SALT LAKE CITY — The Pac-12 has one last hope in Utah to snap a two-year drought from the College Football Playoff; and with the latest rankings released by the selection committee Tuesday, the Utes remain strongly in contention for a potential playoff berth.
The committee moved Utah to No. 6 Tuesday, up from No. 7 last week, after the Utes closed out their final road game of the season with a 35-7 win over Arizona. The win, as well as Oregon falling to Arizona State on Saturday, inched the Utes up to one of two teams just outside of playoff reach.
"When you look at Utah, the strength of their defense, and then the experience at quarterback and running back, only loss being on the road to a 22nd ranked USC, where Zack Moss missed the majority of the game with an injury," committee chairman Rob Mullens said in a teleconference.
Utah seemingly lost the opportunity to play a Top 10 team in the Pac-12 Championship game should it lock up the Pac-12 South Division title with a win over Colorado, but head coach Kyle Whittingham said he isn’t concerned with what happened to the Ducks or what it could mean for their program moving forward.
“Don't care, it doesn't matter. We got our hands full with Colorado,” Whittingham said. “We're going to try to figure out how to make a first down next week, that's our objective. So whatever else is happening is none of our business and of no concern of ours.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Huntley, who is second in the nation in completion percentage at 75.0%, confidently said Saturday the team is only worried about winning and “that’s going to take care of itself.”
Utah currently has a 49% chance to beat Colorado on Saturday, and then Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game next week, according to FiveThirtyEight. If Utah were to win out and close the season with a 12-1 record, the data model gives Utah a 60% chance of making the playoffs without factoring in how other playoff contenders do.
“I think Tyler hit it right on the money. It's going to take care of itself,” senior linebacker Francis Bernard said Saturday. “As we continue to do our job, winning games and dominating, I believe, and I know our team believes, that the College Football Playoffs, the committee, they're gonna make the decision. And we'll just leave it at that because we can't do anything but continue to do our thing and win.”
The Pac-12 features two other programs ranked this week, including Oregon at No. 14 and USC, which closed out the season with a dominating performance against crosstown rival UCLA, at No. 22. The Ducks close out the regular season with Oregon State in a rivalry bout before likely pairing off with Utah in Santa Clara, California, in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. MST.
The selection committee made a change to its No. 1 overall team by moving Ohio State back atop the rankings after the Buckeyes beat then-No. 8 Penn State Saturday. The Buckeyes were No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, but LSU jumped them a week later.
"Ohio State has been a complete team all year, and their win against Penn State impressed the committee," Mullens said.
LSU, which defeated Arkansas 52-10 Saturday, dropped to No. 2 despite having four wins against four Top 25 programs.
Clemson, which has quietly gone about an undefeated season in the ACC, remains at No. 3, and the Tigers are followed by No. 4 Georgia, which narrowly defeated Texas A&M in a low-scoring affair. Alabama, at No. 5, remains on the outside looking in as it will be without a conference championship to help boost its resume with the selection committee.
"We spent considerable time talking about four through six, four through nine," Mullens said. "And again, we're comparing full resumes. There's not a metric for closeness."
The upcoming weekend features four games where both opponents are ranked and where the games could have College Football Playoff implications, including a Big Ten showdown between No. 2 Ohio State on the road at the Big House against No. 13 Michigan; No. 5 Alabama closing out its season without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against No. 15 Auburn; No. 7 Oklahoma taking on No. 21 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series; and No. 8 Minnesota hosting No. 12 Wisconsin in the longest-running rivalry game in FBS.