SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The stars aligned this past weekend for the Utes football team.
No less than four outcomes had to happen in order for the Utes to get back to Las Vegas and defend their Pac-12 Championship, and all four happened.
“We’re thrilled to be back in the championship, obviously,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. “A lot of things had to line up for us and they all transpired.”
The Utes did their part, smacking Colorado, 63-21. But after UCLA knocked off Cal on Friday, Utah needed Washington to beat Washington State and Oregon State to defeat Oregon. The Beavers were down 21 in the third quarter before mounting a furious comeback to win, 38-34.
“When it was 31-10, somebody said the ESPN Gamecast thing said they had a 99.3 percent chance of winning,” said Whittingham, who kept track of the game on the sideline. “That was a little bit of a downer. But, again, we were just worried about what we could control and we were just hoping for the other stuff to happen.”
Then when the Huskies blew past the Cougars, Utah was headed back to Vegas. Whittingham wants people to know his team earned this opportunity, and they didn’t back their way in.
“Some people say we back-doored our way into the championship,” he said. “No, we won the game we needed to win to get there. I don’t know what back door means. We won seven games, and the right seven games to get into the championship.”
So for the fourth time in five years, Utah will play for the Pac-12 title. Utah broke through last year, defeating Oregon to advance to its first Rose Bowl. Whittingham believes all that experience should benefit the Utes.
“I think it helps a lot,:” he said. “The stage shouldn’t be too big. We’ve got guys who have been there and done that. We have a handful of guys who are going to their fourth one, and experience in that regard is a good thing.”
The Utes beat USC in perhaps the game of the year last month, a 43-42 thriller at Rice-Eccles Stadium, when Cam Rising converted a two-point conversion with 48 seconds to play. The Trojans haven’t lost since, and are playing for more than a Pac-12 title. If they win, they’ll be going to the College Football Playoffs.
“Pretty much everyone has them winning already and going to the playoffs,” Whittingham said. “We love that role. We love having a chip on our shoulder with nobody giving us a chance. We seem to thrive in that capacity.”
The last time Utah and USC played, tight end Dalton Kincaid had 16 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown. But Kincaid injured his shoulder while catching a touchdown in the win over Colorado.
“Dalton’s status is we expect him to play,” Whittingham said. “It’s not a guarantee, but we’ll see what happens.”
Whittingham also hopes starting cornerback Clark Phillips III, who missed the Colorado game with an injury, will also be back.
Utah and USC will play for the Pac-12 Championship Friday night at 6:00 p.m. MT at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.