SALT LAKE CITY — Days after claiming a come-from-behind victory on the road against a tough Washington program, Utah earned its highest ever ranking Tuesday when the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season were released.
Utah opened up in the official rankings at No. 8 in the season’s first look at the teams in contention for the College Football Playoff. Utah’s previous high of No. 10 came in 2015 after an 8-1 start to the season. The Utes would go on to lose two of its last three games that season and finished the regular season with a No. 22 ranking and a 9-3 record.
The Utes are one of two teams from the Pac-12 included in the rankings released by the selection committee and the only program from the South Division. Oregon, the only other program included from the conference in the rankings, leads the conference at No. 7 and is the team with arguably the best resume in the conference to earn a playoff berth should it win out.
Many college football analysts believe an 11-1 Oregon and an 11-1 Utah meeting up in the Pac-12 Championship game to be the conference’s most viable option at claiming one of the four coveted playoff spots. The conference has been held out of playoff contention for three of the five years the playoff system has been in place.
Utah is the sixth most consistent team in the country included in the College Football Playoff rankings and has been ranked in 25 of the 32 possible weeks available. Utah was one of only five teams that were included in every ranking in the first three years of the playoff era before missing out on the 2017 season entirely.
“It’s nice for our players to be recognized for what they’ve accomplished so far this season, but this team completely understands there is still a lot of football left and more work to be done," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. "Our guys have done a great job all season long of not looking past anyone and keeping their sole focus on the next opponent. Our full attention now turns to the UCLA Bruins and we look forward to being back in front of our home fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium.”
The selection committee named Ohio State as the best program in the country and the team most deserving of the No. 1 spot in the first rankings of the season. Following the Buckeyes are No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Penn State. Clemson and Georgia sit at the No. 5 and No. 6 spot, respectively, and with an early outside shot of claiming one of the top four spots.
"Ohio State is No. 1 because of their overall consistent dominant play each week as well as their strength on offense and defense," selection committee chair Rob Mullens said in a conference call after the rankings were released. "Undefeated LSU is No. 2 because of its tough schedule and marquee wins over Florida and Auburn.
"Alabama is No. 3 because committee members are impressed with its overall performance and quality of play on both sides of the ball. Penn State is No. 4 because of its strong play, which includes wins over Michigan and Iowa."
The College Football Playoff rankings now become the official ranking system for the remainder of the season, with the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll acting as ancillary polls. The two polls have the same top six teams, but in various order.
The AP poll has LSU as the No. 1 team, followed by Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State and Georgia; and the Coaches Poll has Alabama as the top team, followed by LSU, Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia.
The weekend features three games that have two ranked opponents playing each other. The weekend is highlighted by No. 2 LSU traveling to No. 3 Alabama in an SEC showdown that could have playoff implications. Other matchups include No. 17 Minnesota welcoming No. 4 Penn State; No. 18 Iowa traveling to Camp Randall to take on No. 13 Wisconsin.