College Football Playoff: Utah one of five Pac-12 teams to debut in Top 25

The committee’s initial rankings should provide some hope for the conference’s Playoff chances, but Nov. 19′s games loom large.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utah Utes pose for a team photo at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021.

The University of Utah has debuted at No. 14 in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s initial set of rankings.

The committee released its first rankings Tuesday evening, with the Utes and three other Pac-12 teams cracking the top 15.

The Utes are 6-2 overall and one of three Pac-12 teams with one conference loss. Oregon, the lone Pac-12 team unbeaten in conference play, is No. 8. UCLA and USC are Nos. 9 and 12, respectively. Oregon State, which is ranked in the AP Top 25 this week for the first time since 2013, checked in at No. 23.

The rankings should provide some optimism within the Pac-12, but the Utes’ path to a New Year’s Six bowl game remains the same.

A spot in the College Football Playoff has been off the table for Utah since suffering its second loss of the season, a 42-32 setback at UCLA on Oct. 8.

As far as the rest of the New Year’s Six goes, this initial ranking is essentially window dressing for Utah. The only NY6 game the Utes can legitimately get to is the Rose Bowl, which means it needs to win the Pac-12 again. Another loss this month would be Utah’s third overall and second in the conference, likely knocking it out of contention for the Pac-12 championship game, thus knocking it out of contention for the NY6.

The big Pac-12 storyline of the night was Oregon, which got destroyed in its opener by then-No. 3 Georgia in Atlanta, 49-3, but has since ripped off eight straight wins to put it back in CFP contention. The question was, and still is, might the selection committee forgive the Georgia loss given that, one, the Ducks have been lights out since and, two, the Bulldogs have since ascended to No. 1 in the country?

There is optimism after Tuesday that that may indeed be the case for Oregon, but there are still hurdles to clear.

The Ducks, Trojans, and Bruins are all 7-1 overall. Only once since the CFP’s inception in 2014 has a one-loss Power Five champion (2018 Ohio State) been left out of the four-team event.

The Pac-12 will have an even clearer picture of its situation after Nov. 19. On that date, Oregon hosts Utah and UCLA hosts USC, both games carrying with them massive Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff implications.