Friday can’t get here soon enough. Utah is one win away from completing the school’s best season since joining the Pac-12 and one of the best seasons in program history. Utah will be playing in the Pac-12 Championship and a win would be a first for Utah, but there’s so much more at stake with the College Football Playoff still looming as a possibility for the Utes.
It’s really a testament to what the program has accomplished this year. The loss to USC put Utah in an early hole, not only in terms of competing for a national championship, but just in terms of winning the Pac-12 South. Losing the first game of conference play to USC made it seem completely plausible that Utah wouldn’t even have a chance to play for the Pac-12 title no matter what happened.
Utah did exactly what they had to do after that, they took care of business. The Utes began to dominate opponents, only played one close game against Washington, didn’t lose again after USC and earned plenty of style points in the process. Games outside of Utah’s control also began to go their way. USC lost the two games they had to against Oregon and Washington, opening up the door for Utah to win the Pac-12 South again. Utah laid the finishing touches on their division crown on Saturday night with a blowout win over Colorado.
Based on the national reputation of the Pac-12 and the fact that Utah and Oregon have been the only conference teams ranked each week in the AP Poll, an 11-1 finish this year didn’t seem like it would be enough for Utah to truly enter the playoff conversation. In other years, last year for example, that certainly would have been the case. However, events in other conferences have broken Utah’s way as well to make No. 4 a real possibility if the Utes can win on Friday night.
Oklahoma blew what should have been an easy game against Kansas State. The Sooners have followed that up by playing lots of close games against mediocre to bad opponents. Penn State lost twice, one of which came against Minnesota of all teams. Minnesota in turn got smoked by Wisconsin this week to take them out of the playoff conversation.
And then there was Auburn. Blessed be the name of Auburn. The Tigers beat the Alabama Crimson Tide this week through a series of miracles and removed the Crimson Tide from the playoff conversation once and for all. Alabama was the largest threat to Utah securing the No. 4 spot. The committee had left them ahead of Utah and it seemed doubtful that a win over Oregon would have been enough allow Utah to make that leap. Auburn beat Alabama on the field so that Utah wouldn’t have to beat them in the field of public opinion.
After this weekend, the playoff is really in play. It’s not a dream. It’s not the delusions of some fanbase who manages to convince themselves that being independent means they really can make the playoff (I’m talking about New Mexico State of course). It’s possibly only one game away. Though, Utah and some other teams still have work to do.
We’ll talk more about that, but first let’s look at Week 14 of the SB Nation FanPulse College Football Top 25, as created by the fans from each SB Nation college site. Here is this week’s Top 25:
And here is the BlockU Top 25, created by all the many wonderful Utah fans who have lived through the many highs and one low of this season:
Neither of these polls surprise me that much. As this season draws to a close, all eyes are drawn to the Top 10 and nobody but the best Group of 5 teams care that much about the position of teams 11-25. It’s not a shock that Utah fans are already placing the Utes at No. 4. After all, you have to show others how you want to be treated.
It’s also not a surprise that the national poll still has Utah at No. 6, trailing both Georgia and Oklahoma. We have to think about the mindset of the national audience that is voting. Georgia is a one-loss SEC team with multiple ranked wins. Granted, their one loss was to South Carolina (the sucky USC), but in the eyes of most the country, a loss to the California USC is not much different than a loss to South Carolina. I really wouldn’t have a problem with people arguing that Georgia still is better than Utah, though even thinking about watching Georgia football sounds so boring I want to cry.
While Georgia and Utah are rightfully very close in the rankings, Oklahoma does not hold up the same way when being compared to the rest of the Top 6. Oklahoma is riding at No. 5 based solely on the team’s reputation for being a national contender after competing in the last two playoffs. As was discussed last week in this column, Oklahoma has been the least impressive of all the one-loss Power 5 teams. Are you impressed with Oklahoma’s recent one-point home win over Iowa State? What about a four-point home win over TCU? You shouldn’t be. And I don’t think the committee will be either.
The one positive Oklahoma has going forward is that playing Baylor in the Big 12 Championship would give the Sooners a Top 10 win to finish the season. However, if Utah were to beat Oregon, that would be a win over, at worst, a Top 13 team. The difference in win quality will be minimal if Utah and Oklahoma both win. It likely won’t be enough to push Oklahoma ahead of Utah if Utah remains the higher ranked team in this week’s CFP poll.
We even posed a question in the poll this week asking which team is most deserving of the No. 4 in the playoff. The results from the national audience were interesting to the say the least:
Despite Utah finishing at No. 6 in the actual poll, the greatest percentage of voters believe that Utah should still be the team to get the fourth spot. It’s interesting to me that Georgia came in third in the voting despite being the current No. 4 team. I think that a large part of that is because the voters are acting as if Georgia is going to lose in the SEC Championship game. It also appears that 0.9 percent of the people who voted in this poll were Alabama fans, but they’re no longer relevant.
If we do assume that Utah takes care of business against Oregon, the most important game for Utah fans to watch the next day will be the SEC Championship. LSU is currently a 7.5-point favorite to win against Georgia. LSU should win this game. Georgia has only scored more than 27 points once in the team’s last seven games. LSU has scored less than 35 points once all season. However, Georgia is the best defense LSU has played all year (yes, the Bulldogs are better at defense than Alabama this year).
But LSU has Joe Burrow playing quarterback, and as fun as the #HuntleyForHeisman campaign is, Burrow is the runaway Heisman winner, and it shouldn’t be close. The man has dominated this year. After putting up 46 points on Alabama and 42 on Florida, rising to Georgia’s level shouldn’t be that much more of a challenge.
In this hypothetical game though, we need to prepare for the worst. If Georgia wins the SEC Championship, Utah is not getting into the playoff, simple as that. Even with a loss, LSU’s resume would have three Top 10 wins, a similar run of dominance to what Utah had against lesser opponents, and the Tigers one loss would be against another Top 4 team. Teams do get a conference championship boost, but one Top 25 win plus the conference championship boost will not put Utah on equal footing with LSU. LSU would be No. 4 and Utah would be No. 5 in this scenario.
It’s disappointing to imagine a scenario where a one-loss Power 5 conference champion gets left out of the playoff (and in this hypothetical there would actually be two one-loss champions left out), but there’s no point in griping about the playoff. Four teams are a massive improvement over the BCS, and there will be an eight-team playoff in the near future. Now amount of complaining is going to cause the playoff to expand to six teams for this one year.
Utah has gotten a lot of help from other teams this year. That’s the reason they’re in the playoff conversation to begin with. The Utes will just need help from LSU to close out the season, because contrary to the national opinion at large, Utah can compete with these other Top 5 schools. A search through Twitter following the Alabama loss and during the Utah game found a lot of ecstatic Utah fans and a lot of other fanbases angry that Utah will even have a shot to make the playoff.
It would be a massive boon to the Pac-12 to make the playoff and an even bigger boost to the national reputation of Utah. It would also be a huge advantage in recruiting as the early signing period begins in December before the playoff. Kyle Whittingham has done so much for the program while only signing a couple of four-star prospects each year. Imagine what he could do if suddenly he had eight four-star recruits each year instead of four.
Friday and Saturday really will be two defining days for the University of Utah. If Utah loses that game, all the hype and discussion will have been for nothing. Utah won’t even get to play in the Rose Bowl, instead the Utes would likely have to settle for the Alamo Bowl. It will be another very strong season for Utah but one that leaves the Utes with nothing to show for it besides another bowl trophy that blends in with all the rest.
The Pac-12 Championship game on Friday night is all Utah can actually control. Saturday is the day for Utah to root for LSU, and then chaos in all the other games. Things would suddenly get very interesting if either Clemson or Ohio State were upset in their conference championship games. It would also add to the peace of mind for Utah fans if Baylor were to take down Oklahoma this time around. None of those upsets are very likely though. So, it really all comes down to making sure Utah takes care of business and then hoping for the best.
This season has felt special the last couple of months as the senior class has helped Utah to absolutely dominate the Pac-12. This season still has the chance to be the best in program history, even surpassing the BCS bowl win seasons if things were to go right. The Utes have one more game to show they belong. After that, it’s all in the hands of the committee. I’m so ready for Friday night.
Thank you all for reading and for participating with us. To stay involved with FanPulse, you can sign up by clicking HERE. Go Utes. Time for the program to make a national statement. Football is awesome.