Palko will need ground game

The Utes will ride QB Alex Smith to a big victory, proving they belong among the nation's elite teams.

Originally Published: December 28, 2004
By Steve Muench | Scouts Inc.
One of the most criticized aspects of the Bowl Championships Series is the granting of automatic bids to certain conferences. As a result, this will be a very important game. Pittsburgh won the Big East, receiving an automatic BCS bid. The problem is the talent level in the Big East dropped significantly with the departures of Miami and Virginia.

Who: Pittsburgh vs. Utah
When: Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Where: Tempe, AZ
Meanwhile, Utah has made history by becoming the first school from a non-BCS conference to earn a berth in a BCS bowl. The Utes have been the outright Mountain West Conference champions for the past two seasons and have lost just two games during that span. A win for Utah would be a win for non-BCS teams around the nation.

The issue of BCS bowl bids won't be the only intriguing story surrounding this game. Both head coaches have agreed to coach other schools next year. The Utes named defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham their new head coach in early December. Whittingham requested that outgoing coach Urban Meyer, who will coach at Florida next year, serve as head coach during the Fiesta Bowl. Walt Harris will coach the Panthers despite the fact that he will coach at Stanford next year.

Steve Muench played four years of Division I-AA football before joining Scouts Inc. in 2002. He has evaluated both NFL and college players for Scouts Inc., but his current focus is on the NFL draft.