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Utah football’s Kyle Whittingham closes the door on Pac-12 tiebreakers debate

Salt Lake Tribune logo Salt Lake Tribune 11/28/2022 Josh Newman
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kyle Whittingham as the University of Utah hosts USC, NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. © Trent Nelson (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kyle Whittingham as the University of Utah hosts USC, NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

The University of Utah is headed back to the Pac-12 championship game.

And Kyle Whittingham doesn’t mind if some people are unhappy about it.

The Utes head coach on Monday acknowledged the fact that, in certain pockets of the Pac-12 footprint, the league’s tiebreaker procedure that sent Utah to the championship game has come under scrutiny.

The Utes — one of three teams in the league with a 7-2 conference record — lost at 7-2 Oregon on Nov. 19, and never played 7-2 Washington, but are going to Las Vegas thanks to owning the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker over the Ducks and Huskies.

“Some people say, ‘Well, you backdoored your way into the championship.’ No, we won the games we needed to win to get there,” Whittingham said. “I don’t know what ‘backdoored’ means. We won seven games, and the right seven games, to get to the championship.”

To get to Vegas, Utah needed to beat Colorado and get all kinds of outside help on Saturday.

It ultimately got what it needed as UCLA beat Cal, Oregon State had a wild come-from-behind win over Oregon, and Washington beat Washington State late Saturday night to send Utah to its fourth conference title game in five seasons.

With Oregon-Oregon State kicking off 30 minutes before Utah-Colorado, and knowing the result the Utes needed, Whittingham said he got an update on the sideline when the Ducks led the Beavers, 31-10, late in the third quarter in Corvallis. He started getting what he called a “steady flow of updates” with roughly 7-8 minutes left in the fourth quarter in Boulder.

At that point, Oregon State had already ripped off 21 straight fourth-quarter points and led, 38-34. When that final score popped up on the Folsom Field video board, the Utah fans present went berserk.

Entering the weekend, among the three results Utah needed, Oregon State beating Oregon was widely considered the biggest question mark.

“I couldn’t believe it when they had pulled it off and then, of course, it was all down to one game that night,” Whittingham said. “We were all glued to our TV that night watching the Huskies and Washington State.”

Saturday’s scenario was set up by the Pac-12′s choice to get rid of divisions this season, having the teams with the two best conference winning percentages play in the title game. If divisions were still in place, the championship game would be USC, an outright South Division winner, vs. North Division winner Washington, which would have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Oregon.

“We’re thrilled to be back in the championship,” Whittingham said. “Obviously, a lot of things had to line up for us.”

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