Ever since the initial College Football Playoff rankings dropped on November 2nd, many fans have speculated over the various outcomes that could place Utah in the Rose Bowl. The first path is clear. Win out after the loss to Oregon State, and beat whichever team ultimately represents the North in the PAC-12 Championship. After that, things get a little more complicated.
As it stands, the #3 Oregon Ducks are on pace to earn a spot in the CFP semifinals, and in doing so, the Rose Bowl is obligated to select the next highest ranked team from the PAC-12. If Utah loses Saturday, then again in the conference championship, there’s a very real chance the Utes aren’t ranked with a hypothetical 8-5 record (assuming Utah beats a sneaky good Colorado the following week), and even if they are, Arizona State with a potential 9-3 record has a very real chance of leapfrogging the Utes, giving the Sun Devils the Rose Bowl while the Utes likely slide into the Alamo Bowl, but even that seems too simplistic for what has been an otherwise chaotic and confusing college football season, particularly for the PAC-12.
The Sun Devils are in Corvalis this week and are -3 point favorites, while ESPN’s Football Power Index gives ASU only a slight edge, favoring Herm Edwards’ squad with a 50.9% chance to win. This matchup is as close as it gets to a tossup, but for Utah’s sake, the Beavers need to handle the Sun Devils the same way they handled the Utes to prevent ASU from sneaking into the rankings. Assuming Utah wins against Colorado, Arizona State beats Arizona and Oregon State loses to Oregon, then Oregon again beats Utah in the conference championship and there are no ranked teams remaining in the PAC-12, the Rose Bowl selection committee will need to determine their next best option based on a variety of factors including head-to-head matchups, overall record, past bowl appearances and performance, as well as considering the last time each candidate has played in the Rose Bowl. The Utes have the head-to-head over ASU, UCLA, and Washington State, while Oregon State would hold the head-to-head over ASU and Utah in this scenario, meaning the committee (and PAC-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff for that matter) would likely be eyeing either the Utes or the Beavers as the PAC-12’s representative in the Grandaddy of Them All, and a division title would certainly help to tip the scales in Utah’s favor. With all that said, there’s still another possible outcome to consider, and boy would it be chaotic.
Looking at the CFP field, the only team that seems to be a virtual lock is Georgia. The Bulldogs have clearly been the most consistent and dominant team in the nation this season and are wrapping up their regular season with easy wins over Charleston Southern and a three-win Georgia Tech. They’ll likely face the second-ranked Crimson Tide of Alabama in the SEC championship, assuming Bama takes care of Arkansas this week. What the PAC-12 desperately needs is an Auburn upset over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, but I’ll elaborate more on that shortly.
Ohio State’s fourth-place ranking is just as shakey as Oregon’s with a daunting schedule ahead that features #7 Michigan State and a visit to the Big House to take on their heated rival Michigan, who currently sits at #6 in the CFP rankings. The PAC-12 needs Ohio State to beat MSU, but lose to Michigan. This would place the Wolverines in the B1G championship, where Big Blue would likely take on Wisconsin, a game the Ducks and Utes need the Badgers to win. Moving south, the Big XII is only one game away from chaos, with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both sitting at one loss, if both teams win this week, and OU beats OSU in the regular-season finale, they’ll face each other again in the Big XII championship, however, an OU loss would seemingly slot Baylor into the championship game against OSU, a matchup the PAC-12 needs Baylor to win.
Finally, we get to Cincy. The Bearcats have been on the outside looking in despite an undefeated record and wins over P5 schools, including a top 10 Notre Dame team, but will need to beat Houston in the AAC championship, a team who is also undefeated in conference play. Because of Cincy’s current Group of Five designation, a loss to Houston would seemingly eliminate them from playoff contention, regardless of their regular-season record.
If this all plays out exactly as laid out, the CFP committee would be left with quite the conundrum when trying to slot the four best teams. We already know Georgia is a lock. Notre Dame, whose independent status excludes them from conference championship drama would likely slide up to #2. Three and four would need to be selected from a field that consists of:
- Alabama (10-3 with no conference champion title and regular-season losses to Texas A&M and Auburn)
- Oregon (11-2 with a conference championship title and regular-season losses to Stanford and Utah)
- Michigan (11-2 with no conference championship title and a regular-season loss to Michigan State)
- Oklahoma State (11-2 with no conference championship title and a regular-season loss to Iowa State)
- Baylor (11-2 with a conference championship and regular season losses Oklahoma State and TCU)
- Whoever comes out atop the ACC
Alabama is the easiest team to eliminate from these contenders with more losses and no conference championship to bolster their resume, leaving Oregon, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and the ACC’s top dog battling for the third and fourth spot. If that ends up being a one-loss Wake Forest, they’re the obvious three seed, with Oregon, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and Baylor each with compelling arguments to claim the four spot. If Wake Forest doesn’t win the ACC championship, any one of those teams could easily lay claim to the third seed as well, helping Oregon’s chances even more.
Admittedly, there is a lot of mental gymnastics at play here to get to this point, but none of these possibilities are entirely impossible. What this all boils down to is Utah can absolutely beat Oregon this weekend, securing their spot in the PAC-12 championship, while leaving the door open for Oregon to secure a CFP bid if the Ducks return the favor and topple the Utes in Vegas. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, a path to the Rose Bowl is still on the table as long as chaos and a little bit of luck are on Utah’s side.