Dec. 27, 2004 wire reports

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Receiver Paris Warren knows fifth-ranked Utah is representing plenty of other schools in the Fiesta Bowl.


As the first school to appear in a Bowl Championship Series game from a conference that doesn't have an automatic BCS bid, the Utes want to take another shot at the system.

"We're kind of carrying the flag for all the non-BCS schools," Warren said Monday.

The Utes (11-0) play Pittsburgh on Saturday in the Fiesta, one of the four top games in the bowl hierarchy which have never featured a team from outside the six guaranteed conferences or Notre Dame.

The BCS was adopted in 1998 and teams such as Utah in the Mountain West Conference could only watch their colleagues from the larger leagues play in the Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls. But by going unbeaten in the regular season and winning their second straight MWC title, the Utes became the first to crack the system.

Yet they still hear questions about whether they belong.

"Like they say early in the season. We're going to try and prove people wrong," offensive lineman Chris Komeatu said. "People say that non-BCS teams like Utah aren't good enough to be here. That's what makes everything more challenging to us and helps us get to this level."

Pittsburgh (8-3) is fighting a similar battle of public perception. As the winner of the Big East's automatic bid, the Panthers' BCS merits have been widely questioned because of their conference. Winning the Big East when it no longer includes Miami and Virginia Tech just doesn't carry as much weight as it has.

"This is a game of two teams that haven't garnered much national interest or respect," Pittsburgh defensive lineman Vince Crochunis said. "I think it will be an interesting game because each team is going to be out there trying to prove that they belong in this game."

Any pressure the Utes are feeling as a heavy favorite and playing for the BCS outsiders is actually a welcome change from the weeks that immediately followed the regular season. Coach Urban Meyer was courted by Notre Dame and Florida and it was very apparent he was probably not going to be back next fall for a third season at Utah.

When Meyer took the Florida job, it opened the spot at Utah and more coaching uncertainty. Defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham was offered the Utes' job as well as the one for rival Brigham Young, Whittingham's alma mater.

But once Whittingham chose Utah, the Utes were able to relax a little, knowing there would be at least some continuity on the coaching staff. And now, they get to treat their time in Phoenix like any other game week -- just with better weather.

The Utes also are not thinking about how much more they could be playing for this week. Unbeaten teams often get a chance at playing for the national title, but this season, five Division I-A teams finished without a loss.

So Utah, third-ranked Auburn and No. 10 Boise State will watch No. 1 Southern California and second-ranked Oklahoma play for the title in the Orange Bowl.

"People look at it, but we're satisfied with where we're at. We've got to take care of business against Pitt," Warren said.

The Associated Press News Service

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