Michigan's struggles hurt Utah's bid for No. 1

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Utah Utes finished the season with the strongest résumé for a non-BCS program in recent times.

  • Utah (13-0) was the only undefeated FBS team.

  • The Utes swept through the Mountain West Conference, which reached a new level for a non-BCS league.

  • They beat TCU and BYU.

  • They beat an Oregon State team that knocked off No. 1 USC the week before.

  • And they topped it off with quite possibly the most impressive win of the bowl season, a 31-17 triumph against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Sure, USC looked impressive against Penn State, but the Rose Bowl is a virtual home game for the Trojans. Utah essentially beat Alabama in the Crimson Tide's backyard.

And the amazing thing is, Utah's profile could have been a lot better.

Remember who the Utes beat in the season opener Aug. 30? Michigan. Utah outlasted the Wolverines 25-23 to kick off a very special season.

Now imagine Michigan was Michigan, not the rudderless 3-9 product we saw this fall.

What if this was a standard Michigan team, one that finished the season ranked in the top 20? How much better would Utah look with a win in the Big House against a solid Wolverines squad from a solid Big Ten?

I'm not saying it would have put Utah ahead of Florida in the final polls. But as someone who voted the Utes at No. 2 in the ESPN.com final Power Rankings, I would have given a lot of thought to putting Utah on the top line.

As it turned out, Michigan was one of Utah's least impressive victories. Only San Diego State (2-10) had a worse record. The Wolverines are barely mentioned when Utah's résumé is discussed.

Many teams saw this as a good season to play Michigan. But for Utah, the game in Ann Arbor didn't really help.