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Here’s How Utah Football Can Get Into CFB Playoff

Utah Utes defensive tackle Leki Fotu (99) and the Utes sing the fight song in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The University of Utah football team came in at No. 8 on the first round of the College Football Rankings. We know the Utes must win out to have a shot at the playoff, but what else has to happen, outside of their control? Quite a lot.

“I know all the hurdles, but I’m just telling you,” said KSL Sports’ Scott Mitchell. “They have a chance.”

If the Utes came in ranked 10th, Mitchell said getting into the playoffs wasn’t likely, but he likes Utah’s odds.

“Being ranked 8th gives them a legitimate shot. There are three teams ahead of them that will probably lose. Could be four,” he said.

Taking Care of Business

For starters, they have to do the obvious. Utah must beat UCLA at home, Arizona on the road and Colorado at home, hopefully in dominant fashion.

The Utes survived their toughest game of the year against Washington in Seattle. That win was a major relief for Ute fans, but UCLA comes to town on November 16 and both teams will be coming off a bye.

Despite a 1-5 start, the Bruins have won three straight conference games, including a 42-32 win over then No. 24 Arizona. They might have a losing record, but they are 4-2 in the Pac-12. This could be Utah’s Toledo.

They shouldn’t overlook Arizona in Tuscon, and Colorado has a tendency to beat the Utes when they shouldn’t.

Pac-12 Championship as a Stepping Stone

Utah must win the Pac-12 Championship if they hope to get a spot in College Football Playoff. They’ve been to the game once – last year – and lost to No. 11 Washington by a disappointing score of 10-3.

This year, Ute fans should enjoy the possibility of the first Pac-12 Championship title, but realize the ceiling is much higher.

Fans should also root for the Oregon Ducks in the coming weeks – until the conference championship game. Oregon must win the rest of their games in dominant fashion to add clout. They must beat a great Oregon team in the title game to force the national spotlight on the Utes.

Oregon has already clinched the Pac-12 North Division. They finish out their season at home against Arizona, on the road against Arizona State and at home against Oregon State.

With USC’s loss to Oregon last weekend, Utah will win the Pac-12 South Division if they win the rest of their games.

The hope of Utah football fans, and fans of the Pac-12, is that the conference is respected enough by the committee that a one-loss team will clinch a playoff spot.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens is on the playoff selection committee. If the Utes beat Oregon, he may be a positive voice for the team that knocks of his Ducks and the conference as a whole.

Path to the Playoff

The 13-member College Football Playoff Committee selects and seeds four teams to play in two semi-final games. The semi-final games rotate between the New Year’s Six Bowls. This year the semifinals are the Fiesta Bowl, played in Glendale, Arizona and the Peach Bowl, played in Atlanta, Georgia.

The 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship will be played in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Super Dome.

Traditionally, Utah fans hope for the Rose Bowl – the Granddaddy of them All – where the Pac-12 Champion spends New Year’s Day.

If the Utes want a chance at the National Championship – they want to avoid the Rose Bowl this year.

The first CFB rankings released Tuesday have Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and Penn State in the Top 4. Oregon sits one spot above Utah at No. 7.

No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 Clemson were picked ahead of Utah.

 

Mitchell said he expects things to shift.

“The Top 4 never stay the Top 4 by the end of the season,” he said.

Clemson likely won’t lose again, but Ohio State hosts Penn State, so one of them will have at least one loss. Same thing for Alabama and LSU. Assuming Georgia can get past Auburn and into the SEC Championship, they have to then get past LSU or Alabama.

If Utah beats Oregon, the Ducks will also move down.

Teams & Games to Watch

SEC

Either Alabama or LSU will have one of the four spots, although both could make it. They play a regular-season game on November 11 in Tuscaloosa. That game will be broadcast on CBS at 1:30 p.m. MT.

Utes fans, cheer for the Tigers. They have a better strength of schedule, with the chance to knock Alabama out of the Top 4. If Alabama wins, both teams could still have a shot, even if one loses the SEC Championship.

Another SEC school to watch for is Georgia. They have one loss and are on the outside looking in. The biggest, and really only, challenge Georgia has left in the regular season comes on November 16 against No. 11 Auburn.

At least one of these teams will lose again, and another may fall in that title game.

ACC

Last year’s National Champion Clemson Tigers aren’t likely to lose another game, making them undefeated thanks to the weakness of the ACC Conference.

Clemson has NC State, Wake Forest and South Carolina left to play this season. Wake Forest is the only ranked team, coming in at No. 19.

Clemson is the team outside of the Top 4 most likely to get into the playoff.

Big Ten

Things are interesting in the Big Ten. No.1 Ohio State and No. 4 Penn State play each other in Columbus on November 23. At this point, both teams are undefeated. Game time and television details for that game have not yet been released.

It would help Utah’s chances if both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions lose one of their remaining games. Ohio State still has the biggest rivalry game in college football yet to play against Michigan. The Wolverines have had an up and down season, and rivalry games can be unpredictable.

Ohio State also has games against Maryland and Rutgers left this season.

Penn State plays at No. 17Β  Minnesota Saturday at 10 a.m. on ABC.Β The Golden Gophers haven’t lost this year, in one of their best seasons ever. They’re a huge underdog, but this next game is a big test for them, and they want to prove they’re up to the challenge.

The Nittany Lions also has games against Indiana and Rutgers.

Utah fans should cheer for Ohio State against Penn State, and then hope Michigan beats their rival in the final game of the season, giving each team one loss.

Potential Twists

If everything falls into place, it would put at least one SEC team, Clemson and a Big Ten team in three of the four playoff spots. The fourth spot would either go to the Pac-12, Big 12 or a second SEC or Big Ten team.

There’s a lot of football left to play. A lot can change.

Utah fans should keep an eye on Oklahoma, currently ranked No. 9. If they win the rest of their games, and a Big 12 title, they could jump in the rankings.

Another Big 12 team that could swoop in and take the last spot is undefeated, 12th-ranked Baylor, though that’s unlikely because their strength of schedule is ranked No. 58.

Strength of schedule is a big factor in the committee’s selection process. Utah’s non-conference games against BYU, Idaho State and Northern Illinois may come back to haunt them if the selection process gets tight.

Utah’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 20 in the NCAA, while Auburn has the toughest schedule. Of the teams ranked above Utah, they have the weakest schedule besides Clemson, who comes in at No. 42.

Fortunately for the Utes, Oklahoma’s strength of schedule is No. 26.

Utah football and their fans will find out whether or not the Utes made the cut on December 7 – when all bowl game matchups are announced. As it stands, Vegas says Utah has 30-1 odds to win a national title.

The odds may be stacked against the Utes, but based on the above research they do have a legitimate shot at a College Football Playoff Berth.