Utah moved up to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff Top 25 on Tuesday, positioning the Utes for a possible move into the top four in the final rankings.
The four semifinalists will be announced Sunday morning, following the weekend’s conference championship games — including Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon on Friday night at Santa Clara, Calif.
The promotion of one spot validated Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s joy about formerly No. 5 Alabama’s loss to Auburn last Saturday, when the Utes (11-1) beat Colorado 45-15 to clinch the Pac-12 South title. The No. 5 ranking is significant, meaning the CFP committee would have to do something extraordinary to keep Utah out of the top four — as long as the Utes beat Oregon and No. 2 LSU defeats No. 4 Georgia.
The asterisk is whether a convincing win by either No. 6 Oklahoma or No. 7 Baylor for the Big 12 title would lift the Sooners or Bears over Utah. The other factor, then, is the margin of a Utah win over Oregon.
“Teams are playing each other, so a lot of movement can happen,” Whittingham said Tuesday.
The weekend’s schedule sets up reasonably well for the Utes and their fans, reducing their amount of agonizing. If Utah wins Friday, the minimum reward is a Rose Bowl berth, likely vs. Wisconsin. Then everyone would await the LSU-Georgia result Saturday afternoon, as the No. 1 variable for Utah.
The discussion of Saturday’s games becomes meaningless, of course, if Utah loses to Oregon. In that case, the Utes would be hoping to gain a Cotton Bowl berth by remaining ahead of teams such as No. 9 Florida in the final rankings — and those teams have completed their regular seasons.
The only intrigue Saturday would involve the Group of Five team that qualifies for a New Year's Six invitation as the highest-ranked conference champion. That will be No. 17 Memphis, if the host Tigers beat No. 20 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference title game.
If the Utes miss the New Year’s Six cut, their likely destination would be the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio against a Big 12 opponent such as Oklahoma State.