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Why Utah football has a ‘clear path’ to its first Rose Bowl bid

In the latest bowl projections, Utah is gaining attention as a contender to earn the Pac-12’s bid to the prestigious bowl

Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) celebrates his touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) celebrates his touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. In the most recent bowl projections, two national experts — ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura and The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel — picked Utah to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Tell us if you’ve heard this before: It looks like a wide-open race for the Pac-12 football championship.

Midway through another college football season, the idea of a consensus favorite is being brought into question, after No. 10 Oregon squeaked by one-win California last weekend. The uncertainty of the Pac-12 race — combined with the recent play of the Utes — has national pundits asking, why not Utah?

In the most recent bowl projections, two national experts — ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura and The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel — picked Utah to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.

“After starting the season 1-2 in nonconference play, external expectations for the Utes dropped considerably. Now, after a 35-21 win against Arizona State, they are the only remaining undefeated team in Pac-12 play,” Bonagura wrote. “That, coupled with Oregon’s unimpressive performances over the past month, has created a clear path for Utah to reach the Rose Bowl.”

Utah, which has never played in the Rose Bowl, controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 South, after impressive wins over fellow South contenders USC (42-26) and Arizona State the past two weeks. With the Utes 3-0 in league play, they head to Oregon State on Saturday before hosting UCLA the week after. Two Utah wins would keep the Utes in a favorable position heading into the regular season’s final month.

There’s a stiff competition for the Big Ten Conference’s spot in the Rose Bowl — the league has five teams ranked in the top 11 of this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, and several national pundits believe the Big Ten could put two teams in the College Football Playoff.

Bonagura has the Utes facing No. 5 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, while Mandel has Utah taking on No. 7 Penn State. The two teams are part of a Big Ten East Division that is topped by four teams — including unbeatens Michigan State and Michigan — that are currently a combined 23-2.

Could Utah be the team to beat in the Pac-12 en route to a Big Ten matchup in the Rose Bowl?

“Behold the rise of Utah in the Pac-12. After scoring 28 unanswered points to knock off Arizona State 35-21, the Utes (4-2, 3-0 Pac-12) are the lone remaining undefeated team in conference play. Meanwhile, Oregon needed a goal-line stand to survive 1-5 Cal. Why not Utah?” Mandel wrote.

The first College Football Playoff rankings of the season come out Nov. 2.

Here’s a look at the latest bowl projections for Utah schools following Week 7 of the college football season:


Utah Utes

(4-2, 3-0 in Pac-12)

There are some other intriguing matchups for Utah among the non-Rose Bowl postseason projections. The Alamo Bowl is a popular choice — two projections have the Utes facing Baylor, which is coming off a 38-24 win over BYU and is now ranked No. 20, while another has the Utes Alamo bound and facing Texas, which is led by first-year coach and former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian. Two other projections have Utah going to the Las Vegas Bowl to face a Big Ten program in either Wisconsin or Minnesota.


BYU Cougars

(5-2)

Once again, UTSA is the most popular choice for BYU’s opponent after the Cougars lost a second consecutive game and knocked themselves out of any contention for a New Year’s Six bowl. The Roadrunners are unbeaten (7-0) and entered the Associated Press poll this week at No. 24 — the first time in program history the school has been nationally ranked. How about a BYU bowl contest with Army? The two teams were supposed to play in the regular season last year, but positive COVID-19 cases in the Cougar program forced a cancellation.


Utah State Aggies

(4-2, 2-1 in Mountain West)

The most exciting potential matchup for the Aggies here is facing USC in warm-weather California in the inaugural LA Bowl. The Trojans sit at 3-3 on the year and already fired coach Clay Helton, but facing a USC program with such national clout in the postseason would be big for Blake Anderson’s USU team. The Aggies’ most popular destination is Boise for the Potato Bowl, and another intriguing matchup projection is Utah State heading to the Hawaii Bowl to face Memphis of the American Athletic Conference.