The Pac-12 Southern Division champion is still undecided. The team who represents the South in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship comes down to tomorrow's games. If you don’t have a horse in the race, then you should be rooting for Utah.
The pivotal games are Utah vs. Colorado, Cal vs. ASU and USC vs. UCLA.
Only UCLA controls its destiny: win and you’re in. However, they are going up against USC in the Coliseum. USC would be the outright winner of the South were it not for NCAA sanctions. This is a cross-town rivalry game, and even when one team is highly favored over the other, you can’t discount the rivalry factor.
Likely outcome: USC.
Arizona State started the season as the favorite to win the South. They beat No. 21 Missouri and No. 23 USC. At midseason, they were 5-1 but have since done a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, going 1-4 in their last five games (even losing at home to perennial rival Arizona—see what I mean about rivalry games).
Cal is trending up. With dominant wins over Washington State and Oregon State and a near miss on the road against No. 9 Stanford, the Golden Bears are primed for an upset. ASU is favored by six.
ASU can with the South with a win over Cal, a UCLA loss and a Utah victory.
Likely outcome: ASU, but don’t bet on it.
Utah is the darling of the Pac-12. Amid questions of whether they could compete in the Pac-12 and an 0-4 start in conference play, Utah suddenly has a chance to win the South. After their worst performance of the season against Cal, the team captains held a players only meeting. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham doesn’t know what was said in that meeting, but he likes the outcome. Since that loss, Utah is on a four-game win streak with only a 2-10 Colorado team in front of them.
Utah wins the South if they beat Colorado and gets some help from a USC win and an ASU loss.
Likely outcome: Utah.
The odds-makers are predicting ASU as the South champions. How could all of this come to be? There is tremendous parity in the conference, and a graphic by Pac-12 Stat Central and Jim Gwilliam illustrates it nicely.
So, why Utah?
Utah is the story. If ASU or UCLA wins the conference, they will only vaguely be remembered as the South representative in the first ever Pac-12 Championship. If Utah wins, then you have the stuff of legend.
A team peopled with players that nobody in the Pac-12 wanted, these guys were all recruited to play in the Mountain West conference. They’re not supposed to be able to stand up to the week-in, week-out play of a BCS conference.
They lost their starting quarterback in the fourth game of the year and replaced him with a QB who never intended to play in the FBS. A team picked to finish third at best in the South Conference. A team who started a new chapter in Utah and college football with a four game skid.
In this country, we love the underdog. We keep a special place in our hearts for the one who overcomes all the odds. Such stories are the bread-and-butter of Hollywood: The Blind Side, Miracle and Fever Pitch, just to name a few.
If you’re not a Bruin or a Sun Devil, then you should be a Ute. If Utah overcomes all the odds and wins the South, then you’ll want to remember that you had a small part in their story. You’ll want to remember that you cheered them on their way to glory.