The University of Utah football team is headed to the 2018 Pac-12 title game, having won the conference’s South division. Because of the implications of winning a championship of one of the nation’s best conferences, the Utes will play in their biggest contest on Nov. 30 since defeating Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in the Jan. 2, 2009, Sugar Bowl.
Utah’s recruiting class now ranks in the 30s, nationally, and a lot of that had to do with Utah having earned its second perfect season and top-four national ranking in just five years.
Just a year-plus later, the Utes did the near-unthinkable and actually jumped up a level in college football, that no better proven than that they became a member of the Pac-12. That enabled them to compete for the national championship, especially as it took place before the Football Bowl Subdivision gained any sort of playoff. That’s aside from having a better chance to be in the Bowl Championship Series, which was testified against in Congress.
Being the champions of the conference of champions could put them in an entirely new class. No none could have thought that was possible before their 12-0, Fiesta Bowl-winning season in 2004, let alone before Ohio State coach Urban Meyer guided Utah to a national-ranking, conference-championship season the prior year. (Not many thought it was possible before its unbeaten Sugar Bowl season, either.)
But Utah, led by coach Kyle Whittingham, has had six of the type of seasons – or better – that Meyer had in his 2003 campaign.
Six in only the last 10 years, aside from the 2004, BCS-busting season.
Oklahoma. Florida. USC.
If the Utes can get to the Rose Bowl by virtue of winning the Pac-12, and long already having gotten the league they need, it’s conceivable that they will be positioned to be as powerful a college football program as any.
If you doubt that, consider that teams (read: Clemson) have leveled up in quite-recent years.
Going to the Rose Bowl when a program is already a member of the Pac-12 would be a statement to impressionable minds that are teenage boys, who are the recruited players.
And as the image of the university, the Utes leveling up could help the entire school academically and regarding its influence on Salt Lake City. It could also further shift athletic forces in the state of Utah.
Show yourself: Utah fans earlier this season called for Whittingham to be fired. They should own up to their complaint now that the Utes are Pac-12 South champions.
They can have their opinion, but if they are wrong, they should be ready to eat their words.
Utah’s best chance to win the Pac-12: Utes fans should root for Washington State to beat Washington on Friday. The winner will face Utah in the title game, and Utah performed better on the road against Washington State (a four-point nailbiter) than it did at home against Washington (a 14-point defeat).
Can two young men continually handling the rock in Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne continue to play excellently, if not brilliantly, as they have in the past two games? Shelley is a freshman.
Oh, yeah, that BYU game: A win over BYU, Utah’s final regular-season opponent this Saturday, will help the Utes prove that they are the best Utah team also in a decade. The Utes went 10-3 and finished 16th and 18th in the country in 2009 and 2015.
But should Whittingham worry about that? Perhaps only by virtue of resting players, he should be willing to lose to the Cougars. He needs to have his team as healthy as possible for a tough opponent that is higher-ranked than his team. It is also a short week before Utah must face that opponent.
The Utes are already hobbled, without stars in running back Zack Moss and quarterback Tyler Huntley. And wide receiver Bryan Thompson, running back Devonta’e Henry-Cole and offensive lineman Johnny Capra will continue to be out all season.