Utah gets help it needed to reach Pac-12 championship game; Trojans await with College Football Playoff hopes intact

Utah beat Colorado, and got wins from UCLA, Oregon State, and Washington to book return trip to Las Vegas

Utah running back Micah Bernard (2) runs past Colorado linebacker Devin Grant (44) for a touchdown as Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) gestures in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The University of Utah is going back to the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night, and it needed a lot of help to get there.

A 63-21 winner over Colorado on Saturday afternoon, Utah got a UCLA win at Cal on Friday, an Oregon State come-from-behind win over Oregon, and a Washington win over Washington State in the Apple Cup. The most improbable of those three results was the Beavers registering a 21-point fourth quarter to come from 17 down for a 38-34 win over the Ducks. That game was happening simultaneously with Utah-Colorado.

All of that created a three-way tie between the Utes, Ducks, and Huskies at 7-2 in conference games, with Utah getting the nod based on the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker.

Playing in its fourth Pac-12 championship game in the last five seasons, Utah will oppose USC at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas (6 p.m., FOX). The winner is usually off to the Rose Bowl, but there is an added wrinkle this year.

The 11-1 Trojans, 38-27 winners Saturday over Notre Dame and currently No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, are likely to be in the top 4 when the new CFP rankings are released Tuesday after No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 LSU both lost Saturday. That means USC is likely not playing for a spot in the Rose Bowl, but rather a spot in the College Football Playoff, which has the Peach and Fiesta Bowls as semifinals this season.

The Rose Bowl has said in the past that if a Pac-12 team gets to the CFP, it would take the next-highest ranked conference team to the Rose Bowl, but it is not contractually obligated to do so.

As a point of reference, the last Pac-12 team to reach the College Football Playoff was Washington in 2016 as the No. 4 seed. The Rose Bowl wound up taking the next-highest ranked team, No. 9 USC. No. 10 Colorado lost to the Huskies in that season’s Pac-12 championship game.

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s CFP rankings release, Washington is currently No. 13, and Utah No. 14. The Huskies last went to the Rose Bowl in 2018.

Utah-USC will be a rematch of the Oct. 15 epic at Rice-Eccles Stadium, a 43-42 Utes win. A 15-play, 75-yard drive, capped by Cam Rising’s 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal, followed by his two-point conversion run, capped the scoring with 48 seconds to play.

Rising threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns that night on 30-for-44 passing. All three numbers were career-highs, while he added 60 rushing yards and three more touchdowns on 11 carries.