Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A month ago, the question was, "Will Utah win a single Pac-12 game this year?"
Now, going into the final week of the regular season, the question is "Will Utah be playing in the Rose Bowl in January?"
The best answer is "not likely," but another answer is "it's possible."
In late October not many folks were even giving the Utes a prayer for a winning season, let alone a chance for the Pac-12 championship game or a Rose Bowl berth. It was a preposterous notion.
However, the notion for a title game berth has gone from almost impossible into the pretty good chance category during the last three weeks when the Utes have beat up on some of the league's lesser teams while Arizona State has been blowing fourth-quarter leads to some of the same teams.
With their overtime victory Saturday in the snow in Pullman, Washington, the Utes improved to 4-4 in the Pac-12 South and into position for a berth in the first-ever Pac-12 championship game, thanks to some help from Arizona.
A few hours after Utah slipped past the Cougars, the Wildcats came from 10 down in the final quarter to knock off the reeling Sun Devils, who lost their third straight game.
That means three things need to happen this week for the Utes to be representing the Pac-12 South in the championship game Dec. 2. And none of the three is far-fetched.
First, Utah must beat Colorado, which lost to UCLA 45-6 Saturday to fall to 2-10 on the season. That game is Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
Second, Arizona State must lose to Cal Friday night in Tempe.
Third, UCLA must lose to rival USC Saturday night (8 p.m. MST) at the Coliseum.
If all that transpires, the Utes will be heading to the championship game, most likely in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks, who were knocked off by USC Saturday night, just need to beat rival Oregon State at home Saturday to earn a spot in the championship game. If they lose, then Stanford will host the title game.
Nos. 1 and 3 seem quite likely, considering that Colorado has been the worst team in the Pac-12 all season and that the Bruins aren't likely to defeat the Trojans, who are arguably the best team in the Pac-12 right now.
As for No. 2, Arizona State will likely be favored to win at home. However, the Sun Devils have been favored the past three weeks, only to lose fourth-quarter leads every week. And Cal has been playing well lately and gave Stanford all it could handle in a 31-28 defeat in Palo Alto Saturday night.
How the Utes have gotten to this point in such a short time is quite incredible.
They lost their starting quarterback of the previous two seasons in the fourth game of the year and have been forced to use an inexperienced quarterback who wasn't recruited by a single other Division I school.
They've lost six key players for the year to injuries including tight end Dallin Rogers, linebacker J.J. Williams, safety Keith McGill, guard Latu Heimuli, returner Charles Henderson and Wynn.
With a basic offensive gameplan consisting of runs up the middle by John White about two-thirds of the time and occasional short passes, the Utes have managed to score 27, 34, 31 and 30 points in their four victories.
Their placekicker, Coleman Petersen, an undistinguished walk-on from Brighton High who beat out a scholarship kicker, has been nothing short of amazing, leading the Pac-12 in made field goals and converting on 17 of 21, including the game-winner Saturday at Washington State.
The Ute defense has been outstanding, shutting down quarterbacks that have done damage to other Pac-12 teams and virtually eliminating the running attacks of opposing teams.
It's all added up to a four-game winning streak and a shot for glory in early December depending on this week's results.
If things do work out this weekend and the Utes end up playing in Eugene the following week, the chances are low that they'll have a chance to knock off the Ducks and go to the Rose Bowl.
However, they can't be much lower than their chances for spot in the Pac-12 championship game were four weeks ago.
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