PULLMAN, Wash. — In a span of four weeks, the Utah Utes have made the proverbial jump from pretender to contender. If things fall into place later this week, they could very well represent the South Division in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 2.
For that to happen, three things need to fall into place.
The Utes (7-4, 4-4), for starters, need to defeat Colorado (2-10, 1-7) Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. That evening, they need California (6-5, 3-5) to knock off Arizona State (6-5, 4-4). The final piece of the equation comes Saturday if USC (9-2, 6-2) beats UCLA (6-5, 5-3).
Should all the tumblers click — and thanks to the Trojans being ineligible because of NCAA sanctions — Utah could end up heading to Oregon or Stanford to play for an automatic berth in the Rose Bowl.
"You never know what could happen," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after Saturday's 30-27 overtime win at Washington State. "So we've just got to keep playing and keep trying to find ways to win football games."
The Utes have climbed back into contention with four consecutive victories, evening their Pac-12 record in the process.
"We're back to life," Whittingham said. "Credit our players for their work ethic and the way they've handled themselves and particularly the seniors for never letting this thing get away from us."
Since a 34-10 loss to California in San Francisco on Oct. 22, Utah has reeled off wins over Oregon State (27-8), Arizona (34-21), UCLA (31-6) and Washington State.
The Utes were 0-4 in Pac-12 games prior to the run of success.
"We drop our first four games and could have just said 'You know, that's that.' But we fought back and the guys continued to battle and continued to work hard in practice, do all the things," Whittingham explained. "The process went on. We never abandoned what we were doing. We never panicked or any of that stuff. We just stayed the course.
"We're still 4-4 in conference. It's not like we're sitting here where we want to be," he added. "But we've made a lot of progress in the last four weeks as a football team."
The upward movement has altered the landscape for Utah. It's allowed the Utes to improve their bowl position — the Alamo and Holiday bowls are now realistic possibilities — and its assured the program of a ninth consecutive winning season.
Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher, though, said the team is adamant about finishing things off right. They won't be satisfied with anything less than winning the rest of their games.
"That's definitely the plan," Christopher noted. "That's definitely the goal."
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