It’s a slim chance, but the Utes aren’t sealed outside of the Rose Bowl.
Hear this out.
After losing to Oregon, Utah is out of the Pac-12 Championship Game running, and will not win the South division (even though they could go 5-0 in-division, but that’s aside the point). But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Utes are completely sealed off from the Rose Bowl.
Unlike the rest of the Pac-12 bowl games, the Rose Bowl isn’t required to take the highest-finishing team in the Pac-12 standings (though those bowls still have room to pick any team within one loss of the highest available team). The Pac-12 champion is selected to the Rose Bowl. But if the champion is in the College Football Playoff instead, the Rose Bowl will then take the next-highest ranked team in the College Football Playoff rankings.
In this instance, the standings don’t necessarily matter, but the Top 25 rankings do. Right now, the Pac-12 teams in the Top 25 as of Tuesday, November 22 are:
#5 Washington, #9 Colorado, #12 USC, #22 Utah, #23 Washington State, #24 Stanford.
Utah’s win over USC early in the season makes this slightly more likely (although it’s still a slim chance). Here’s the scenario that would need to play out over the next couple weeks.
1: Utah wins at Colorado (if this doesn’t happen, none of this matters)
2: USC loses to Notre Dame (the Trojans losing to Washington in the P12 Championship alone probably won’t be enough to bump them down. But ND isn’t very good this year)
3: In Pac-12 Championship, USC (P12 South champion because Utah would have beaten CU) loses to Washington
Those are the game results that need to swing perfectly.
1: Washington moves into the top four, and is selected to the CFB Playoff.
2: Utah has beaten Colorado, so in this theory, the Utes move ahead of Colorado in the rankings.
3: USC loses to ND and Washington in consecutive weeks, leaving them at 8-5 (8-4 reg season), and drops behind Utah in the rankings.
At that point, UW is in the playoff, and the Rose Bowl takes the next highest ranked Pac-12 team, which if everything falls into place, would be Utah.
It’s debatable whether the Utes would “deserve” a Rose Bowl appearance after not winning their division, but at the same time, Ohio State could play for a national championship after not winning their division.
If Utah does not make the Rose Bowl, then they will likely fall anywhere from the Holiday Bowl to even the Las Vegas Bowl. Again, the Pac-12 bowls outside the Rose Bowl may select any team within one loss of the highest available team in the final conference standings.
Rose Bowl: 1st place (with exception of CFB Playoff)
2nd choice: Valero Alamo Bowl — San Antonio, TX — Dec 29 (Pac-12 vs. Big-12)
3rd choice: National Funding Holiday Bowl — San Diego, CA — Dec 27 (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten)
4th choice: Foster Farms Bowl — Santa Clara, CA — Dec 28 (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten)
5th choice: Hyundai Sun Bowl — El Paso, TX — Dec 30 (Pac-12 vs. ACC)
6th choice: Las Vegas Bowl — Las Vegas, NV — Dec 17 (Pac-12 vs. MW #1)
7th choice: Motel 6 Cactus Bowl — Phoenix, AZ — Dec 27 (Pac-12 vs. Big 12)
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