Two teams with vastly different levels of bowl games on their minds hook up Friday night when Pacific-12 Conference South-leading Utah visits the North’s last-place team, Stanford.
Utah (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12) took control of its division with a 44-24 home romp over UCLA last Saturday, with Tavion Thomas’ 160 rushing yards and four touchdowns leading the way.
Coupled with an Arizona State loss to Washington State, the Utes’ win gave them a one-game lead in the South, which in essence is a two-game advantage because they also own a head-to-head win over the Sun Devils.
Taking care of business against Stanford, as well as the bottom two teams in the South — Arizona and Colorado — would assure Utah a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game regardless of how it fares against the North leader, Oregon, on Nov. 20.
Despite Stanford’s three-game losing streak, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham has warned his team: Dealing with the Cardinal (3-5, 2-4) on the road won’t be easy for a Utah team that’s failed more often than it has experienced success away from home (1-3) this season.
And the Utes will be heading west one day earlier than usual.
“We’ve got a short week combined with a road trip,” Whittingham noted. “It’s what the schedule says, so we don’t worry or complain about that. We’ve just got to manage it. We’ve got a blueprint for it.”
That blueprint was last put into place when Utah faced Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game on a Friday night in December 2019. On a similarly short rest as they’ll get this week, the Utes were blown out in that game, 37-15.
Of course, they didn’t have Cameron Rising doing anything more than holding a clipboard that season as a redshirt transfer from Texas. After a season-opening shoulder injury, he has started the last five games, leading Utah to four wins while throwing 12 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.
Rising was a freshman at Texas the last time Utah visited Stanford. That went well for the Utes in a 40-21 victory over a Cardinal team that was ranked 14th at the time.
That said, the roles were reversed one year earlier, when Stanford went to Salt Lake City and upset the 20th-ranked Utes 23-20.
The Cardinal need three wins in their last four games to be eligible for a bottom-tier bowl game. They almost had one last week when they led Washington 13-12 before surrendering a 20-yard TD pass with 21 seconds left on their way to a 20-13 loss.
“Honestly (we) played defense good the entire game,” Stanford coach David Shaw observed. “But once again it comes down to two minutes, and we couldn’t get the stop to end the game. That’s how you lose.”
–Field Level Media