Pac-12 Notebook: Utah Is the Last CFP Hope
It’s all up to Utah now.
Oregon’s stunning loss to Arizona State knocks the Ducks out of the College Football Playoff race, leaving the Utes as the only Pac-12 team with a chance to land a berth in the four-team playoff for the national championship.
Following their 35-7 victory over Arizona, the Utes moved up to No. 6 in the AP top-25 poll released Sunday and they figure to advance to No. 6 in the CFP rankings to be announced Tuesday. But can they pass two teams to get to the top four?
It will take a lot of things falling Utah’s way for it to happen.
Utah’s resume is not impressive. Its best win was against BYU, which is 7-4. After that its best wins were against Cal, Washington and Arizona State, all of whom have five losses and are also-rans in the Pac-12 title chase. (Yes, the Huskies are also-rans after their loss to Colorado dropped them to 3-5 in the Pac-12.)
The Utes’ lone loss – to USC – is looking less damaging each week as the Trojans continue to roll, but Oregon’s loss hurt Utah’s chances. A Utah victory over a two-loss Oregon team in the Pac-12 championship game will not be as impressive as it would have been if Oregon had come into that game with just the loss to Auburn.
The Utes also have an invisible barrier holding them back: Perception.
When the CFP ranking committee looks at Utah, I can impagine the members saying, “Utah? I mean Utah? Can we rank them ahead of an Alabama. Or a Georgia? Or an Oklahoma? I mean, this is Utah, folks.”
I know reputation is not supposed to matter, but remember, this group left Central Florida completely out of the mix in 2017, putting 12-0 UCF at No. 12 in its final rankings, because . . . well, because it was UCF. The Knights then knocked off No. 7 Auburn, which had beaten eventual national champion Alabama in the regular season.
I recall Urban Meyer saying on television that Utah might be worthy of a berth on the College Football Playoff, but do you think that will convince people in Tuscaloosa or Norman or Athens?
Duck and Cover
Oregon’s strength all season has been its defense, which ranked second in the Pac-12 in points allowed and total defense.
But the Ducks’ D fell apart against Arizona State, allowing a season-high 535 yards, including seven passes of 20 yards or more and touchdown plays of 57 and 81 yards in a 31-28 loss.
And ASU had lost four in row coming into the game.
Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert, considered a Heisman Trophy contender, threw two bad fourth-quarter interceptions.
You may recall that Herbert was not named to either the first-team or second-team all-conference squads last season, and I wouldn’t put him on either of those two all-Pac-12 teams this season either. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley should be the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and USC’s Kedon Slovis should be the second-team all-Pac-12 QB.
I would put Washington State’s Anthony Gordon ahead of Herbert, too, leaving the Oregon quarterback in the No. 4 slot in his own conference.
More on Slovis
Certainly USC’s amazing group of wide receivers helps Slovis look good, but he has shown enough to suggest he will be a Heisman Trophy contender next season.
Over the past three games, all wins, he has completed 78.5 percent of his passes for an average of 451 yards per game while throwing 12 touchdown passes and one interception. Most impressive perhaps is that he has averaged at least 11 yards per passing attempt in each of those three games.
Slovis is ninth in the nation in passer rating. And remember, he’s a true freshman who did not begin the season as the Trojans’ starting quarterback.
Cougars Eke One Out on the Ground
Washington State trailed by five points with four seconds remaining when it had the ball at the Oregon State 2-yard line.
One play, win or lose.
Remember this is a Mike Leach Air Raid offense. Gordon had already attempted 70 passes in the game and had thrown passes on each of the preceding 19 plays. He had thrown 585 passes on the season, 166 more than anyone in the country, and he had thrown his 45th touchdown pass earlier in the game, breaking the Pac-12 single-season mark held jointly by Cal’s Jared Goff and Washington Jake Browning at 43. He also had broken the conference record for passing yards in a season, set last year by Gardner Minshew.
So the final play had to be a pass, right?
A pass play was indeed called, but Leach signaled Grodon to change the play.
“It was originally a pass play, but I think they realized it was Air Raid, and they were expecting a pass,” WSU running back Max Borghi said.
The handoff went to Borghi, who ran the two yards for the game-winning score.
“They sold out on the pass and we ran it,” Leach said afterward.
Beavers and Ducks
Oregon State will have a bowl berth on the line when it faces rival Oregon in the Civil War on Saturday.
The Beavers (5-6) had their sixth win in their grasp, but Jonathan Smith’s decision to go for a first down on a fourth-and-4 play from the Washington State 43-yard line with 1:16 left and Oregon State leading 53-48 backfired.
Jake Luton threw an incompletion, and WSU drove 57 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the Cougars’ 54-53 triumph.
Washington, What Can We Say?
The Huskies were ranked 12th in the preseason AP poll, and they were 4-1 this season after beating USC. But they have fallen off the map, losing for the third time in the past four games, this time to Colorado 20-14.