That's a marked change from years gone by, when if the Utes were defeated by (fill in the blank) from a league like the (fill in the blank), their season wouldn't simply be judged harshly, their entire existence would be called into question.
Think about it: If Utah had lost to, say, Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, many outsiders would not only have downgraded the Utes' stellar 2008 team, they would have brushed aside the success of teams over the past decade. If the Utes had lost to Georgia Tech in the Emerald Nut Bowl a couple of postseasons earlier, it would have slammed back the forward progress of wins in bowls like the Liberty and the Fiesta.
It's funny that way, a funny little bit of trying to beat the bias.
Other teams, those from certain conferences, could have a bad bowl showing or even a bad season and it would be considered precisely that: a bad bowl, a bad season.
If the Utes had a bad bowl performance, they were just bad, all around. Justification for the program, validation of all things Ute, were perennially stacked up like dishes in a dirty diner every time out, every postseason game played.
That pressure no longer exists.
Two things have happened that in combination altered the whole deal. First, the Utes did not lose those two BCS bowls, gaining a begrudged measure of credibility by way of winning. Ask Alabama fans what their impressions were of Utah after the aforementioned Sugar Bowl. Most of them did more than dog their own team; they abundantly praised the Utes. But the second part is even more significant: Utah has been accepted into the arms of the Pac-12.
Losing to a Boise State bunch that was ranked among the top few teams in the country for most of this season will blister no skin off their nose at this place and time.
In fact, give Kyle Whittingham an industrial drum-sized dose of truth serum and inquire whether he would trade any coming single Pac-12 regular-season win from next year for beating the Broncos in this bowl at this juncture, and he wouldn't make that swap.
There are big conference games as a matter of routine in the Utes' immediate future. If they win a decent amount of those, cred will never again be any kind of problem.
That's not to say the Utes wouldn't like to win, wouldn't love to win, in Vegas. They would greatly prefer to top off their unspectacular 2010 season with a big upset over a highly ranked opponent. It would give them a particle of hard-earned pride specific to this season's achievements, especially after taking an anvil to the head against TCU and Notre Dame in November. It would be terrific for the seniors and might bring some momentum for the program heading into that vast new horizon along the coast.
But the bowl-game drill, at least a bowl-game drill like this one, doesn't mean what it used to. All those consecutive bowl wins is it up to nine or 9,000 now? may have helped Utah get where it wanted to go. It might have boosted a football entity that for so long was seen or was it not seen? as invisible, that was patted on the head and scootched in the britches, relegated to a kind of oh-yeah-those-guys-are-a-nice-little-outfit, good for who they're for. But it doesn't do all that much for them anymore.
So, the heat's off.
Everything isn't on the line.
If Boise State beats the Utes, the Broncos will just be viewed as having been better than Utah this time around.
There are a lot more chances where this one came from.
If the Utes lose, they still can be considered worthy as long as they take care of their business next regular season, or the season after that, or maybe the one after that.
They no longer carry the burden of representing the past 20 Utah teams. From here on out, they represent only themselves.
That's a load, win or lose, they can handle.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.