Now that we’re 75 percent of the way through the college football season, we can say that Utah has officially made it through the most difficult part of the team’s schedule. The Utes have three games left, and every remaining opponent has a losing record right now. This week’s game against UCLA is followed by a road trip to Arizona and a home “rivalry” game against Colorado. Utah figures to be at least a two-touchdown favorite in each of those final three games.
Now that USC officially has two conference losses, Utah is firmly in control of the Pac-12 South division. If the Utes don’t slip up in their final three games, they’ll be heading to Levi’s Stadium to play in the Pac-12 Championship game for the second straight year. Finishing 11-1 with a chance at the Pac-12 title would be the best season Utah has had in a decade, but there is still so much more on the line for the Utes outside of Pac-12 title aspirations.
After the loss to USC in Week 4, it felt like everyone wrote the Utes off as having no chance at the playoff. The most legitimate concern there was that USC had control of the South division and could have potentially shut Utah out of the conference championship game. That has changed, and since the loss to USC, Utah has played like one of the best teams in the country. The only even remote scare the Utes have had was against Washington in Seattle.
The College Football Playoff Committee has taken notice of the way Utah has played as of late. The Utes are now listed at No. 7 in the selection committee’s rankings. The Utes are one spot below Oregon and ahead of current undefeated teams Baylor and Minnesota. This means that if both teams win out, the winner of the Pac-12 Championship will have a legitimate case for making the playoff.
The playoff committee is responsible for actually putting teams in the playoff, but we here at SB Nation are interested in finding who the people feel belong in the playoff. After all, a mass group of people voting can never be wrong…right? With that said, let me present to you Week 11 of the SB Nation FanPulse College Football Top 25:
Well then. Before we dive into that, here is the BlockU Top 25.
That seems way more accurate.
Okay, we need to talk about the massive discrepancy between where the nation as a whole is ranking Utah (and Oregon) and where the playoff committee and Pac-12 fans are placing those teams. The national poll has Utah all the way down at No. 12 while Oregon is at No. 11. In the BlockU poll, Utah comes in at No. 6 and Oregon is No. 4. For reference, the Oregon fans poll also has Oregon at No. 4 but has Utah at No. 8.
So why is there such a discrepancy between where Utah and Oregon are getting ranked by the playoff committee and where the nation sees them as teams? I think the answer is simply this: reputation. No, I’m not referring to the Taylor Swift album, even though it is excellent. The reputations of Oregon, Utah and the Pac-12 as a whole are all contributing to the way that the nation is perceiving the top teams in the conference.
The Pac-12 hasn’t completely rebounded from the valley it hit the last couple of seasons, but the conference is certainly on the rise compared to where it has been. While the decline of Washington has been a blow, having two teams that can still make the playoff at this point in the season is a massive step forward. That’s certainly more than the ACC can say, since Clemson is the only ranked ACC team in the CFP poll anyway. The only other ranked ACC team in the FanPulse Top 25 is Wake Forest.
Also, the Big 12 basically has to rest its playoff hopes on either Baylor staying undefeated or Oklahoma managing to win out. And Oklahoma and Baylor are both well below Oregon and Utah in the playoff rankings, so that conference is in the worst shape of any for making the playoff.
It could be argued successfully that the Pac-12 has been the third-best Power 5 conference this year. That sounds like a lame achievement, but progress should be celebrated sometimes. However, most casual observers don’t pay that much attention to the overall depth of a conference. So, in the minds of much of America, the Pac-12 will remain down until one of the teams in the conference actually makes the playoff.
This is obviously affecting those voting for the FanPulse Top 25 as two-loss Florida, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Baylor all jumped ahead of Utah.
With Minnesota and Baylor, it’s a tough line to walk when you want to reward a team for being undefeated but also recognize that their strength of schedule is mediocre. Having strong name recognition helps in this regard. You’ll notice that Clemson doesn’t have a single win against a team ranked in the current CFP Top 25, yet they remain at No. 3. Baylor has wins against teams in the mid-20s (Oklahoma State and Texas) and Minnesota just beat Penn State. In both the CFP rankings and the FanPulse Top 25, neither of those teams is really coming all that close to being in the Top 4.
Nationally, Utah and Oregon are suffering from the same problems with name recognition as Minnesota and Baylor. The college football world sees Utah as a team that plays as a scrappy underdog, fights hard, wins several big games but isn’t a real national championship contender. Oregon was a contender with Marcus Mariota and Chip Kelly but has largely been seen in the last five years as team struggling to reclaim former glory. People will treat you according to your reputation until you prove to them that they should do otherwise.
Thankfully, the playoff committee has a job to ignore reputation and just try to pick the best teams in the country. Generally, the playoff committee has done a very good job at that. Now, the Pac-12 actually has to close out the season strong and make a real playoff push. Oregon’s final schedule is a cakewalk as well. All eyes will be on the state of Arizona in two weeks when Utah is on the road at Arizona, and Oregon is playing at Arizona State. If both schools survive those potential weird trap games, it should be smooth sailing from there.
It’s an interesting time in the Pac-12 right now. Only three teams in the conference are bowl eligible (the other being USC), but every other team in the conference has a chance to get bowl eligible by the end of the season. There’s more depth in the Pac-12 this year then there has been in a while. And the best way to repair the reputation of the Pac-12 will be to get a team in the playoff.
With the Pac-12 already off to a near-perfect start in basketball this year, a winning end to the football season would suddenly be even better. We all know (because Larry Scott likes to point it out) that winning cures most problems. And while I don’t think that means the “Fire Scott” chants will or should die down, it will bring some relief to the Pac-12 fans who have been suffering through some mediocre seasons.
At the very least, the boost in national reputation should help the top teams in the conference in the coming seasons. Because let’s be real, there’s no way Oregon or Utah should be ranked below Baylor, Florida or Oklahoma.
One final note to close out today, we also had you vote on who you thought should win the Heisman this year. Let’s just say it wasn’t close.
Joe Burrow is going to win the Heisman. He should win the Heisman. His transformation from a quarterback who could barely complete 50 percent of his passes to the best quarterback in the nation has been nothing short of remarkable.
Sometimes I wonder where Tyler Huntley or Zack Moss would be in that conversation if either of them had stayed healthy for the entire season. Huntley has certainly been one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season, his stat line is just not as eye-popping as quarterbacks on teams with more aggressive or dynamic offenses. Moss could legitimately be in the conversation for at least the Top 5 if he hadn’t missed two games. No matter what, this senior class is going to be missed at the end of the season.
It’s not too late to sign up for the FanPulse Top 25 voting! If you would like to join us now, click HERE.