SALT LAKE CITY — With one week to go before the final College Football Playoff rankings of the season, Utah remains one of a handful of teams in contention for the four-team playoff that begins on Dec. 28.
The playoff selection committee released its penultimate rankings of the season Tuesday and moved Utah up to No. 5 before its Pac-12 Championship Game appearance with Oregon on Friday. The Utes moved up one spot in the playoff rankings after a 30-point win over Colorado in the team’s final game of the regular season to close out the season with an 11-1 record.
The Utes, who are the only team capable of breaking a two-year Pac-12 drought in the playoff, got some help in the rankings after then-No. 5 Alabama lost in the Iron Bowl to then-No. 15 Auburn, all but ending Alabama’s playoff hopes for the first time since the NCAA moved away from the BCS model to the playoff. Utah also staved off a push from Oklahoma, which is currently the biggest threat to Utah potentially claiming a playoff berth.
“We spent considerable time on it, more time than anywhere else on the board,” committee chairman Rob Mullens said about the placement of Utah and Oklahoma. “There was plenty of debate. Obviously when you look at Oklahoma's résumé, they have the win against the No. 7 team on the road, without a key wide receiver. They also beat Oklahoma State.
“When we look at Utah, we see a season-long balance of very consistent play on both sides of the ball,” Mullens added. “Very dominant wins. Their only loss is on a Friday night on the road at a No. 22 ranked team when a key player on offense missed the majority of the game.“
Mullens further clarified the debate between the two teams and said the committee liked Oklahoma’s resume with wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State. He said the argument in favor of Utah was their “very balanced, very consistent performance.”
“They've dominated the majority of their schedule,” he added. “Top two or three defense. Experienced quarterback. Only loss on the road without a key offensive player.”
Utah currently has a 34% chance of making the playoff without any other teams factored in, according to FiveThirtyEight, and a 60% chance if it beats Oregon on Friday. However, Utah’s odds are diminished in the playoff model if Oklahoma beats Baylor for the second time this season; Utah’s playoff chances would drop to 52% even if the team beats Oregon.
For the Utes, their best path to the playoff, according to the FiveThirtyEight model, is to have Baylor, LSU, Ohio State and Virginia win their conference championships, which would give Utah a 97% chance; however, that’s one of the least likely scenarios possible.
Utah's best path to the College Football Playoff, according to FiveThirtyEight— Josh Furlong (@JFurKSL) December 2, 2019
* Win - Utah, Baylor, LSU, Ohio State, Virginia (97%)
* Win - Utah, Oklahoma, LSU, Ohio State, Virginia (91%)
* Win - Utah, Baylor, Georgia, Ohio State, Virginia (86%)
“We haven't paid a whole lot of attention to it,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said, speaking about his postseason possibilities. “I mean we certainly understand the big picture, but control the controllables, and all we can control us is trying to get a win on Friday against Oregon, and then it's out of our hands after that point.
“We don't spend a lot of time thinking about it and it doesn't really seem odd or strange,” he added. “Either way, whatever our fate is, that's what we'll do. I can tell you right now it will be good no matter what happens if we're able to win.”
Utah is joined in the rankings from the Pac-12 by Oregon at No. 13 and USC at No 22. Oregon played a close game with in-state rival Oregon State before scoring a late touchdown to defeat the Beavers 24-10. The Ducks finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and will be representing the North Division in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The committee kept its top four programs the same this week, with Ohio State claiming the No. 1 spot for the second consecutive week. The Buckeyes appear destined for the No. 1 spot in the playoff after dismantling then-No. 13 Michigan on the road in Ryan Day’s first season as head coach.
Behind the Buckeyes in the rankings are No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Georgia. LSU and Georgia will play each other in the SEC Championship on Saturday, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the playoff. Clemson, which plays Virginia in the ACC Championship, has the highest odds of making the playoff at 92%, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Alabama dropped down to No. 12 in the latest rankings, a seven-spot drop to possibly drop the Crimson Tide out of New Year's Six bowl contention.
"Head-to-head is certainly a key part of it. It also matters what happens around you," Mullens told media. "Alabama, their only two losses are to a No. 2 and a No. 11 team. However, they only have two wins over Power Five teams with winning records, both Texas A&M and Tennessee, who are 7-5."
The selection committee will release its final rankings of the season on Sunday at 10 a.m. on ESPN.