Utah remains in running for College Football Playoffs
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Senior linebacker Gionni Paul pulled the team together moments after Utah suffered its first loss of the season to unranked USC. He had one message for the now 13th-ranked Utes: It's not over.
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"I told them, somebody's going to lose a game," Paul said Monday. "Look at last year, there were (three) teams in the College Football Playoffs with one loss. Just looking back at that, they're going to beat each other up.
"TCU and Baylor still has to play each other. The Big 12 and Big Ten schedules are hectic. ACC schedule, hectic. So, we just have to handle our part. So, hopefully, at the end of the season our goals are still in play."
There was a lot of buzz around the Utah program as it started 6-0 and moved to No. 3 in the country — its highest ever regular season ranking. Much of that went silent with the 42-24 loss to the Trojans, but the Utes are still in control.
Utah (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) still has a game cushion in the Pac-12 South and doesn't play a team with a winning record until Arizona (5-3, 2-3) on Nov. 14. The Wildcats and UCLA (5-2, 3-1) are the only two teams above .500 remaining on the schedule.
That's why the Utes seemed more disappointed than distraught.
"I know you can't let one loss affect the next game," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That's for certain. USC is a good team. I would say they're the best 4-3 team in the country.
"Life moves on. We have to be ready for the next game, the next opponent and the next challenge. Like I said, we still control our own destiny. We can't let this (loss at USC) affect us in a negative way. There can be no hangover in this next game from last week."
The Utes also benefit from the timing of their run. Only two teams had a chance for to play for a title during the BCS era and one loss often all but took a team out of the running. The College Football Playoffs doubled that number with a semifinal round and a loss wasn't a season-killer. Three of the four teams — Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State — had a loss after the end of the 2014 regular season.
Whittingham wouldn't address the system specifically, but didn't seem worried about being shut out of the party already.
"My guess is that there won't be any undefeated teams in the Power 5 at the end of the season, maybe one," Whittingham said. "When you look back, it's really hard to go undefeated. We don't really care about anything but this week, but historically, it's really hard to go undefeated."
Paul is certainly paying attention to the rest of the nation and he knows there's a lot of regular season — and conference championships — to be played. Undefeated No. 1 Ohio State and No. 6 Michigan State must still face each other. Undefeated No. 4 LSU has to play one-loss No. 7 Alabama.
And there's no Pac-12 team just rolling through teams.
"I would say, if we didn't have a lead in the South I would pay more attention to that," Utah receiver Britain Covey said. "But because nothing matters other than what we do right now, I'm not really paying attention to that stuff.
"We control our own destiny. ... If we win out, we'll be good."
Frankly, the Utes have played better than expected, their record is better than expected and every goal is still attainable. Whittingham will take that.
"If you had told us in August that seven games in, we'd be 6-1 with a one-game lead in the South, I think we would have taken that," Whittingham said. "We're not disappointed with where we are. Obviously, we're disappointed with the loss on Saturday, but we think we're in pretty good shape.
"It boils down to a five-game season and it starts with Oregon State."