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Can Utah Make a Push for the College Football Playoff?

On Thursday night, Utah dominated their rivals in the Holy War, BYU, winning the game 30-12. There were high expectations for Utah coming into the season, but after winning their season opener there is not only a clear path for them to win the Pac-12, but also to make the College Football Playoff.

The Performance vs. BYU

Can Utah make a push for the College Football Playoff?
Tyler Huntley (Photo by espn700sports.com)

The offense wasn’t the most explosive, but they were efficient. Quarterback Tyler Huntley completed 13 of 16 passes for 106 yards. He also made plays with his legs with 39 rushing yards on eight carries. Running back Zack Moss rushed for 187 yards and a touchdown on 6.4 yards per carry. The offense was aided by some defensive touchdowns, but most importantly they did not turn the ball over. Utah also got great play from their offensive line, as they didn’t allow a sack. Kyle Whittingham always seemingly develops good offensive linemen and this year looks no different.

On defense, the Utes gave up two field goals in the second quarter and one touchdown late in the fourth quarter when the game was already in hand. To go with that, Francis Bernard and Julian Blackmon both had interceptions returned for touchdowns. BYU had some success when they ran the ball, but abandoned the run too much, as they finished with just 92 rushing yards. A question for this unit moving forward is whether they can get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as they registered just one sack all night. The defense should be solid enough to limit yardage, but at the same time, the Utes can force turnovers enough to change the game.

Beating BYU by so much is a good sign for the rest of the season, as BYU still projects to be heading to a bowl game at the end of the season. If Utah can carry this performance over to Pac-12 play, they could win a lot of football games.

The Schedule

Utah is in the Pac-12 South, which is generally thought of as the easier division for this season. They are head and shoulders better than any team in the Pac-12 South, but if they falter a team like Arizona State could take the Pac-12 South title right out from under them. Winning the Pac-12 South, and then the Pac-12 Championship Game, is obviously paramount to making the College Football Playoff. They will have tough games in the Pac-12 South at USC and vs. Arizona State.

Can Utah Make a Push for the College Football Playoff?
Jaylon Johnson (Photo by sltrib.com)

The crossover games with the Pac-12 North should be the toughest games on their schedule. They get Washington State and California at home, travel to Oregon State and Washington. While they shouldn’t have many problems with Oregon State, Washington State, and Washington both could knock off the Utes, who may have to go undefeated to make the College Football Playoff. If Utah plays poorly, Cal’s defense could give them trouble as well. It is hard to say how good those teams will be this season until watching them play, but Utah surely has enough talent to get the job done against all four Pac-12 North teams on their schedule.

Nonconference games shouldn’t be an issue for Utah now that they have beaten BYU. Next week they play Northern Illinois at home, who is a solid MAC team, but if the Utes keep the ball on the ground, they should be able to win the game. The other nonconference game left is against Idaho State, which should be an easy win.

All in all, this is a pretty manageable schedule. Utah should be favored in a lot of these games and if they can make the Pac-12 Championship Game, they have a chance to win it. Last year, they played Washington close in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but lost 10-3. This year could be different.

Conclusion

With an offense that protects the ball and runs it well, Utah has the chance to control the clock in a lot of games to help them win. The defense ranked 17th in scoring last season and already looks like they could be even better this season with an improved turnover margin. They also have a lockdown corner in Jaylon Johnson, who has a future in the NFL to make it harder for teams to move the ball on them. Put those things together, and a schedule that has a lot of winnable games, and Utah could surprise people by the end of the season.

 

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