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FanPulse College Football Top 25 Week 13: The Battle for No. 4 Gets Serious

Utah is now the Pac-12’s only hope to make the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma and Alabama still remain threats to take that spot away from Utah. Which team will end up with the coveted fourth spot?

This is going to be the year of Utah for the Pac-12 or it’s going to be another year of disaster. That much was made clear when Oregon forgot to play the first three quarters of the game against Arizona State on Saturday. Suddenly, the Utes are the only the one-loss team left in the Pac-12. It’s going to be a close race for the No. 4 spot in the playoff, but with one week left in the regular season, the Utes have a real chance of being that No. 4 team. The playoff committee will be releasing their rankings tonight. As we wait for that Top 25, let’s talk more about how fans feel about Utah and the playoff picture.

Here is the SB Nation FanPulse College Football Top 25 for Week 13 as voted on by a nation of college football fans:

As always, here is the BlockU Top 25 as well, so we can understand how the Utah fans are feeling:

I believe that the College Football Playoff Top 25 and the FanPulse Top 25 are going to be very similar this week. The only major change is going to be Oregon dropping hard after the aforementioned loss to Arizona State. That leaves room for Utah and the teams closely trailing the Utes to move up a spot in the rankings. The other teams ahead of Utah are going to remain completely stagnant it seems. Alabama and LSU massacred two comparable opponents (Arkansas and Western Carolina), Ohio State destroyed Penn State, Clemson had a bye and Georgia scraped by Texas A&M.

None of those games give any reason for the playoff committee to move Utah ahead of any of the current Top 5 teams in the rankings. Utah may have demolished Arizona, but that win isn’t going to be worth much in the eyes of the committee. The biggest concern for Utah this week will be remaining ahead of Oklahoma in the rankings.

Clearly, the fans see Oklahoma as a better team than Utah. The Sooners jumped ahead of the Utes in the FanPulse Top 25, leaving Utah at No. 7 while Oklahoma claimed Oregon’s former spot at No. 6. This is going to be Utah’s battle for the rest of the season, trying to stay ahead of Oklahoma in the rankings. After all, there’s no definite guideline for how the committee will react to a one-loss Alabama that didn’t even win its own division. We’ve seen Alabama get put into the playoff with that exact resume before. We’ve also seen really good one-loss teams get left out because they didn’t win their conference championships. We’ve also seen really good one-loss conference champions get left out because of a bad loss (now is the time to remind you that Ohio State lost to Purdue last year).

That uncertainty surrounding Alabama or say LSU if they lose in the SEC Championship to Georgia, is certainly problematic for Utah. But if the Utes get jumped by Oklahoma by the end of the season, none of that is going to matter in the first place. Oklahoma and Utah are going to have comparable resumes by the end of the season. The Big 12 has a similar reputation to the Pac-12 in the eyes of the playoff committee. The Sooners are the only Top 10 team in the conference, Baylor gets very little respect as a one-loss team for good reason, and there are a few teams sneaking into the bottom half of the Top 25 (Oklahoma State and Iowa State).

We now know that if Utah wins out, they will only have at most one win against a team that will be ranked in the Top 25 at the end of the season. That win would have to be Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. No other team Utah beat this year will end up in the Top 25. Granted, a road win against Washington and utter destructions of teams such as ASU and Washington State are very respectable, but they just don’t hold the same appeal as a win against teams with a number next to their name.

Oklahoma will likely end the season with wins against three to four teams ranked in the final Top 25. The Sooners already have wins against Baylor and Iowa State. The Sooners also have a far more difficult closing schedule when they have to play Oklahoma State in their rivalry game and then play Baylor again in the Big 12 Championship. If we ignore the scores and just look at quality wins, the Sooners are going to have the edge in the eyes of the committee.

That is certainly what happened with the FanPulse Top 25. The fans saw Oklahoma with wins against some ranked teams and pushed the program ahead of Utah. It also helps that Oklahoma has name recognition as a regular playoff contender. The Sooners were in the playoffs the last two years, and fans are going to remember that and allow it to skew their voting.

Thankfully for Utah, the playoff committee looks at more than just the names of the teams you beat. The committee also takes into account things such as margin of victory and “game control”. The Utes and Sooners may have similar schedules, but they have handled them in vastly different ways. Utah has been destroying the spirits of opposing teams in recent weeks.

Utah has allowed more than 14 points only once since the loss to USC, that was the road win over Washington. The Utes haven’t allowed a touchdown at home since September. Utah’s margin of victory since the loss to USC is 29 points a game. The defense has been nothing short of dominant for Utah. There are only three teams in the entire country who have allowed fewer points than Utah: Clemson, Ohio State and Georgia. That’s pretty dominant company for Utah.

The offense is also playing excellent as well. The #HuntleyForHeisman campaign has been fun, and it gives credit to the senior quarterback who has really helped this offense turn a corner. Also, Zack Moss remains unstoppable, giving Utah one of the best quarterback/running back combinations in the entire country. Utah has scored 33 or more points in six of the team’s last seven games. The lone exception came against Arizona State in a game that was played in a downpour of freezing rain.

Oklahoma has not been anywhere near as dominant as Utah. During the same eight weeks of conference play, Oklahoma is also 7-1, but the average margin of victory for the Sooners has been 17 points per game. Oklahoma has struggled especially as of late, only beating TCU by 4, having the most famous 28-3 comeback of recent memory against Baylor, winning by 1 over Iowa State, and losing by 7 on the road at Kansas State.

If we look beyond strength of schedule and into how the teams are actually winning games, it seems clear that Utah would be ahead of Oklahoma in the eyes of the committee. So far, that has been the case. It will likely remain the case in this week’s playoff rankings because Oklahoma’s win over TCU was nowhere near good enough to jump the Sooners ahead of the Utes. However, it seems reasonable to fear that the Sooners could jump the Utes by the end of the season.

Assuming both teams win out, it all comes down to how the committee judges Oklahoma getting two wins in the final weeks over ranked teams versus Utah getting only one win of the same caliber. After all, strength of schedule is the most popular phrase we like to throw out when discussing which teams should make the playoff. Utah has the worst resume of all the playoff hopefuls by this metric, so the Utes better hope their dominant wins are enough to keep them ahead of Oklahoma and push them ahead of an SEC team who doesn’t win the conference championship.

Either way, Utah fans should be pushing really hard for Auburn to win this week and for Oklahoma to blow one of their next two games. Personally, I think if Utah wins out, they should be ahead of Oklahoma easily and any SEC team that didn’t win the conference championship. Sadly, I don’t get to vote on the committee.

Realistically, I don’t think Utah is going to jump Alabama if the Crimson Tide doesn’t lose to Auburn this week. I also think Utah would be left out if Georgia won the SEC and LSU finished with only one loss. The loss by Oregon this week was especially damaging to Utah’s strength of schedule and to the Pac-12’s national reputation as a whole. Utah is going to be lacking in key wins when their resume is compared with Alabama or other top teams in the country.

If you look at the resume Alabama will be bringing to the table, the Crimson Tide have one loss at home to the No. 1 team in the country. The also have wins against Texas A&M, Tennessee, Mississippi State and a hypothetical win over Auburn. Those wins won’t be much more impressive than Utah’s wins, but it would mean Alabama has a win over a team that beat Oregon and the “best” loss in the country.

The committee prioritizes winning conference championships, but will that one extra game be enough to propel Utah ahead in the playoff rankings? I don’t think it will be for Utah. Is that fair? Not really, but this is college football, it was never supposed to be fair. Utah just needs to take care of business these next two weeks and make the best impression possible for the committee.

It does seem like a bit of a miracle after the USC loss and all the misery that accompanied it that we get to have this conversation at all. Now it’s time to become the biggest Auburn fans outside of Alabama. May we all hear the glorious call this week that “Auburn’s gonna win the football game!

Also, as a fun side note to the poll this week, we asked you which Thanksgiving side you would permanently ban if given the power. The results of this are here:

For the 25 percent of you who would ban mac and cheese, I have one question, how dare you? Mac and cheese is the best food we eat during Thanksgiving. There is no better part of Thanksgiving dinner then when you’ve finished your main plate, so you go back and load up a plate of just rolls and mac and cheese. I have never been so disappointed in a quarter of the country. Sweet potatoes are the worst thing ever created and we’re out here attacking cheese and noodles. All sweet potatoes should be shot into the sun. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

There is still time to sign up for the FanPulse Top 25 and to make your voice heard here at SB Nation. Click Here to join us for the remainder of the season and to right the wrongs of those disparaging the best part of Thanksgiving. Also, don’t forget Colorado is a “rivalry game” this week so be sure to say mean thins about Colorado all week. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!