No. 18 Utah looking for help to salvage Pac-12 title dreams
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) It was all good just a week ago.
No. 18 Utah sat atop the Pac-12 South with a game cushion and the inside track for a berth in the conference title game and with a shot to play in the College Football Playoff.
Everything changed with a 37-30 double overtime loss to Arizona on Saturday.
Gone is the division lead - Utah (8-2, 5-2) is now tied with USC (7-3, 5-2).
Gone is control - both USC and UCLA (7-3, 4-3) can earn a berth in the Pac-12 title game by winning out.
Gone are the playoffs - it's highly unlikely that any two-loss Pac-12 team will be placed in the final four.
''These next two weeks will be very interesting,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''We have no margin for error, obviously. Our backs are to the wall and we've got to find a way to beat UCLA this weekend. USC has two tough games at Oregon and UCLA the next week. So, anything can happen and we're by no means out of it.
''But we're certainly nowhere near in as good of a position as we were last week. But that's the Pac-12. Stanford got beat. Everybody takes turns beating everyone up. That's the nature of the conference.''
Technically, it was a bad weekend for the conference as a whole. Stanford (8-2, 7-1) was sitting pretty atop the Pac-12 North without a league loss, but was upset by Oregon (7-3, 5-2). Now any conference champion will have at least two losses and the Pac-12 becomes the Power 5 conference likely to be left out of the championship race.
The biggest goal for the Utes now is its first conference title since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 and its first appearance in the Rose Bowl. A January bowl would be just the third in school history since 1939.
First though, Utah has to defeat both UCLA and Colorado (4-7, 1-6) in the last two weeks of the regular season. Then it needs USC, which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Utes, to lose to either Oregon or UCLA in the final two weeks. Finally, Utah would need to win the Pac-12 championship game.
''It's just not as good of a feeling because we don't control our destiny completely,'' receiver Britain Covey said. ''We have to rely on someone else to lose.
''This loss hurts a lot more than the USC loss, especially because of how close we were. ... You've just got to learn from it. You can either learn from the past or run from the past, like Rafiki said in `The Lion King.'''
There were mixed emotions Monday as the Utes began to move on. Whittingham was as optimistic as could be and said if anyone would have told him two months ago that the team would be 8-2 and tied for first that he would have taken it.
''But still disappointed we're not 9-1 because we had a chance - had several chances,'' Whittingham said.
The heartache is understandable considering the team seemed to be on a historic run with playoff opportunities that ended in a double-overtime loss to an underdog. This is one of the better defenses in school history with a quarterback that holds the school record for starts and touchdowns and a running back that holds the school record in yards per game.
''They're still moping around, some of them,'' Thomas said of his teammates. ''That's pretty tough, but we've just got to be positive about the situation. We've got two more games left.
''We need help from other teams, but whatever happens, happens. We're still in a bowl game, though.''