USC’s path to the Playoff is clear. Can the Utes get to the Rose Bowl even if they lose the Pac-12 title game?

Utah football up to No. 11 in College Football Playoff rankings, USC in line for CFP berth at No. 4

The penultimate College Football Playoff rankings release on Tuesday evening indicated one very clear factor pertaining to the University of Utah.

Not only will the Utes be looking for a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl on Friday night at the Pac-12 championship game, they will be trying to keep the conference out of the College Football Playoff for the sixth straight season.

The Utes moved up three spots to No. 11 on Tuesday evening, while its championship game opponent USC, moved up two spots to No. 4 and, for now, into the College Football Playoff. The Pac-12 kept six teams ranked as Washington checked in at No. 12, Oregon State at No. 15. Oregon at No. 16, and UCLA at No 17.

If Utah wins at Allegiant Stadium on Friday night, it is going to the Rose Bowl. If USC wins, it is likely to bypass the Rose Bowl and end up in the CFP. Only once since its inception after the 2014 season has a one-loss Power Five champion, Ohio State in 2018, been left out of the four-team event. The Trojans moved to 11-1 on Saturday with a home win over Notre Dame.

The Pac-12 has only been a part of the CFP twice, and not since Washington lost to Alabama in a 2016 semifinal at the Peach Bowl.

If USC winds up in the CFP, who goes to the Rose Bowl?

The Rose Bowl has said in the past that if a Pac-12 or Big Ten team goes to the College Football Playoff, it would take the respective conference’s next-highest ranked team from the CFP rankings.

That has come to fruition in years past (USC in 2016 after Washington went to the CFP, Wisconsin in 2019 after Ohio State went to the CFP, etc.), but for what it’s worth, the Rose Bowl is not contractually obligated to do that. It can technically do whatever it wants if it is left to choose the teams.

That said, if Utah loses to USC, it could fall below Washington in the final CFP rankings on Sunday, which would put the 10-win Huskies next in line should USC advance to the CFP. It would be hard to envision the Rose Bowl not taking Washington, which has a large fan base that will travel to Pasadena, not to mention national name-brand recognition.

Washington certainly believes it has a chance to be the Rose Bowl’s selection.

“I guess I’m looking at it this way, we did Utah a favor already, right?” Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer joked, noting that Washington’s win over Washington State helped put the Utes in the title game. “Selfish-wise, I certainly think there is a team we’re rooting for.”

If Utah loses Friday night, what are its bowl options?

If Utah loses to USC and Washington goes to the Rose Bowl, attention then turns to which non-NY6 game the Utes wind up in during the month of December. Below are the Pac-12 bowl tie-ins 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. 20

• LA Bowl, Dec. 17

• ESPN-run bowl (Gasparilla, First Responders, or Armed Forces).

There are a bunch of things to consider here.

The Alamo, Holiday, and Las Vegas Bowls have some flexibility in that they can bypass the next team in line as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record. That said, USC and Washington aside, Utah would be no worse than the fourth Pac-12 team in line as bowl bids are handed out on Sunday. The Utes and Oregon both finished 7-2 in the Pac-12, while UCLA and Oregon State were 6-3.

A lot of this will depend on what the Alamo Bowl wants to do. Oregon, which beat Utah on Nov. 19, would presumably be next in line, but the Ducks played and lost in San Antonio last season. If the Alamo does not want the Ducks again, the viable options are down to Utah and UCLA. The Bruins beat the Utes on Oct. 8, have a bigger brand, and would, at a minimum, feature head coach Chip Kelly for a week.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Cam Rising, and any number of other Utes and Bruins upperclassmen potentially opting out of a non-NY6 bowl game is a topic for a couple of weeks from now.

Bottom line: Utah is not going to do worse than the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.