Utah, out of the Mountain West, cracked through what had been an impenetrable boundary by making it to a BCS bowl game, but it needed a Heisman Trophy finalist, Alex Smith, and a hot-shot coach, Urban Meyer, to do it. The Utes trounced Pittsburgh, 35-7, in a Fiesta Bowl matchup that was every bit as anticlimactic and noncompetitive as it was expected to be.

There is no guarantee that a "mid-major" team can gain a berth again. The only scenario in which a team from one of the five non-BCS conferences is guaranteed a slot is if it finishes ranked in the top six of the BCS standings.

The team to watch is Boise State, whose only loss last season was to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. Two games could trip up the Broncos: Sept. 3 at Georgia and Nov. 10 at Fresno State, their primary Western Athletic Conference rival. Boise players have already taken note that Fresno has gotten more preseason hype than they have.

Fresno State Coach Pat Hill acknowledges that if his team goes unbeaten, it won't be excluded like Boise was last season. Why? The Bulldogs play at Southern California on Nov. 19 in Fresno's Super Bowl.

Also watch Mid-American Conference favorite Bowling Green, featuring perhaps the best player not in a major conference in quarterback Omar Jacobs. Boise Coach Dan Hawkins said that when Bowling Green visits the Broncos on Sept. 21, the teams will combine for 150 points. The numbers that will matter most, however, are the BCS computations.

Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs could be the top player outside of the BCS.