Utah was ranked #8 in the first College Football Playoff poll. They have one loss on the road at USC. If they continue to win are they in? Let’s look at what the teams ahead of them have to do to earn a spot.
#7 Oregon: This one doesn’t take rocket science to figure this one out. If Utah beats Oregon in the PAC-12 Championship game then they are in. Oregon winning out until then only can boost Utah’s resume too as they don’t have any wins over current Top 25 teams and their non-conference schedule is weak at best. Oregon’s willingness to play at Auburn helps their resume look a little better than Utah’s for now but the winner of the PAC-12 as stated previously should be the favorite for the Playoff.
If the winner of the PAC-12 is somehow a 2 loss champ that goes out the window though. No two loss conference champion has ever made the playoff and we have seen one loss non-champions like 2017 Ohio State make it over the 2 loss Penn State champion. I think these two teams on paper should not lose a game until the championship game. The schedules are way too light. However, we have seen collapses in November before so it should still be intetesting
#6 Georgia: The Utes should have a huge opportunity to pass up Georgia too because the SEC will beat up on each other. Yes, there are three SEC teams ahead of Utah. Georgia’s toughest game left on the schedule is at #11 Auburn. The Auburn Tigers are slight favorites in that game. Should Georgia lose that game they would be eliminated from the playoff even if they win out and end the season as a two loss conference champion. You never know though. There seems to be an SEC bias as they are the only conference to ever have two teams in the Playoff. Most likely Georgia will lose another game and they have lost too many championship games to be considered the favorites here. Utah should pass Georgia when the season is all said and done.
#5 Clemson: This team will be tricky for the Utes to pass. Clemson is undefeated and is highly favored to finish the season without a loss. Their toughest remaining game is against a Top 25 Demon Deacons team so it would still be enough to hold over the Utes should they go undefeated. If they lose a game though then the voters might use that as reason to keep Clemson out. They already shut the Tigers out of the playoff spot in the first week of committee voting. If they are ranked that low and undefeated it means they just might have the most to lose. There can only be one Big 10 and SEC champ though so the spots will open up for teams like Clemson for sure.
#4 Penn State: I think the Utes have a much better chance to jump Penn State than Clemson because it’s likely the Nittany Lions drop a game to Ohio State. The loser of that game will almost certainly be out of the playoff since the winner would win the Big Ten East and go to the title game barring an epic collapse. Ohio State is the only team I could see still getting in even if they lose the division because they made the 2017 College Football Playoff as a one loss non-champion. They did proceed to score exactly zero points in the playoff to Clemson’s 31 though. Perhaps the voters have learned their lesson. We can expect the non-champions to not really be considered this year unless they are in the SEC or if they are an undefeated Independent team like Notre Dame.
Update: Penn State was defeated by undefeated Minnesota yesterday. Maybe Minnesota is the team to worry about but for now the Utes should be ranked safely ahead of them this week.
#3 Alabama: The main team in Alabama’s way is LSU. The winner of the Alabama vs LSU game should be a lock for the playoff even if they cough up a game later down the road. The loser though will still have to “audition” for the playoff for the rest of their schedule. Also, few teams can survive a double digit loss so the loser of this rivalry game has to lose in single digits.
Update: Alabama was beaten by LSU in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. They might still be ranked ahead of Utah this week but Utah will have plenty of chances to catch them in the following weeks.
#2 LSU: Read the previous paragraph. LSU being ranked ahead of Alabama gives them a little more room for error but not much. They have to continue to be elite against the top dog. That includes Alabama and the literal top dog in the SEC East which will probably be the Georgia Bulldogs.
#1 Ohio State: I really don’t think there’s a way the Utes can catch Ohio State because even if the Buckeyes lose a game they will still be in strong consideration for the Playoff with 1 loss. They could lose to Penn State AND Michigan but their winning streak over the Wolverines is almost as big as Utah’s over BYU. Ohio State doesn’t lose two games in a season as it happened only once during Urban Meyer’s tenure. The Buckeyes are looking very elite on offense and defense though. Expect them to continue to impress.
Prediction: If the Utes win out then it depends on what the teams in front of them and even a few behind them do. There are plenty of scenarios we can break down. This is the most likely scenario where they get in:
1. The SEC has an undefeated champion in LSU and two non-champions with two losses in Alabama and Georgia. Alabama would likely have to lose to Auburn for their second loss to miss the playoff. It will also help if LSU’s high powered offense can win by at least 10 points. The two loss SEC non-champions make the Top 10 but not the playoff. LSU earns the one seed.
2. Ohio State is the two seed with just one loss to Michigan. Minnesota winning the Big 10 would help Utah a lot since they aren’t getting a lot of respect on the polls yet. It is unlikely though.
3. One loss Oklahoma loses to Baylor once in the regular season but gets revenge in the championship game. You then don’t have to worry about the Big 12 because the champion would be a two loss team and a one loss Baylor isn’t getting in. For more proof on that check out how the voting of the inaugural College Football Playoff was.
4. Clemson gets upset somewhere to a team like Wake Forest. They still get some voter love for being the defending champs and get a vote for the third seed in the playoff.
With this, the playing field is more even. It won’t likely shake out this way as usually one team enters the playoff undefeated. Let’s say Ohio State is undefeated. That still doesn’t change the voting since they are already the top team. What gets tricky is if there are 4 undefeated teams at the end and there won’t be. At most there can be four since every Power 5 conference still has an undefeated team except for the PAC-12.
The Utes need to keep winning convincingly and it helps if Oregon stays strong. They can not afford to let Oregon somehow drop out of the Top 25 as they don’t have a past, current or future Top 25 win this season and likely won’t outside of the Ducks. When these two face off they will be playing for a possible shot at the playoff. If one of them gets in, the Rose Bowl is a great consolation prize for the loser. If they don’t get in, the loser might get the Heart of Dallas bowl. Yikes.
Under the scenario I have mentioned, the Utes would be the four seed and bring the PAC-12 their first College Football Playoff berth since Washington was the #4 seed in 2016.
The seeding would be as follows:
1. LSU 13-0
2. Ohio State 12-1
3. Clemson 12-1
4. Utah 12-1
First two out:
5. Alabama 10-2
6. Oregon 11-2
In this scenario, Oregon would probably face Penn State in the Rose Bowl which would be a respectable consolation prize that would bring a lot of money to the already wealthy University which is near Nike headquarters. At this point we can only speculate though. In a year with 7 undefeated teams by week 11, the Utes need to win out convincingly and they need some help from other teams slipping up to get in.