The Utes put themselves into the college football bowl picture with Saturday’s dominating performance against Colorado, but their possible destinations cover a wide range. Postseason games in Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, New York or Texas aren’t out of the question.
“Just to be able to have these guys play together one more time and 15 practices is going to be huge and invaluable for the young guys,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said Saturday before he quipped, “But Hawaii has a bowl still. Right? I think that would be a good one.”
Because Utah (6-6, 3-6) finished at the bottom of the pecking order of the nine bowl-eligible teams in the Pac-12 Conference, it will be an at-large bowl team as opposed to being slotted into one of the conference-affiliated bowls.
Stanford (9-3, 7-2), USC (10-2, 8-1), Washington (10-2, 7-2), Washington State (9-3, 6-3), Arizona State (7-5, 6-3), Arizona (7-5, 5-4), Oregon (7-5, 4-5) and UCLA (6-6, 4-5) are all also bowl eligible.
The Pac-12 has six contracted bowl bids, not including the Rose Bowl which will be a College Football Playoff semifinal game this season. The conference will send teams to the Valero Alamo Bowl (vs. the Big 12), San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (vs. Big Ten), Foster Farms Bowl (vs. Big Ten), Hyundai Sun Bowl (vs. ACC), Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Mountain West) and the Cactus Bowl (vs. Big 12).
Even if the Pac-12 champion got into the College Football Playoff, which seems nearly impossible at this point with USC rated 11th in the latest CFP rankings, seven other teams remain ahead of the Utes in line for the conference’s six bowl bids.
Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and Athlon Sports have projected the Utes to land in the Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 27. ESPN.com analyst Kyle Bonagura projects the Utes to play in the Birmingham Bowl in Alabama on Dec. 23, while ESPN.com’s David M. Hale predicts the Utes will end up in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 27.
However, if the Big Ten sends a team to the CFP it will leave just seven bowl-eligible teams remaining for eight spots. That could open the door for the Utes to fill the Big Ten’s spot in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
It appears the rest of the conferences should have enough teams to fill their bowl affiliations, and Notre Dame could also factor into an ACC’s bowl spot despite being an independent.
The Utes’ destination may not be known until Sunday after the all conference championships have been decided and the College Football Playoff Selection Committee announces the four playoff participants.
Fitts’ status uncertain
Senior defensive end Kylie Fitts did not play in the final two games of the regular season after coming out of the Washington State game with an apparent shoulder injury and returning to the sideline with his arm in a sling.
Fitts’ ability to play in a bowl game may remain questionable right up until the game, according to Whitingham.
“That’s going to be close,” Whittingham said. “That’ll probably be right down to the week of the game to determine if he’s going to be [available]. The timing of the game obviously will play into that. If it’s a later December game then I think yeah, but if it’s an earlier one then probably not.”