Utah coach Kyle Whittingham enjoys playing an underdog role. So even though the No. 5 Utes are favored over No. 13 Oregon in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game, he will use material that frames his team as an outsider in the College Football Playoff discussion.
ESPN college football contributor Paul Finebaum is loudly dismissing Utah as a CFP contender, and Utah Football’s official Twitter account seized on something he repeated Wednesday. Asked on the air what he thought the CFP committee would do if Utah and No. 6 Oklahoma both won conference titles, Finebaum said, “Oklahoma’s getting in, because let’s be honest, the country does not want to see Utah in the College Football Playoff. I mean, it’s Utah!”
The football program tweeted the video and said, “Thanks for the bulletin board material, @finebaum. Keep it coming.”
In November, Whittingham made sure his players knew about a UCLA backup receiver’s intention to prove who was the tougher team in a matchup with Utah. The Utes won 49-3.
The Utes have to beat Oregon to extend the conversation into Saturday, when No. 2 LSU meets No. 4 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference title game. A Georgia win would almost certainly keep both SEC teams in the top four. If the Tigers win, however, the fourth spot becomes open and would be available to Oklahoma, if the Sooners beat No. 7 Baylor for the Big 12 championship.
In that case, two opposing theories would be in play. The 13-person committee could move Utah to No. 4 and eliminate Oklahoma, on the logic that it has kept Utah in front of Oklahoma for the past five weeks. The other argument is that an Oklahoma victory over Baylor would mean more than a Utah win over Oregon. And, as Finebaum insists, fans nationally would prefer a matchup of the Sooners vs. No. 1 Ohio State in the semifinals.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, the committee chairman, said Tuesday that Utah is slightly more impressive than Oklahoma. “We spent considerable time on it, more time than anywhere else on the board,” he said. “There was plenty of debate. … When we look at Utah, we see a season-long balance of very consistent play on both sides of the ball. Very dominant wins. Their only loss is on a Friday night on the road at a No. 22 ranked team [USC] when a key player on offense [running back Zack Moss] missed the majority of the game.”