No. 18 Utah, UCLA meet in Pac-12 playoff-type showdown
Both teams entered the season with the goal of winning the Pac-12 and that dream will end for the loser.
Basically, it's a Pac-12 quarterfinal playoff game.
''We're sitting here in a really difficult conference; it's just hard every week to win games,'' UCLA coach Jim Mora said. ''We've got an opportunity to go out and play a really good Utah team for some really big stakes.''
The Bruins (7-3, 4-3) at least control their own destiny despite losing to Washington State last week. If they beat the Utes (8-2, 5-2) and No. 22 USC (7-3, 5-2), they will win the Pac-12 South and play in the conference title game on Dec. 5.
On the opposite sideline, Utah needs help.
The Utes ceded complete control in a double-overtime loss to Arizona last week. That's a disappointment for Utah considering it had climbed to No. 3 in the rankings about a month ago. Now it needs to win the final two games and have USC lose to No. 23 Oregon (7-3, 5-2) or UCLA. USC holds the head-to-head tiebreak over Utah.
The Utes must slow UCLA star freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, who ranks third in the conference with 2,903 passing yards. The pass defense has not been as lock-down lately and ranks No. 9 in the league - giving up 256.3 points per game. The unit, however, is tied for No. 4 in the country with 16 interceptions.
Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah said Rosen has the confidence to make throws into tight windows, but that also gives defenses opportunities to create turnovers.
''We have a lot of guys on this defense who are prideful,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''They take a lot of pride in what they're doing. ... We're among the league leaders in just about every category so we expect that they'll rebound and come back and play well this weekend.''
Things to watch when Utah hosts UCLA:
NO BOOKER: Utah running back Devontae Booker is out for the rest of the regular season after he had surgery on his left knee Thursday. He suffered a torn meniscus and bone bruise against Arizona last week. This is a huge blow for the Utes. Booker has tied a school record with 14 100-yard games and is third in school history with 2,773 rushing yards. Booker has been responsible for 40.6 percent of the Utes' total offense this season. Transfer Joe Williams takes over as the top back. Whittingham said the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder is faster than Booker.
ROAD WARRIORS: UCLA seems just as comfortable on the road as at home this season. The Bruins and Rosen are 3-1 on the road, including a 26-point win at Arizona and a bad-weather victory at Oregon State last week. The Utes just suffered a double-overtime loss at Arizona. Rice-Eccles Stadium may be the most hostile and coldest place Rosen has played this year.
BITTERSWEET: The winner is one step closer to a Pac-12 title, but still unlikely to find itself in the College Football Playoff. Every team in the league has two losses and it's doubtful a two-loss Pac-12 team would get in. ''It's a very, very, very difficult conference,'' Mora said. ''One of the things that's tough about it is, with the two losses the conference kind of plays itself out of the national championship picture, which is unfortunate because there's some teams in this conference that can compete with anybody. ... It's hard to be a no-loss or one-loss team in this conference. I don't think nationally people realize exactly how good this conference is. They just see the win-loss records and say the Pac-12 is not as good, I would counter that by saying the Pac-12 is good as it's ever been top to bottom.''
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org