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Are Arizona, Arizona State and Utah College Football Playoff contenders?

Arizona, Arizona State and Utah could all be serious College Football Playoff contenders if they win out.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With all of the talk about the release of the first ever Playoff Committee Top 25 release, the predominant Pac-12 conversation has been about whether or not Oregon will get in. That is obvious and fair, but after a while, I started to realize that the South cluster around 15 of Arizona, Arizona State and Utah are all also darkhorse candidates. It would require one of them to win out, and only one of them can win out since they still all play each other, but it is not entirely impossible.

Saturday night is an elimination game to be a darkhorse candidate between Arizona State and Utah, but before we get there, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at which team would likely be the best candidate for the Playoff should they win out.

1. Arizona State

Best wins: 1. Oregon (Pac-12 Championship Game) 2. Notre Dame 3. At Arizona 4. Utah 5. Stanford 6. At USC

Loss: UCLA

Unlike Arizona and Utah, Arizona State would only have one win over Oregon, but would (maybe more) than make up for it by beating Notre Dame. Two wins over Oregon might actually be more impressive, but that late-season win over a well-respected Notre Dame team could do wonders for their national cred. They would fill it out with good South wins at Arizona and USC and at home against Utah, topped off with a solid win over a North power in Stanford.

Arizona State's biggest negative will be that their loss was a blowout, at home to a team that I don't think finishes in the Top 25.

2. Arizona

Best wins: 1. At Oregon 2. Oregon (Pac-12 Championship Game) 3. At Utah 4. Arizona State 5. At UCLA

Loss: USC

Getting a win at Oregon and in the Pac-12 Championship game would be Arizona's calling card. They would add wins over all of the South powers on top of that, but would lack a good non-conference win or a win over Stanford who they don't play this season. I give Arizona State the slight edge over them here because I think their win over Notre Dame would move the national needle this season more than two wins over Oregon would along with an extra good win for the Sun Devils over Stanford who I think finishes strong and gets ranked.

Arizona's one loss would not be bad at all, even if it was at home, and would be by far the least-punishing loss for any team in this group should they win out.

3. Utah

Best wins: 1. Oregon (Pac-12 Championship Game) 2. Oregon 3. At Arizona State 4. Arizona 5. At Stanford 6. At UCLA 7. USC

Loss: Washington State

The Utes would have arguably the most purely impressive win cache if they win out in my personal opinion, but as I noted earlier, I think replacing Notre Dame with a double Oregon would be more impressive to most of the nation. Since they would not lose to a South opponent, they would have an impressive cluster of five wins against their good division mates along with a  good win at Stanford.

Utah's loss it what would really hurt them. They are the only FBS team that Washington State has beaten and it was at home.


So overall, I think all three of these teams have a better Playoff chance than it might seem if they can somehow win out. However, that is going to be a very, very hard thing to do with the strength of the South and Oregon likely waiting for them in the Pac-12 Championship Game.