EUGENE, Ore. – Spin it any way you want, but there’s only one conclusion when evaluating this season for the Utah football program.
Barring any shenanigans in next week’s games, the Utes won’t get the opportunity to defend their Pac-12 championships in two weeks. Harsh as it sounds, slap the label of disappointment on this year’s team.
The goal to repeat died in sub-freezing temperatures at Autzen Stadium, where the Oregon Ducks beat the Utes 20-17 on Saturday night. The loss, which was Utah’s second in conference play, likely means the only reason for another trip to Sin City is to play in next month’s Las Vegas Bowl.
“Just a battle between two really good teams,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “They made a couple of more plays than we did.”
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) November 20, 2022
Last month, quarterback Cam Rising was flying high after a stellar performance in the thrilling last-second win over USC. But after sitting out the Washington State game with an injury, he hasn’t been able to recapture the magic he displayed against the Trojans.
Rising, who threw three interceptions, had two late chances to get Utah into position to either tie the game or take the lead but couldn’t generate enough yardage. One possession ended in an interception and the other ended on an incomplete pass on fourth down.
“I’ve got to play better,” he said
The Ducks got a measure of revenge for both of last season’s debacles that saw them suffer humiliating defeats to Utah in the regular season and two weeks later in the championship game. Oregon, which closes the conference season next week at nationally ranked Oregon State, took a gigantic step toward joining USC in Las Vegas although the possibility of a multi-team tie for second place exists.
With one-win Colorado up two days after Thanksgiving, the Utes are virtually guaranteed to finish at 7-2 in the Pac-12 and 9-3 overall. Yeah, we get it, those are not disappointing numbers for the overwhelming number of college football programs.
Now that’s a big screen pic.twitter.com/J5ogVhXIkX
— Patrick Kinahan (@PKKinahan) November 20, 2022
Yet, for the Utes, it was deemed not good enough. Not for a program that expected internally to play for the conference championship and was voted as the preseason favorite to do as much.
“It hurts a lot,” said tight end Dalton Kincaid.
Hard to argue that the Utes were the frontrunners, coming off last season with the return of Rising. There’s no glory in falling short, but the Utes can draw at least a glimmer of solace in knowing the program continues to build on a solid foundation.
Even being in the position of competing with the likes of Oregon and USC, the two most prestigious Pac-12 programs, proves worthy of respect. USC’s only loss this season came against Utah.
Last year, as the red-clad locals can gleefully recall, Utah demolished Oregon in the penultimate game of the regular season and then followed with the customary beating of Colorado on the way to earning a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, where it again whipped the Ducks to land the Rose Bowl berth. A similar scenario presented itself again, with the winner likely advancing to the title game in Las Vegas.
It’s just not Utah’s night.
— Michelle Bodkin (@BodkinKSLsports) November 20, 2022
Each team entered the game at 6-1 in the conference, with both needing to win the remaining two games to ensure the opportunity to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. With the elimination of the two divisions, this year the top two teams play for the conference championship on Dec. 2.
Once again, as it has been every year since 2018 aside from the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Utah had an excellent chance to qualify for the title game. But sporadic production on offense prevented the Utes from making a fourth consecutive appearance in the championship game, excluding the pointless COVID year.
Going big picture, the Utes have entered November in contention in six of the last eight seasons. A second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance could have established Utah as the conference’s most dominant program.
But none of that matters now. The reality is, the Utes could not get it done this season.