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Bowl projections: Is Utah trending toward the Rose Bowl?

Here’s a look at the latest postseason predictions for the Utes, Cougars and Aggies

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Utah running back TJ Pledger (5) in the first half during a game against Arizona.

Utah running back TJ Pledger (5) runs in the first half during a college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Tucson, Ariz.

Rick Scuteri, Associated Press

There’s a lot at stake when the Utah Utes — ranked No. 23 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings — host the No. 3 Oregon Ducks at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday.

It’s arguably the second-most important game of the weekend, in terms of postseason implications, behind only No. 4 Ohio State hosting No. 7 Michigan State.

Saturday’s result could greatly impact the playoff race, and who makes some of the nation’s most prestigious bowls.

Utah is the favorite, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index metric, with a 61.8% chance to win.

Only three of 11 national bowl projections from this week have the Utes playing in the Rose Bowl, though that could change if Utah beats Oregon on Saturday.

There’s a strong likelihood the two teams will again meet in the Pac-12 championship in Las Vegas on Dec. 3, and if Utah wins this week, that title game would turn into a winner-take-all invite to the Rose Bowl.

If the Utes lose to Oregon this Saturday, it likely gets complicated. The Ducks would bolster their resume for a playoff spot with a win, though they’d need to win out to make the playoff.

The Utes would still be an attractive Pac-12 option for the Rose Bowl, though it could get a bit interesting if Utah lost twice to Oregon (including the Pac-12 championship) and had five losses at that point.

One Reddit user even explained that the Utes would have better odds of reaching the Rose Bowl if they lost this weekend.

What does all this mean? There’s still a lot of football left to be played.

The teams to watch if Utah does indeed make its first trip to the Rose Bowl include Michigan and Michigan State, as well as Ohio State (though the Buckeyes are projected to make the playoff).

Both the No. 6 Wolverines and No. 7 Spartans own 9-1 records at this point, and each will face Ohio State in the next two weeks.

This week, two national experts projected Utah will face Michigan in the Rose Bowl, while another believes they will face Michigan State in Pasadena.

“There’s a good chance the Utes are outside of the top 15 with more than three losses, but still get a trip to Pasadena, California, due to the Pac-12’s tie in the Rose Bowl,” 247 Sports’ Brad Crawford wrote.

“Should Michigan lose a close game to Ohio State in the regular-season finale and miss out on a berth in the conference championship game, the Wolverines should be the league’s highest-ranked team and would get the Rose Bowl bid.”

Utah Utes
(7-3, 6-1 in Pac-12)

The Alamo Bowl continues to be the bowl most pundits project the Utes will play in.

Baylor has been a popular projected opponent for the Utes, and the No. 11 Bears are coming off an impressive win over then-unbeaten Oklahoma.

The No. 13 Sooners, though, also showed up as a potential opponent for Utah in a pair of projections.

Oklahoma still has a chance at the Big 12 title and faces No. 9 Oklahoma State in its regular-season finale.  

BYU Cougars

For the second straight week, USA Today’s Erick Smith believes BYU, which stayed at No. 14 in this week’s CFP rankings, will make a New Year’s Six bowl.

He has the Cougars facing No. 9 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

BYU’s most-projected bowl matchup remains against UTSA in the Independence Bowl. The Roadrunners stayed unbeaten at 10-0 after a win over Southern Miss and jumped to No. 22 in the CFP rankings.

This week, UTSA faces 7-3 UAB, another team projected to face BYU in the Independence Bowl.

The winner of that game will sit atop Conference USA’s West Division with one week to play in the regular season. 

Utah State Aggies
(8-2, 5-1 in Mountain West)

Should Aggie fans get ready for the holidays in paradise? Utah State’s most popular destination in this week’s projections is the Hawaii Bowl.

UCF is the predicted opponent in two of those matchups. The Golden Knights are currently 6-4, though they’re coming off a lopsided loss to SMU.

Perhaps the most intriguing projection this week, though, comes from CBS Sports, which predicts Utah State will face Houston in the First Responder Bowl.

The Cougars entered the CFP rankings this week at No. 24 and are 9-1 on the season. 

This could be USU’s best chance to face a ranked team in the postseason.