The University of Utah will be playing in a bowl game to close this season, it’s just a matter of which one.
The Pac-12′s grand bowl prize, a trip to the Rose Bowl, remains available to the Utes, but its chances of getting to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2 were significantly dented thanks to a 20-17 loss to Oregon in Eugene.
Beyond the Rose Bowl, there is a slew of places the Utes could end up. Here is a breakdown of where things stand entering Saturday’s regular-season finale in Boulder.
How can Utah still get to the Pac-12 championship game?
Entering the game at Oregon, Utah’s road back to the Pac-12 championship game was simple. Beat the Ducks, beat Colorado to finish 8-1, and that’s it. The Utes would have been in. That is now off the table. In its place, a difficult, albeit viable path to Las Vegas.
To get to the Pac-12 championship game, Utah now needs to beat Colorado, plus have UCLA beat Cal, Oregon State beat Oregon, and Washington beat Washington State. The Bruins and Golden Bears will play Friday afternoon in Berkeley, while the other two rivalry games will take place Saturday in Corvallis and Pullman, respectively.
The big to-do among those three games is Oregon-Oregon State, where the Ducks are a slight favorite. Oregon advances to the Pac-12 championship game to face USC with a win over the Beavers, who are seeking their first nine-win regular season since 2012.
What happens if USC goes to the College Football Playoff?
Great question, because this is an increasingly plausible scenario after the Trojans downed UCLA in Pasadena on Saturday night.
There is no guarantee USC makes the College Football Playoff, but a 12-1 Power Five champion would be hard to keep out. The Rose Bowl has said in the past that if a Pac-12 team does get to the CFP, it would take the conference’s next-highest-ranked team from the College Football Playoff rankings.
The caveat there is, the Rose Bowl can technically do whatever it wants. It is not officially or contractually obligated to take the Pac-12′s No. 2 team.
That opens the floor to multiple possibilities.
If Utah somehow gets to the Pac-12 championship game against USC and loses, does it still go to the Rose Bowl with four losses as the next-highest ranked team?
If Utah loses in the title game, has four losses, and is next in line anyway, does the Rose Bowl bypass the Utes and go with someone like Washington or UCLA? Both would have turned in strong nine-win seasons, both have huge followings and excellent pedigrees, and would help pack the Rose Bowl.
What are Utah’s options beyond the Rose Bowl?
The Pac-12 bowl tie-ins are as follows in the order in which they get to select teams:
• Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Dec. 29
• Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Dec 28
• Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 17
• Sun Bowl in El Paso, Dec. 30
• LA Bowl, Dec. 17
• ESPN-run bowl (Gasparilla, First Responders or Armed Forces)
There is some flexibility at the top of the food chain here as the Alamo, Holiday and Las Vegas Bowls can bypass the next team in line as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record.
For example, if Utah finishes 7-2 in the Pac-12 and is next in line for the Holiday Bowl, but the Holiday Bowl wants 6-3 Washington, the Holiday Bowl can skip the Utes and take the Huskies.
If Utah does not make the Pac-12 championship game once the dust settles across the conference on Saturday, these bowl games will come into better focus as they relate to the Utes.
Utah has been to the Las Vegas Bowl three times (2010, 2014, 2015), and the Holiday (2018) and Alamo (2019) once each under Kyle Whittingham.
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