The University of Utah is essentially playing Washington State on Saturday morning for the right to play more football.
With a win at Rice-Eccles Stadium (11:30 a.m., Fox Sports 1), the Utes would be bowl eligible at 3-2, with a postseason invitation potentially following at some point Sunday afternoon. However, there is nothing that says Utah has to accept a postseason invite, a point driven home Monday morning by head coach Kyle Whittingham, who was noncommittal on what this abbreviated season may hold beyond Saturday.
The NCAA Division I Council in mid-October waived the bowl-eligibility requirement that says teams must have a .500 record or better. The Pac-12, though, is keeping the .500 requirement in place. Remaining Pac-12 bowl tie-ins are the New Year’s Six, Alamo, Independence and Armed Forces bowls. Of those four, the only realistic options for Utah are the Independence and Armed Forces bowls.
“That’ll be, in my opinion, up to the players,” the 16th-year Utah head coach said. “We’ll talk about that when the time is right. If they’re up for it, want to do it, and have the record we need to have, obviously we have to win, then we’ll move forward. If they feel like enough’s enough, then we won’t.
“To me, they’re going to handle that within themselves, and I’ll back them either way they want to go. Whatever our players choose is what we’ll go with.”
As the college football season winds down with conference championship weekend up next across the country, some teams have already opted out of bowl games. Boston College and Pitt said no thanks last week, while Utah’s Pac-12 partner, Stanford, did the same Sunday.
Stanford’s situation is unique. With the Santa Clara County Public Health Department having announced an emergency directive Nov. 28 that prohibited training and competition inside the county, the Cardinal have been on the road since Dec. 1, practicing and playing. That will continue this week as they set up shop in Santa Barbara in advance of playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. At 3-2, Stanford would be bowl eligible regardless of what happens vs. the Bruins.
After Utah’s 38-21 come-from-behind win at Colorado on Saturday, Britain Covey spoke of burnout among he and his teammates in the middle of what has been an unprecedented, emotionally draining six months since Utah players began streaming back to campus in mid-June for voluntary workouts.
Covey mentioned Boston College’s opt-out and how he understands the thinking behind it, while lamenting the fact that this is the first time in his career Utah will not be playing for a championship, so motivation has to come from somewhere else.
When Covey was a freshman in 2015, the Utes shared the Pac-12 South title with USC, but did not advance to the Pac-12 championship game. Utah won the Pac-12 South and went to the title game in 2018 and 2019, although Covey took a redshirt in 2019.
“It’s different. You have to dig deep, you have to find what motivates you,” Covey said after racking up 210 all-purpose yards against the then-No. 21 Buffaloes. “We’re going to have one more game, and this has been such a weird season.”
Devin Lloyd named Butkus Award finalist
Utes redshirt junior Devin Lloyd was named a finalist Monday for the Dick Butkus Award, which is presented annually by the Butkus Foundation to the nation’s top linebacker.
Through four games, Lloyd leads Utah in tackles (38), while his 9.5 tackles per game ranks fifth in the Pac-12. Last season, Lloyd’s team-high 91 tackles and 6.5 sacks yielded an All-Pac-12 honorable-mention selection.
The other finalists for the Butkus Award, which will be announced on or before Dec. 22 are Nick Bolton (Missouri), Zaven Collins (Tulsa), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame) and Monty Rice (Georgia).
Cam Rising likely unavailable for spring practice
Whittingham said Monday morning that Cameron Rising had successful shoulder surgery but indicated for a second time that it is unlikely the redshirt sophomore quarterback will be available for spring practice, presumably in March if the COVID-19 pandemic allows it.
Rising won the starting job out of fall camp but injured his shoulder on the 14th offensive play of the season vs. USC while chasing his own fumble. South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley came on in relief of Rising early in the second quarter and has started the past three games.
“He’s got a long road ahead of him, but he’s determined and has the right attitude,” Whittingham said. “We expect him to make a full recovery. That’s our hope.”
Utah’s quarterback setup in 2021 is not in stone. With the NCAA having frozen the eligibility clock for football players, Bentley has the option to return for another season. With Rising’s health in the spring and into the summer a question mark, other options include true freshman Cooper Justice and incoming four-star Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School recruit Peter Costelli, who is expected to sign his national letter of intent on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period.