winner could easily own bragging rights for the next 30 years.