Can The Utes Make The College Football Playoff? It’s Possible
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The expectations for Utah football in 2019 are sky high with so much talent coming back on both sides of the ball, all eyes are set on improving from last year’s Pac-12 title game appearance and making it to the Rose Bowl.
Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry of KSL’s UnRivaled took the already rosy optimism for the Utes and amped it up a level to think about what this team could do in 2019.
Last season was the most successful season for the Utes since joining the Pac-12 and most everyone believes that Utah could repeat a South Division title. The team is poised to break through and win the Pac-12, according to Mitchell and Kirry.
Winning the Pac-12 title will get them to Pasadena and if things fall right – maybe a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Utah’s Favorable Schedule
One reason to be extremely optimistic for the Utes’ season is their schedule. With the Pac-12 playing nine league games, it means that every other year a team will have five home conference games. This is that year for Utah.
In addition to that, the Utes play two non-conference games at home. The one road game in non-conference play is a short drive South to play BYU in Provo.
“Ironically, it is the schedule. Utah has seven home games the one road game is at BYU, so getting on an airplane and traveling they have four real road games,” Mitchell said on KSL’s Unrivaled. “They don’t play Oregon, they don’t play Stanford, and they are favored to win 11 games. The game of the year is at USC. If they can get by USC they can potentially have just one loss on the schedule.”
Of the five road games, only two are going to be extremely tough – USC and Washington.
Beating the Trojans in the Los Angeles Coliseum would be the first time in over 100 years for Utah. That lone win was a 27-12 Ute victory way back in 1916.
USC may not be amazing since they are coming off a 5-7 year but they have the recruits and athletes to turn a season around quickly, according to the UnRivaled duo.
As for Washington, the Huskies are looking like a team that could make it to the College Football Playoff and possibly a top-10 team come November 2.
Going to Arizona is just a step below because one of the Arizona schools usually gives the Utes trouble, according to Mitchell. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is in his second year and his Wildcats team should be improved.
The main reason this game could be a loss for Utah is quarterback Khalil Tate. He is a wild card, according to the duo. He was considered a Heisman contender last year and had a great freshman year, but things fell apart for him in 2019. Another year with Sumlin and the potential Tate has shown could make this game dangerous.
Depth and Leadership
The Utes bring back 15 starters so the starters are filled with upperclassman and players who have not only been around for years but have valuable starting experience.
The combination of those two things could give the Utes a few extra wins for 2019, Mitchell pointed out.
“This Utah team is loaded with senior leadership and maybe worth two wins a season. There are games when you are not 100% mentally and something is off and it takes that senior leadership to find a way to win. I think veteran teams find ways to win on tough nights,” Mitchell said. “With Utah, they can lose people and still have an impactful season. I really believe if some key players, specifically Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley are not injured this year then anything is possible.”
By saying anything is possible for the Utes, this clearly means moving beyond 2018 and going to the Rose Bowl by virtue of winning the Pac-12 championship. If things fall right just maybe a College Football Playoff berth for the University of Utah.
Can Utah Handle Success?
The one big concern for the Utes is if they can play well with the target on their back. There have been only a few seasons in Utah’s history where they have been extremely successful and handled it well.
The 2004 Fiesta Bowl year when Utah became the first BCS busting team and then their Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.
Those are the two good examples, the one not so good example came in the Pac-12 back in 2015 when the Utes started the year 6-0 and reached a peak Associated Press ranking of number three. That quickly changed when the Utes were blown out, 42-21, against USC on the road and finished 4-3 on the backend of the season.
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Taking care of business while being the favorite is the main concern Mitchell has.
“My concerns are if they can handle success. All of sudden they say, ‘we can be in the College Football Playoffs, we are in the rankings, we are in the discussion, we are in the top 10, and can we handle success.’ I know this is the optimistic side of things but there are so many things in Utah’s favor this year with the schedule, the team, and even the whole Pac-12 South and just getting there,” Mitchell added. “Part of it was getting there last year and the team realized they can do this. Beliving, seeing it, and knowing is most of the battle.”
The Utes seem to have everything lined up for a great season. The schedule is nice with seven home games, the depth is there and the team is filled with high-end talent. There will be a game or two this year that the Utes will struggle, according to Mitchell and Kirry.