Editor’s note: Obviously you play to win every game, but this is why a loss Saturday shouldn’t derail Utah’s hopes of going to the Rose Bowl.
This, of course, assumes that No. 4 Washington (7-0) runs the table and gets into the College Football Playoff. However, seeing as how the Pac-12 was left out last year is proof that getting there isn’t a slam dunk.
That’s why Saturday’s marquee game has so much riding on it not just for the teams involved, but for the conference as a whole.
First, let’s take a quick look at Washington. The Huskies are undefeated and are ranked in the Top 5. However, upon closer look, Washington’s non-conference schedule is one of the worst in all of college football with games against Rutgers (2-6), Idaho (4-4), and Portland State (2-5). These teams currently have a combined 8-15 record on the season. Portland State is also an FCS team out of the Big Sky which is the same conference the Vandals will be joining in 2018.
Second, it’s important to understand the Pac-12 bowl selection process which can be pretty complicated and confusing. This was evident last year when Utah slipped several spots in order to be matched up with BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Pac-12 has agreements with seven bowl organizations (which is outlined below). If the Pac-12 champ isn’t one of the four teams selected for the CFB Playoff, that team will head to the Rose Bowl. If a team does get selected for a playoff spot, that will bump all of the other teams up a slot.
There are also several other factors that go in to it besides just comparing overall records. In the Pac-12, bowl executives have the freedom to chose teams within one loss of the next best available team. This shakes things up so that bowls aren’t always getting the same teams every year.
1. Rose Bowl (New Year’s Six)
2. Alamo Bowl vs. BIG 12
3. Holiday Bowl vs. BIG TEN
4. Foster Farms Bowl vs. BIG TEN
5. Sun Bowl vs. ACC
6. Las Vegas Bowl vs. Mountain West
7. Cactus Bowl vs. BIG 12
Scenario 1 (Utah Wins)
If Utah continues its home dominance and gets a win over the Huskies on Saturday, that will likely end the Pac-12’s College Playoff bid, unless of course the Utes can run the table — winning the conference championship game in the process — which would give them a shot to be selected by the committee if things go their way (other teams in front of them lose).
Don’t forget, that a win by the Utes will likely lead to a bunch of analysts — yes I’m looking at you Mark May — to say things such as, “this just proves that Washington was overrated,” etc.
Washington would likely drop 7-10 spots in the polls and would face a major uphill battle trying to get back into the Top 4. Remember, there are two teams (No. 5 Louisville, No. 6 Ohio State) with one loss already that are inching closer to securing one of the four playoff spots as well as eight other teams — six from Power 5 conferences — that are still undefeated.
It doesn’t help either that the Huskies don’t have a single Top 25 win on the season thanks to the struggles of Oregon and Stanford this year. With Utah likely being the only ranked opponent left on the schedule for the Huskies, Washington needs this win badly.
Scenario 2 (Utah loses)
This scenario really isn’t all that bad if you think about it.
With a win, Washington — assuming it wins out (which it should) — would secure a spot in the CFB Playoff, which means the conference’s No. 2 team (Utah or Colorado) would be fighting for a Rose Bowl spot.
And with a game against Colorado to end the Pac-12 regular season, the Utes (assuming they win) would hold the tiebreakers over both USC and Colorado for the right to play in the Pac-12 title game.
Don’t get me wrong, a win Saturday would be huge for the Utah football program, but it could end up costing the Utes a chance to play in the Rose Bowl as strange as it sounds. A loss wouldn’t derail the Utes a spot in the Rose Bowl and would keep Washington on pace for a CFB Playoff spot. And if Utah wins its remaining three conference games (Arizona State, Oregon and Colorado) they’ll likely punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl where Kyle Whittingham could potentially face off with former Ute head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.