It's the way they've lost that makes it easy to forget that, not so long ago, it was widely thought they had no business hoping to beat such teams.

In Tempe, in overtime, after a field goal miss from Andy Phillips, one of the nation's most accurate kickers.

In Salt Lake City, after ceding 14 points with a single unforced error from return game revelation Kaelin Clay, and still trailing just 30-27 early in the fourth quarter.

No. 7 Arizona State and No. 3 Oregon are favorites to play for the Pac-12 Championship, and the winner has an excellent chance to earn a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Utah was supposed to struggle to reach a bowl game.

Now, even with senior wideout Dres Anderson, junior quarterback Kendal Thompson and junior wideout Tim Patrick lost for the season due to injury, and with senior Tevin Carter potentially forgoing a return to apply for a medical hardship waiver, Utah has a reasonable expectation of beating Pac-12 heavyweight Stanford in Palo Alto next week.

"We're more equipped now to compete in this league than at any time since we joined it," Whittingham said after a 51-27 loss that was much closer than the scoreline suggests.

The Utes might be undefeated without nose dives in the final moments of three Pac-12 games, and the latest AP poll reflects that. Besides No. 25 Utah, only No. 20 LSU has three losses.

Then again, they might also have four to six losses had they not finished well against No. 14 UCLA, USC and Oregon State.

What's done is done.

On the subject of what is, and not what might have been: Utah racked up 440 total yards against the Ducks, its most this season in a conference game, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen answered critics' calls to open up the passing game and increase the tempo.

Whittingham acknowledged after the game that there was a conscious decision to use more two-back sets and to take more shots downfield.

"Very good to see us throw the ball a lot better," Whittingham said. "We had over 300 yards throwing, and that was very encouraging."

It's hardly a positive to lose Thompson, who was dynamic on Utah's opening drive, but Travis Wilson no longer has to live in fear that he could be pulled at a moment's notice.

He wasn't bad, either. Wilson's 297 passing yards Saturday night marked just the second time this year he passed the 200-yard mark.

Yes, his streak of attempts without an interception ended at an FBS-best 181, but his two deep balls to Clay were artful, and he was aware enough to find junior Devontae Booker out of the backfield for 110 yards and a score.

With Clay, Phillips, Booker punter Tom Hackett and defensive end Nate Orchard continuing to rank among the nation's leaders in their relevant categories, and Kalani Sitake's defense continuing to befuddle future NFL quarterbacks for whole quarters and halves at a time, the bright spots are myriad.

The Utes will head to Palo Alto to face a Stanford team that has only been beaten by ranked teams, and features the nation's fourth-best scoring defense.

A Pac-12 South title is no longer on the line.

But Utah is playing for a worthy consolation prize: respect.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute fans cheer on their team before that Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watches his team warm up before that Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) runs the ball, In PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes take the filed before the Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) runs the ball, In PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) runs for the end zone on a long pass play, but dropped the ball before he reached the end zone, resulting in an a 99-yard Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) down on the play, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) runs for the end zone on a long pass play, but dropped the ball before he reached the end zone, resulting in an a 99-yard Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) runs for the end zone on a long pass play, but dropped the ball before he reached the end zone, resulting in an a 99-yard Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) celebrates what appeared to be a touchdown, but he dropped the ball before he reached the end zone, resulting in an a 99-yard Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) runs for the end zone on a long pass play, but dropped the ball before he reached the end zone, resulting in an a 99-yard Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) celebrates what appeared to be a touchdown, but he dropped the ball before he reached the end zone, resulting in an a 99-yard Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks linebacker Derrick Malone (22) hangs on to Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) as he runs the ball, In PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks linebacker Derrick Malone (22) goes after Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) as he runs the ball, In PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23) watches the ball bounce away, after fumbling the ball, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23) watches the ball bounce away, after fumbling the ball, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23) watches the ball bounce away, after fumbling the ball, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks defensive back Reggie Daniels (8) picks up a fumble by Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks defensive back Reggie Daniels (8) picks up a fumble by Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) returns a kick off, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) returns a kick off, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) is helped off the field, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson (1) runs on a quarterback keeper, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) returns a kick off, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes running back Bubba Poole (34) scores a Utah touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah celebrates as running back Bubba Poole (34) scores a Utah touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes running back Bubba Poole (34) scores a Utah touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield shouts at Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) after he dropped the ball before reaching the end zone, resulting in a fumble and an Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune The Utah defense stops Oregon Ducks running back Royce Freeman (21), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Team mates encourage Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) after his fumble resulted in an Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune University of Utah wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield reacts after wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) dropped the ball before reaching the end zone, resulting in a fumble and an Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham chats with the officials, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball for the Utes, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball for the Utes, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks defensive back Troy Hill (13) brings down Utah running back Devontae Booker (23) in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham chats with the officials, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham chats with the officials, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham chats with the officials, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) looks for an open man as he scrambles with the ball, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks linebacker Derrick Malone (22) gets a hand on Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) tries to our run the Ute defenders in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Utah Utes wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) runs for the end zone on a long pass play, but dropped the ball before he reached the end zone, resulting in an a 99-yard Oregon touchdown, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Rick Egan)
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Utah Utes defensive end Nate Orchard (8), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Utah Utes defensive end Nate Orchard (8), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Utah Utes defensive end Nate Orchard (8), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune The Utes celebrate after defensive back Brian Blechen (4) picked up a fumble by Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes defensive back Brian Blechen (4) runs after picking up a fumble by Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes defensive back Brian Blechen (4) runs after picking up a fumble by Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Utah Utes defensive end Nate Orchard (8), in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute fans do the 3rd down jump in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes defensive tackle Sese Ianu (57) goes after a fumble by Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8), in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes defensive end Hunter Dimick (49) sacks Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8), in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utes defensive tackle Sese Ianu (57) goes after a fumble by Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8), in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute fans watch as Oregon pulls ahead 44-27 in the 4th quarter, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute fans watch as Oregon pulls ahead 44-27 in the 4th quarter, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks defensive back Troy Hill (13) tries to stop Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) after he hauls in a long pass for the Utes, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks defensive back Troy Hill (13) tries to stop Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) after he hauls in a long pass for the Utes, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks defensive back Troy Hill (13) tries to stop Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) after he hauls in a long pass for the Utes, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks defensive back Troy Hill (13) tries to stop Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay (8) after he hauls in a long pass for the Utes, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) slips out of the hands of Oregon Ducks linebacker Tyson Coleman (33) as he runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) slips out of the hands of Oregon Ducks linebacker Tyson Coleman (33) as he runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks linebacker Tyson Coleman (33) watches as Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks linebacker Tyson Coleman (33) watches as Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Ducks linebacker Tyson Coleman (33) watches as Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, in Pac-12 football action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Ute running back Devontae Booker (23) runs the ball, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Utes wide receiver Tim Patrick (9) tries to rally his team as he is taken off the field, after being injured in the 3rd quarter, in PAC-12 action, Utah vs. Oregon game, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, November 8, 2014