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Patrick Kinahan: Set aside best in South, Utah has Pac-12's dominant program

Utah Utes wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (25) breaks away for a run as Utah and Oregon play an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.

Utah Utes wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (25) breaks away for a run as Utah and Oregon play an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY β€” Removing all doubt, if any even existed, Utah is without a doubt the best football program in the Pac-12 South division.

Three consecutive division titles, not counting last year's half season, cements Utah's dominance over the other five programs. The Utes saved the best for the most recent, clinching the division by crushing No. 3 Oregon 38-7 Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Hard to imagine that Utah is better than USC, an illustrious program that has claimed 11 national championships, 39 conference titles, seven Heisman Trophy winners and the Song Girls. Believe it, it's true.

USC's glory is barely a memory anymore, built on reputation of decades gone by. All the rich, entitled boosters, along with every old-timer, are embarrassed by the program's current state of affairs.

The Trojans need to win their final two games, the first of which is against BYU, just to reach the minimum requirement of six wins for bowl eligibility. Former USC coach Pete Carroll, who was 83-13 over nine years and coached the last national championship in 2004, isn't walking through that door to save the downtrodden program like he did starting in 2001.

None of this is debatable, but the best of the South bunch isn't really the question anymore.

Here's the only subject worth discussion: Is Utah the class of the Pac-12. As we speak, there's only one answer.

Yes, yes, yes.

Those astute voters in the College Football Playoff poll thought enough of Oregon to rank it fourth in the first rankings three weeks ago. Since then, the experts moved them up one spot, meaning all the Ducks had to do was win their last three games to make the four-team playoff.

It's not like the committee members were crazy to think so highly of the Phil Knight-funded program. Even with Saturday's thrashing, Oregon still has the Pac-12's best nonconference win by beating Ohio State two months ago on the road.

This is the same Ohio State team that led No. 7 Michigan State 49-0 on Saturday at halftime. Utah's best nonconference win, which was its only one, came against Weber State.

For both teams, though, two months ago might as well be measured in years instead of days. Neither is the same.

Since losing to Stanford in overtime, a team Utah beat by 45 points, Oregon barely squeaked by Cal and UCLA. The Ducks weren't overly impressive in beating Washington and Washington State, either.

Meanwhile, the Utes have recovered nicely since blowing a double-digit lead to Oregon State and losing in Corvallis. They overwhelmed UCLA and Stanford by a combined 65 points and then went through the motions to beat one-win Arizona on a lazy, sunny afternoon last week in Tucson.

As it always should, scoreboard matters. And Utah has it over Oregon, the presumed best program in the Pac-12 the last several years.

But the distinction does not come without accountability and responsibility. The total domination over Oregon means Utah is the heavy favorite to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl.

The Granddaddy of them all is Utah's for the taking. At this point, no other result is acceptable.

Yes, that may mean beating Oregon for the second time this season in two weeks in the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas. Yeah, so what?

It's not like Saturday's win was a fluke or anything. From the opening kickoff, spread over the entire 60 minutes, Utah treated the visitors as politely as it would BYU.

Nothing new there. Since the Utah coaches came to their senses and inserted Cam Rising as the starting quarterback, the offense has never been better in the Pac-12.

Funny enough, for a Kyle Whittingham program, the defense and special teams have been the weak spots. But all that changed β€” see Britain Covey's 78-yard punt return for a touchdown β€” on one glorious night when Whittingham became the program's winningest all-time coach and the team established itself as the best in the conference.

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About the Author: Patrick Kinahan

Patrick Kinahan is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. To read more of his articles, visit Patrick's KSL.com author page.

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