After being eliminated from Pac-12 title contention, what bowl games are on the table for Utah?

The field is painted for the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019.
The field is painted for the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SEATTLE — Utah’s defense of its back-to-back Pac-12 championships came to a close on a cold, windy and rainy afternoon in Seattle, Washington.

Washington, which improved to 10-0 and 7-0 in conference play, kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive by defeating Utah 35-28 on Saturday. 283 miles south of Husky Stadium, Oregon (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) took care of business against USC at Autzen Stadium.

Though Oregon State and Arizona are still in the mix with two conference losses, Oregon and Washington — two bitter rivals— appear headed on a collision course for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game.

Back on Oct. 14, the Huskies beat the Ducks 36-33 after Oregon kicker Camden Lewis missed a 43-yard field goal as time expired.

Since then, the Ducks have looked like the more complete team, especially given the Huskies’ shaky defense (Washington shut Utah out in the second half, but allowed 28 points and 306 yards in the first half of play).

If Oregon and Washington win out, it’ll set up the ultimate rivalry game in Las Vegas, with the two sides meeting in the Pac-12 championship game for the first time ever.

In that scenario, the winner likely goes to the College Football Playoff. Undefeated Washington would be a guarantee, and I think one-loss Oregon would get there after beating Washington, Utah, USC and Oregon State. The loser of that Oregon-Washington Pac-12 title game would have a good chance at a New Year’s Six Bowl that’s not a College Football Playoff site, so the Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl or Cotton Bowl. The Rose Bowl is the College Football Playoff semifinal is this year, so if a Pac-12 team makes the CFP, that’s where they’ll play.


With Utah not heading to the Pac-12 championship game for just the second time in six seasons, what are the options for the postseason?

Utah clinched bowl eligibility against USC on Oct. 21, and the Utes sit at 7-3 (4-3 Pac-12) with two games left to play, at Arizona and vs. Colorado.

Even winning out would put the Utes at 9-3, which is not going to be good enough for a New Year’s Six bowl game, so Utah will draw one of the following Pac-12 bowl tie-ins:

  • Alamo Bowl vs. Big 12

  • Holiday Bowl vs. ACC

  • Las Vegas Bowl vs. Big Ten

  • Sun Bowl vs. ACC

  • LA Bowl vs. Mountain West

or one of the following three bowl games if the Pac-12 has more than six bowl-eligible teams:

  • Armed Forces Bowl vs Big 12 or C-USA

  • First Responder Bowl vs ACC, American Athletic, or Big 12

  • Gasparilla Bowl vs. Big 12, ACC or SEC

Utah is likely going to be looking at one of those first three options, the Alamo Bowl, the Holiday Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl, especially if two Pac-12 teams end up in the Playoff and a New Year’s Six bowl.

The Utes have played in the Alamo Bowl (38-10 loss to Texas in 2019) and the Holiday Bowl (31-20 loss to Northwestern in 2018) before.

Utah has played in the Las Vegas Bowl five times (highlights include a 35-28 win over BYU in 2015 and a 10-6 win over USC in 2001). The Las Vegas Bowl has gotten an upgrade in recent years, both in stadium quality — now played at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders — and opponent quality (playing a Big Ten team instead of a Mountain West team).

With all of the injuries Utah has endured, a potential nine-or 10-win season with the Utes’ first bowl victory since a 30-14 win over West Virginia in the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl would be a successful season, even if it’s one that doesn’t end with the Utes hoisting Pac-12 hardware for the third time in a row.