Kyle Whittingham isn't worried about what bowl prognosticators are thinking.

Predictions of another lopsided Sugar Bowl blowout between an SEC team and a BCS buster — Georgia defeated previously unbeaten Hawaii, 41-10, in the last one — are being ignored by the Utah head football coach.

"What people say never affects me. I don't listen to what people say," Whittingham said. "I watch and see what they do. That's my mindset. We don't pay attention to any of that talk. It's just idle chatter."

So, too, he added, is the notion that the Utes need a good showing to validate their 12-0 season that includes wins over five bowl-bound teams, including three that are ranked in the top 25.

Same goes for all teams from conferences outside of the automatic qualifying leagues in the Bowl Championship Series.

"We've already made big statements all season long. It puzzles me when people say all the non-BCS schools' reputation hinges on this game or that game," said Whittingham, who leads a program that is seeking its eighth straight bowl win.

"It's a process. It's an ongoing process. The non-BCS is 2-1 in BCS games, and this is just another part of that process. The entire reputation of the non-BCS doesn't hang in the balance of any one particular game. It's a combination of things."

The Mountain West Conference's 6-1 record against the Pac-10 this season and the fact that three of the top 11 teams in the final BCS standings — Utah, Boise State and TCU — were outsiders is proof that progress is being made.

Utah, however, is the only one of the trio to actually secure a BCS bid. The Fiesta Bowl could have changed that, but bowed to pressure and took a two-loss Ohio State team that ranked 10th in the standings instead.

Hosting a pair of past BCS triumphs by Utah and Boise State failed to overcome the Fiesta Bowl's thirst for higher television ratings. BCS busters continue to fight for acceptance.

"It's like when Boise State beat Oklahoma. That was great for the non-BCS schools. Just like when we beat Pittsburgh. It's a positive," Whittingham said. "Of course, when Hawaii lost to Georgia, that was a setback. But to say the entire reputation of the non-BCS hangs on one game, to me, doesn't make any sense."

Whittingham acknowledges that on-field performances send the strongest message. Bowl success, he continued, is pivotal for leagues like the MWC, which went 3-1 in bowl games last year.

"Sure it is," Whittingham said. "It's good for the conference to have a good showing in the bowl season."

The Poinsettia Bowl matchup between No. 9 Boise State and No. 11 TCU will be a good showcase for outsiders. Like many observers, Whittingham thinks the game may be the best of all the non-BCS bowls.

Bowl season kicks off Saturday with four games, including two involving MWC teams — Colorado State against Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl and BYU vs. Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl. On New Year's Eve, Air Force and Houston meet in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Utah's bowl preparations begin in earnest today as players complete final exams. The Utes will be on the practice field daily, except for Sunday, until breaking for Christmas following a morning session on Dec. 23. They'll reunite for practice on Dec. 27 in New Orleans.

Sugar Bowl

Utah (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)

Jan. 2, 6 p.m.

Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans

TV: Fox Radio: 700 AM


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com