Utah’s Path To College Football Playoff Is Quite Simple

Nov 19, 2019, 2:46 PM
Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes signals for a touchdown after throwing a nine yard touchdown pass...
Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes signals for a touchdown after throwing a nine yard touchdown pass against the Washington Huskies in the second quarter during their game at Husky Stadium on November 02, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said it best, “just win, baby.” That should be the mantra of the University of Utah football team as they attempt to earn their first-ever invite to the College Football Playoffs.

In fact, KSL Sport’s Scott Mitchell firmly believes that if the Utes win out then they will be in the playoff.

“You go into the championship week Georgia four, Oregon five, and Utah is six,” Mitchell said on KSL Unrivaled. “Georgia loses to LSU and the winner of the Pac-12 championship game is in.”

The Utes are arguably one of the hottest teams in the country having won six in a row since a road loss to USC back on Friday, September 20. Since then, the Utes have outscored opponents by an average of 38-9 and only the Washington game was a single-digit win, 33-28.

The Utes have allowed just six touchdowns in as many games during the winning streak. They are also second in the Pac-12 in yards per play on offense and first in yards per plays allowed on defense against Power 5 teams. Nationally, in both categories, the Utes are eighth and third, among teams that have played at least seven Power 5 opponents.

So, in short, Utah football is balanced and really good.

No Worry About Not Moving Up In The Polls

For now, the Utes will be outside of the top four and behind Oregon in the College Football Playoffs through the rest of the regular season and that is the expectation, barring any wild upsets happening over the next few weeks.

That is precisely what KSL Sport’s Alex Kirry believes will happen with the next few playoff rankings with regards to Utah.

“Likely the Utes are not going anywhere and stay at seven, Oregon will stay at six and it will be interesting to see where Alabama ends up,” Kirry said. “They probably will stay at four until they don’t look really great.”

There is still a lot of football left for this season and plenty of things can and will happen that will both help and hurt Utah’s chances in making the College Football Playoff.

First of all, winning games is the most important factor since a loss eliminates the Utes from the field.

In theory, that should be the easy part through the final two regular-season games as Utah is over a 90 percent favorite against Arizona and Colorado, per ESPN’s Football Power Index. As for winning out and claiming the Pac-12 title, FPI gives the Utes a 38.3 percent chance of achieving that feat.

Utah’s Playoff Path

There will be no Harry Houdini or David Blaine magic tricks for the Utes to get to the playoff – the path is actually pretty clear.

One step the Utes can control is winning out. The next steps are fairly simple and do not require any 2007-style upsets that threw college football for a loop, specifically the final weekend of the regular season which saw the top two teams in the polls both go down.

In addition to winning out, here is the simple path for the Utes to make the top 4.

  • Oregon wins out. This gives the Utes a high-level opponent to end the season, possibly top-five.
  • Ohio State to win the Big Ten. The No. 2 Buckeyes do play a top-10 Penn State team and a top-15 ranked Michigan team. Plus, a potential Big Ten championship game against a ranked team. Buckeyes win out and they are in the playoff.
  • Clemson wins the ACC. Their league is bad this year and the FPI gives the Tigers a 95 percent chance to win their conference title. Win out and they are in the playoff. Side note, a Clemson loss would knock them out of the playoff and benefit Utah but those odds are extremely low.
  • LSU wins the SEC title over Georgia. A Tigers loss to a No. 4 Georgia would be risky for the Utes. Would the playoff committee drop the No. 1 team in the country outside the top four after losing to a No. 4 team? Safe to say Utah doesn’t want to be in that position, plus the SEC gets the benefit of the doubt just for being the SEC. Odds are LSU would be No. 4.

Pretty straight forward. However, you will notice Alabama is not on this list despite them having its only loss being a single-digit defeat vs. LSU and currently ranked ahead of Utah.

The main reason the Crimson Tide are not listed is that they are all but eliminated and that is due to the hip injury to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa which has him out for the year.

Another reason is that outside of playing LSU, the Crimson Tide do not have a strong strength of schedule and there are not enough high-quality games left for new quarterback Mac Jones to show that Alabama is at the same level as if Tagovailoa were under center.

It is a cumulative effect going against the Crimson Tide and that is why Mitchell sees Nick Saban missing the playoffs for the first time ever.

“We didn’t anticipate what happened to Alabama because it wasn’t just a quarterback that got hurt, but it was a bunch of other players too,” Mitchell said. “Alabama is probably going to fade and that is just what is going to happen. The schedule they are playing and not being in the SEC championship game, they are going to fade.”

The Crimson Tide play Western Carolina of the FCS ranks this week and then the season ends against a ranked Auburn team. Had Alabama been able to play for an SEC title then maybe there would be enough data points to consider a Jones-led Alabama team for a playoff invite.

Assuming both Oregon and Utah win this week, there is a good chance that both pass Alabama in the fourth edition of the College Football Playoff rankings.

Be patient Ute fans and don’t sweat the rankings. To keep things simple, Utah needs to win out and have favorites hold serve, then there is a realistic chance that the Utes will be in the College Football Playoff.

Tune into KSL UnRivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast. 

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