Utah’s football team took the field Saturday night vs. UCLA at Rice-Eccles Stadium, knowing that three more wins in November would send the Utes to the Pac-12 championship game.
Other aspects of Utah's future are more difficult to gauge, including the possibility of qualifying for the College Football Playoff.
In that sense, this year is beginning to resemble Utah's 2004 and '08 seasons, when the Utes had more to play for than merely a Mountain West championship. Utah fans continually were monitoring the Bowl Championship Series standings in those days, and the Utes ended up being ranked high enough to play in the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls.
Utah is No. 7 in the latest CFP rankings, bringing the top four into view for a potential semifinal berth. The same is true of No. 6 Oregon, with the Ducks hosting Arizona late Saturday night.
By the time the Utes kicked off against UCLA, the results of three other games had affected their hopes to varying degrees.
The biggest question of the day is how a major injury to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will impact the No. 5 Crimson Tide. Alabama has a capable backup quarterback in Mac Jones, but the CFP committee may devalue the Tide to some degree.
The game that clearly helped the Utes was Iowa's 23-19 win over Minnesota, the CFP's No. 8 team. The Golden Gophers potentially could have overtaken a one-loss Utah team if they had remained unbeaten.
Georgia's 21-14 defeat of Auburn is tougher to evaluate. Auburn's case is complicated, from a Pac-12 perspective, because the Tigers are the only team to have beaten Oregon. The Ducks needed Auburn to keep winning, making that season-opening defeat more acceptable.
Then again, an Auburn win would have given more value to a potential Alabama victory over the Tigers. So the win for No. 4 Georgia probably hurts the Pac-12 only if the Bulldogs go on to beat LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Oregon’s continued success, meanwhile, would help Utah in multiple ways. If the Utes and Ducks meet in the Pac-12 title game as one-loss teams, the winner would get a big boost in the rankings. And if Oregon wins that game and advances to the Playoff, the Utes would become the Pac-12′s contestant in the Rose Bowl as the conference’s next-highest team in the rankings.