by Christian Mott
For the last 20 years, the Utah Utes football team has been a powerhouse. From Urban Myer to Coach Whittingham, the Utes have been arguably the most consistent team this side of the Mississippi River. There is one thing that has eluded them: a chance at the national championship game. Under Whittingham, they have been a consistent AP Top 25 team in the county. They ranked as high as number two to end the 2008-2009 season after beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Utah will be a contender in the Pac-12. Could they potentially make the playoffs? Even though it is improbable to see the Utes ranked among the final four teams, here are three keys to make that push to be a top team:
1. Go Undefeated
Looking at the teams that have made the playoffs since the format was introduced in the 2014 season, there are several trends. Almost if not all the playoff teams since 2014 have come from the SEC, Big 10 and the ACC. These three conferences are the absolute powerhouses of college football. It doesn’t look good for the Utes considering the last Pac-12 representation in the playoffs was back in 2016 when the Washington Huskies squeaked into the playoffs.
What does this mean for the Utes? The other trend is the publicity that comes with those teams that make the CFP. From the constant domination of Saban’s Alabama squads to the Clemson teams led by Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, most of these teams had a must-watch player or storyline that makes them noteworthy. That doesn’t bode well for Utes, who have flown under the radar in the national landscape of college football.
Last year’s shortened season gives a glimmer of hope for the Utes. Notre Dame’s squad last year ended up taking the fourth seed as a one-loss team that joined the big three (Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State). They did so by winning every regular season game including one where they upset Clemson only to watch the Tigers settle the score in the ACC title game.
Winning is the formula for the Utes to punch their ticket. Utah doesnt get time in the national spotlight. They don’t have a quarterback with the level of a Marcus Mariota and that was necessary to help that 2014 Oregon Ducks team shine. If Utes want to get more attention, they have to do it by having an undefeated season. If they can, it will be hard to argue against Utah’s case to make the cut.
2. Win Convincingly on televised games
This is going to be a very important way for the Utes to earn votes. Unlike most schools who can get away with a loss because of their conference toughness and overall pedigree, Utah wont have that luxury. The Utes instead will have to go into every game and dominate. Games like Arizona and Oregon State have to be big wins.
With tougher teams like USC and Washington, they have to establish control early and often in those games. Even in the case of a loss, they have to stay close throughout the game. The Utes have to go into every game with the goal of beating their opponents by 20 plus points. The playoff committee does take these style points into consideration. Coach Whittingham will have his team ready to crush his opponents. Even though some may see it as unethical, the Utes may want to run the score up as much as they can in certain matchups. When the committee sees scores that lopsided they take notice.
The Utes have to play their best when they’re on the national stage as that’s the best opportunity for eyes to be on them. A trend worth noting is that every single team that made the playoffs since the bracket began ends up being Top 10 in the number of nationally televised games. The more times teams are seen on the national stage, the more they will be talked about. Its a ripple effect, and the College Football Playoff in some capacity is impacted by popularity.
3. Have luck on their side
Sometimes its the things that teams can’t control that can make the difference in getting selected or not. This year is no exception. Even though Coach Whittingham and the Utes could do everything right to get in position for a playoff berth, they could still fall short. The Utah coaching staff will have to hope the selection committee will be watching. However, in this sport there are other things besides winning that play a factor in the decision process. Popularity, national coverage and sometimes just the way the committee leans in the voting process play a big part in the results. Look no further than teams like UCF and Texas A&M. The Utes still have certain things going for them. The biggest advantage they have is being in a power five conference. They also have a great veteran coach and recruiting class.
The title opportunity is still a ways away for the Utes, but anything can happen in college football. There has been a fair share of Cinderella stories and underdogs. This Utes team could very well be that kind of team. Time will tell if this team is truly that kind of team or not.
Featured image courtesy Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune