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6 takeaways from the weekend in college football

Kobe Pace runs for a touchdown for Clemson.
Clemson running back Kobe Pace (20) runs by Wake Forest defenders for a touchdown during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.
Ken Ruinard, The Independent-Mail via Associated Press

Another weekend of college football has come and gone, and the same thing will soon happen to the 2021 season.

With Week 12 in the books, only one week of regular season competition remains, excluding the Army-Navy game.

Week 14 is conference championship weekend, and Week 15 belongs solely to the Black Knights and Midshipmen.

Week 12 mirrored previous weeks as best as it could. There were significant upsets (at least on paper), conference title races became a little more clear and of course, more coaches got fired.

Here are six takeaways from the latest weekend of college football.


It is Utah’s world, and we are living in it

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham gets doused with water from a cooler as Utah defeats Oregon 38-7 in an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Whittingham became Utah’s winningest coach with the win.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah might be the story of the college football season.

The Utes aren’t the best team in America. They won’t be ranked in top 10 of the CFP poll when it is released Tuesday night — the latest AP Poll has Utah No. 16 — and they won’t be playing in the College Football Playoff.

Win the Pac-12, and they won’t be remembered as the best conference champion and they really aren’t even the best (as in most talented/successful) Pac-12 South champion.

What Utah has pulled off this year, though, is simply one of the best stories in college football.

Over the last 12 months, the Utes have had to deal with unthinkable tragedy — twice. Everything football-related feels trite when remembering Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe. Utah easily could have (possibly should have) folded, canceled the season and gone home.

Instead, Utah is now the unquestionable favorite to win the Pac-12, per ESPN’s latest FPI, after demolishing No. 3 Oregon on national TV.

Larger college football fandom won’t remember Utah when the season is over. Even if the Utes win the Pac-12 and finish the season in the top 10, the Utes will be relegated to something of an afterthought by not making the playoff when compared with the teams that will compete for a national title.

They shouldn’t be though. The 2021 Utes are an example of what makes college football great.


BYU has a shot at back-to-back 10 win seasons

BYU wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) carries the ball past Georgia Southern linebacker Benz Josue (5) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Statesboro, Ga.
Paul Abell, Associated Press

After defeating Georgia Southern (even if it wasn’t pretty), BYU is now a victory over USC away from 10 wins this year.

If the Cougars defeat the Trojans, that would make back-to-back seasons that BYU has pulled off double-digit win campaigns.

There is no other way to say this ... that is a big deal.

Gripes can (justifiably) be made about the difficulty of BYU’s schedule in 2020, but teams don’t just win 10-plus games on a whim.

Do it multiple seasons and, well, that is rare.

BYU hasn’t won 10 or more games in consecutive seasons since 2008-2009 (and 2006-2007. That was quite the run by Bronco Mendenhall).

Prior to that, it was in 1989-1990 that BYU pulled it off.

The only other times the Cougars managed consecutive seasons with 10 or more wins came in that late 1970s-early 1980s, during the most dominant era of BYU football history.

BYU has been playing football for 100-plus years, and the Kalani Sitake era could soon be called one of the most successful the program’s ever had.

The odds are that BYU — even with a win over USC — won’t make a New Year’s Six bowl and will be playing in the Independence Bowl, which will make for a less prestigious ending to one of the best seasons BYU has ever had.

But it will still be one of the best.


Don’t lose perspective on Utah State

Utah State wide receiver Brandon Bowling (16) catches a 10-yard touchdown pass as Wyoming safety Isaac White (42) defends in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Logan.
Eli Lucero, Herald Journal via Associated Press

Utah State was not good Saturday night against Wyoming. The Aggies were outplayed and outphysicaled by the Cowboys, and now all hope of a Mountain Division title (and a berth in the Mountain West Conference championship game) is largely out of their hands.

This is a good time to take a step back and gain some perspective.

Before the season, few believed Utah State would even qualify to play in a bowl game, let alone contend in the conference.

As things currently stand, Utah State is tied for the second-best overall record in the MW at 8-3 (with Air Force and Fresno State), and only San Diego State has lost fewer games in MW play.

The Aggies have defeated Air Force, Colorado State, Hawaii and San Jose State, all teams that were believed to be better than USU entering the season.

With a regular-season finale at New Mexico, Utah State should win at least nine games this season, which would only be the fifth time that the Aggies have pulled that off since the 1960s.

Any reasonable observer would say that the job Blake Anderson and company have done in Logan this season is one of the best to be found anywhere, which is why Anderson has been rumored as a potential target of programs in need of a new head coach even though he is still in his first season at USU.


Will it be Oregon, Oregon State or Washington State?

Oregon State linebacker Kyrei Fisher (10), Oregon State defensive lineman Keonte Schad (32) and Oregon State defensive lineman Simon Sandberg (96) celebrate a stop during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore.
Andy Nelson, Associated Press

The race for the North Division title is now all that remains to be decided in the Pac-12, and it is a three-team battle between the Ducks, Beavers and Cougars (of Pullman).

Per ESPN, Oregon has the best chance to win the division (and earn a rematch with Utah in the Pac-12 title game) at 73.4%, followed by Oregon State at 17% and Washington State at 9.6%.

Oregon has the easiest route. The Ducks simply need to defeat Oregon State on Saturday, at home in Eugene, and they’ll be headed to Vegas.

Oregon State has to beat Oregon and then have Washington — the Huskies are 4-7 this year and just lost to Colorado — upset Washington State.

As for WSU, it needs to take care of business against the rival Huskies and then have Oregon State upset Oregon.

From a conference prestige perspective, an Oregon-Utah rematch in the title game would be best, given those two programs are the only ones currently ranked.

Utah might want a rematch with Oregon State above all else, given the Beavers handed the Utes their only loss in conference play this season.

A Washington State-Utah matchup would probably be the worst combination — from an audience perspective — while giving the Utes the inside track to winning their first Pac-12 title.


All eyes will be on San Diego State-Boise State

San Diego State wide receiver Jesse Matthews (45) reacts after scoring a touchdown against UNLV during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Las Vegas.
Chase Stevens, Associated Press

Who will play in the Mountain West Conference championship game remains in doubt with only one week remaining.

In fact, things are as convoluted as ever.

In the Mountain Division, Air Force, Boise State and Utah State are all tied for first given head-to-head matchups (if things stay as they are, the Falcons would play for the conference crown with their head-to-head edge over the Broncos and superior record in the division when compared to the Aggies).

In the West Division, San Diego State is in first, but Fresno State remains in striking distance.

All of which means the Friday morning showdown between SDSU and Boise State will decide who plays for the conference title.

If Boise State beats San Diego State, Fresno State and Air Force (as long as the Falcons defeat 2-9 UNLV) will play for the MW championship.

If San Diego State beats Boise State (and Utah State beats New Mexico), it will be the Aztecs and Aggies in the title game.

If Boise State wins and Air Force losses, then the Broncos will play for another MW title.

With so many possibilities, it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen. The only thing that is certain is San Diego State controls its own destiny.

Every other team has to win and then hope for the best.


An end to the upsets and a return to the usual

Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry, left, reacts after sacking Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman (not shown) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.
Ken Ruinard, The Independent-Mail via Associated Press

Aside from Utah’s beatdown of Oregon, only one other ranked team was upset in Week 12. Given the way the season had gone, the dominance of favorites was an aberration.

That other upset — Clemson over Wake Forest — would have been anything but in any other year, though.

The Tigers have been the dominant ACC power, and after a shaky start, Clemson has rebounded.

Dabo Swinney’s team is now 8-3 overall, including 6-2 in the ACC, with a rivalry game remaining against South Carolina.

Ten wins remains a possibility for possibility for Clemson, which would make the Tigers’ early season collapse far less serious than presumed.

That has been a theme, though, as the season as dragged on.

The wildness of the opening month or two has given way to more and more of the usual. Wisconsin was awful to start the year, but the Badgers are now on track to win the Big Ten West Division and play for yet another Big Ten championship, which will likely pit them against Ohio State (despite the Buckeyes’ early season loss to Oregon).

The SEC is all about Alabama and Georgia.

Oklahoma still has every chance to win the Big 12, and if the Sooners fall short, it’ll be against rival Oklahoma State, which last won a conference title in 2011.

A rematch between Oregon and Utah would be normal for the Pac-12.

For as many upsets that have happened this year, college football has settled down. Not quite to same old, same old, but close to it.