Throw us a curveball, College Football Playoff committee. Put Utah at No. 5 ahead of Alabama.
It’ll be astonishing if Alabama isn’t at No. 5 on Tuesday when the next rankings come out. Utah, which beat Arizona handily on Saturday night, will likely be at No. 6 after Oregon’s loss to Arizona State. With Alabama easily handling business against FCS opponent Western Carolina, there’s no impetus for the committee to put Utah ahead of Alabama.
But maybe it should.
This is an Alabama team that’s obviously at less than full strength without Tua Tagovailoa following his season-ending hip injury. And Utah is at full strength. QB Tyler Huntley is playing at a high level and star RB Zack Moss is healthy and running roughshod over opponents.
Moss got injured in Utah’s only loss of the season, a 30-23 defeat on Sep. 20 to USC. After coming back on Oct. 12 against Oregon State, he’s been almost unstoppable. Moss has rushed for 100 yards or more in all but one of the six games he’s played in after injury. The one game he didn’t hit 100 yards was a 99-yard effort in a 21-3 win over Arizona State. That’s the same Arizona State that beat Oregon on Saturday night, by the way.
Utah isn’t sexy. Huntley has thrown for 2,608 yards and just 14 touchdowns to two interceptions. The team has ran the ball 478 times and thrown it 252. It’s not an offense that will wow you like LSU’s or Alabama’s with Burrow or Tagovailoa slinging touchdown passes to the best group of wide receivers in the country.
But the Utes simply get the job done. And, to be frank, they get the job done in a more efficient fashion than No. 4 Georgia does.
The 2019 Bulldogs may be the most boring top-four team in the College Football Playoff era. It can be excruciating at times to prevent yourself from flipping to another game while watching Georgia. Yeah, Georgia is 10-1 and has wins over Notre Dame and Florida. But no one who isn’t a UGA fan is lauding the entertainment value of this season so far.
If Georgia can be a boring No. 4, why can’t Utah be a less-boring No. 5 as Alabama is without its starting quarterback? We already know that the Tide won’t be heading to the SEC championship game and can, at best, finish the season at 11-1 before the postseason. A win over Colorado on Saturday and a victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game could easily be enough ammunition for Utah to move ahead of the Tide before the final rankings. And, quite frankly, it should.
But what else does Utah have to show at this point to make the case that it’s better than Alabama? It’s played a schedule that’s no worse than Alabama’s and it has a better loss than Georgia. While the Crimson Tide is outscoring opponents by over 30 points per game, Utah is outscoring teams by 24 and running six fewer plays per game.
Alabama has a rock-solid case at No. 5 with Tagovailoa. That’s undisputed. But that’s also not reality. If Utah is on a path to pass Alabama with two more wins, the committee has little to lose by putting the Utes ahead of the Crimson Tide now. It can always drop Utah if the Utes lose.
The teams that have resurrected their seasons
The early part of the season was a significant struggle for some prominent programs around the country. Some schools had losses so bad that coaching changes not only seemed possible, they seemed likely. But it’s a long season, and some of those same programs have bounced back in a major way over the second half of the year. And that is worthy of praise.
Things looked dire for Michigan back in September when it was completely dominated in a 35-14 road loss at Wisconsin. That loss came on the heels of a near-disaster double-overtime win over Army. Those performances, especially following an offseason of hype about a revamped offense, resulted in bleak times in Ann Arbor. But Jim Harbaugh’s group picked up the pieces from there.
Wins over Iowa and Illinois were not pretty. The loss at Penn State wasn’t either, but the UM offense finally seemed to click in the second half against the Nittany Lions. Though it proved to be too late to complete a come-from-behind win, the Wolverines have been awfully impressive ever since. Entering Saturday’s home matchup against No. 2 Ohio State, Michigan is 9-2 and boasting a four-game winning streak with an average margin of victory of 30.3 points during that span. Will this be the year Michigan breaks its seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes?
Back on Sept. 27, Virginia Tech lost 45-10 to Duke in the worst home defeat since 1974. At that point in the season, the Hokies already had a loss to Boston College and close wins over lowly Old Dominion and Furman — so the program certainly did not feel like it was trending in a positive direction.
Since then, however, Virginia Tech managed to win six of its next seven games and is now in position to win the ACC Coastal title. Like Michigan, it took a few games to really get things humming. The Hokies nearly blew a big lead against Miami and went into six overtimes against North Carolina but have been playing at a high level in the month of November. The team’s only loss came by a single point, 21-20, at Notre Dame.
Now 8-3 (5-2), the Hokies will head on the road to face rival Virginia with the winner claiming the division title and spot against mighty Clemson in the ACC title game. The Hokies have won 15 straight against UVA.
To put it mildly, a bowl berth seemed like a long shot for Tennessee. The Vols started the season 1-4 with embarrassing losses to Georgia State and BYU. But Jeremy Pruitt’s program has managed to rally down the stretch — even after dropping to 2-5 with a loss to Alabama on Oct. 19.
Since then, Tennessee has won four straight games and clinched bowl eligibility by beating Missouri on the road over the weekend. The Vols should clinch a winning season on Saturday when they host 3-8 Vanderbilt. Pruitt still has a long way to go to elevate Tennessee to a point where it could realistically compete for an SEC East title. But a bowl berth and a winning record in Year 2 is certainly a positive step.
In mid-October, USC was 3-3 and looking like it was heading toward another mediocre-at-best season under Clay Helton, who seemed destined to lose his job. But from there, the injury-plagued Trojans managed to really beat up on some of the Pac-12’s lesser teams down the stretch of the season — especially since quarterback Kedon Slovis returned to the lineup. The Trojans rounded out the season by winning five of six games, and Slovis threw for more than 400 yards in four of those victories to help his team finish 8-4.
Now, new Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn is faced with quite a decision: Keep Helton or let him go? As Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel wrote last week, moving on from Helton wouldn’t be cheap, but Bohn has to decide if Helton is the guy who can bring USC football back to the top of college football. But the context to that decision lies within a university that has been plagued by several scandals. Whoever the coach is in 2020, he will inherit a talented roster. The quarterback situation with Slovis and J.T. Daniels, the five-star recruit who tore his ACL in the season opener, will also be fascinating to observe.
BYU notched wins over Tennessee and USC early in the year before embarking on a three-game losing streak that included losses to Toledo and South Florida. That left the Cougars at 2-4 before welcoming then-undefeated Boise State to Provo. But Kalani Sitake’s team responded and upset the Broncos, sparking a five-game winning streak that will carry into Saturday’s finale at San Diego State.
Sure, the Cougars haven’t faced the toughest competition during the winning streak, but they managed to overcome a slew of quarterback injuries to get back to a bowl game. As an independent, BYU has to schedule nationally and travels further than most FBS programs. To get to 8-4 with the chance for a ninth win in a bowl would be a very nice season for the Cougars.
14 teams going for bowl eligibility
Over a dozen teams have the opportunity to get bowl eligible in the final week of the season. Not all of those 14 teams will get there. And we have a good idea of which teams are more likely than others to make a bowl game happen.
Here are our bowl-probability rankings for the teams gunning for six wins in Week 14 from most probable to least probable. Sorry Colorado, while you’re a win away from a bowl game after beating Washington late Saturday night, you need an even bigger upset to get to 6-6.
Michigan State (5-6) vs. Maryland (3-8)
Do you really think a Maryland team that has been outscored 217-38 in the last four games will put up much of a fight on the road against Michigan State?
Ohio (5-6) at Akron (0-11)
Akron covered the spread for the first time all season against Miami (Ohio) a week ago. If the Zips win their first game of the year, they will keep Ohio out of a bowl for the first time since 2014.
Liberty (6-5) vs. New Mexico State (2-9)
This is the second game of a home-and-home series between the two schools in 2019. Liberty, needing to get to seven wins because it has beaten two FCS teams this year, won its road leg of the series 20-13 back in October.
Missouri (5-6) at Arkansas (2-9)
This game isn’t higher because Missouri is a dumpster fire and hasn’t scored more than 20 points since Oct. 12.
North Carolina (5-6) at NC State (4-7)
NC State has lost five straight games, including a 28-26 loss to Georgia Tech in Week 13, to ensure that it wasn’t going to a bowl. That means UNC will likely go bowling in the first year of Mack Brown’s second stint in Chapel Hill.
TCU (5-6) vs. West Virginia (4-7)
Since going to 3-1 with a win over Kansas, TCU has lost two games, won one, lost two, won one and … well, the Horned Frogs lost 28-24 to Oklahoma on Saturday.
Mississippi State (5-6) vs. Ole Miss (4-7)
Maybe the Bulldogs’ bowl eligibility quest is enough for you to watch the Egg Bowl over the NFL on Thanksgiving night. The two teams brawled in 2018.
Kent State (5-6) vs. Eastern Michigan (6-5)
Kent State is much-improved, but it will be tough to go on the road and get a win over an Eastern Michigan team that has won its last two games by a combined score of 87-31.
Boston College (5-6) at Pittsburgh (7-4)
Boston College’s quest to win exactly seven games for the sixth time in seven seasons under Steve Addazio goes through Pittsburgh.
Nebraska (5-6) vs. No. 17 Iowa (8-3)
Scott Frost is still looking for a signature Nebraska win. This could be it.
Louisiana-Monroe (5-6) at Louisiana (9-2)
Louisiana is on a roll. Maybe ULM gets lucky as the Ragin’ Cajuns look ahead to a Sun Belt championship game date with App State.
Oregon State (5-6) at No. 6 Oregon (9-2)
The Beavers lost a heartbreaker to Washington State on Saturday. Oregon will probably be mad after losing to Arizona State and throwing away a College Football Playoff shot in the process.
Troy (5-6) vs. No. 24 Appalachian State (10-1)
Troy, which got blown out 53-3 by Louisiana on Saturday, will have to hope App State is preoccupied with the Sun Belt title game.
Colorado (5-6) vs. Utah (10-1)
This just isn’t a good matchup for the Buffs. A win here and in the Pac-12 title game could be enough for a playoff berth for the Utes.
More from Yahoo Sports: