The Utes want a spot in the College Football Playoff. Here’s what needs to happen.
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive end Bradlee Anae (6), Utah Utes defensive tackle Leki Fotu (99) and Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) sack Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez (12), in PAC-12 football action between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.
As the stakes have steadily risen this fall, Kyle Whittingham has diligently shaped a narrative that he is not concerned with what teams are doing outside of his own.
In addressing reporters Monday morning, the Utah coach at one point went back to that well, furthering the notion that nothing outside Salt Lake City matters as he prepares his team for the Pac-12 championship game.
But the end of a postgame video tweeted from the Utah football account Saturday night said otherwise. In the wake of the Utes’ 45-15 Senior Night drubbing of Colorado
, Whittingham finished addressing his team by noting that Alabama, No. 5 in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings and standing in Utah’s path to the CFP, had lost to Auburn.
Yes, Whittingham is paying attention to matters outside of his locker room, even if he chooses not to admit it.
As Utah readies to face Oregon on Friday at Levi’s Stadium (6 p.m., ABC), it is important to note that every big-picture goal is still in front of the Utes. With a win, they are guaranteed at least a trip to their first Rose Bowl
. The College Football Playoff is still a real possibility, but Utah would need to not only win, but also receive some help.
With the new College Football Playoff rankings set to be released Tuesday night, here’s a look at what has to happen for Utah to get into the top 4.
Beat Oregon, preferably with style points tacked on.
This is the top priority, because if Utah falls Friday night, all of this is moot. No Rose Bowl and definitely no playoff spot. The Utes opened as 4.5-point favorites. As of Monday morning, that number had been bet to 6.5, which indicates the early money came in on the Utes. Much of the luster came off this matchup when Oregon lost at Arizona State on Nov. 23. At the time, the Ducks were No. 6. The Ducks were 14th last week, and well outside the national-title picture.
No. 9 Baylor beating No. 7 Oklahoma would be helpful.
This is the critical game for Utah’s playoff hopes. An Oklahoma win over Baylor would look better than a Utah win over Oregon. Debate over the Utes vs. Sooners for No. 4 is already raging
, and that would continue if both win. Utah has been more dominant, but Oklahoma has played better competition. The best scenario for the Utes here is to have the Bears win, thus eliminating the two-loss Sooners from the conversation. The selection committee has not held Baylor in high regard, so it seems unlikely it would jump the 12-1 Bears over 12-1 Utah. One-loss Oklahoma, with two wins over Baylor on its resume, would be a prime candidate to jump the Utes into that No. 4 slot.
No. 2 LSU needs to beat No. 4 Georgia.
The LSU Tigers appear to be mortal locks for the CFP, even if they were to lose to the one-loss Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Assuming Georgia stays at No. 4 on Tuesday night, the committee is unlikely to leave it out at 12-1 with a win over the Tigers. But if Georgia loses Saturday, the team is likely headed for the Sugar Bowl opening up a spot in the playoff.
Virginia beats No. 3 Clemson.
This has been written off, if discussed at all, but we’re going to talk about it right now, even if Clemson is a four-score favorite. The Tigers’ strength of schedule is 66th nationally, per the latest Sagarin ratings. Clemson may very well be in, even with a loss, but if the Tigers do get upset, there at least needs to be a conversation amongst selection committee members. The resume is thin, and the one loss would be against an unranked, albeit nine-win Virginia team. By comparison, Utah’s lone loss would be to USC, which rallied to finish 8-4 and is No. 22 going into Tuesday night.