Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham has never really been one to look too far ahead, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to hear what he had to say about the crazy race for the Pac-12 South title.
“We are just focused on Oregon this week,” he said during his weekly press conference with Utah media on Monday. “I guess there are dozens of possible scenarios of what could happen, so why waste your time with it? We just know that our task is to try and get a win this week and let the chips fall where they may.”
While the South title is a goal for the Utes (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12), who have never won it, Whittingham has a more pressing concern this week. As his team prepares to host Oregon (6-3, 3-3), he’s getting a new quarterback ready.
Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley will get his first career start on Saturday, after junior Tyler Huntley broke his collarbone in a 38-20 loss to Arizona State last weekend.
Shelley has played sparingly this season, completing six of 14 passes for 99 yards and an interception.
“First of all, the team has to rally around him and embrace him,” Whittingham said. “It is not just about the quarterback; everyone around him has to be better. The defense has to be better and everyone has to do their part in picking up the slack. Losing Tyler, he was a heck of a player, so we have to make sure Jason knows we have complete confidence in him and I believe he does.”
Huntley, in his second season as the starter, was playing extremely well, especially during a recent four-game winning streak. Now, the Utes will lean on Shelley.
“He has a very calm demeanor about him,” Whittingham said. “Nothing really gets him flustered, he is cool under pressure. He ran this type of offense in high school very efficiently and did a great job. This is his element, the spread offense. We are excited to see what he can do. We will have a full week of getting him the No. 1 reps and see what happens.”
Whittingham added that, depending on Utah’s bowl schedule, there is a chance Huntley could play in the postseason.
As for the Oregon at Utah matchup, that might be the most intriguing game in the conference this weekend.
Utah has lost its grip on the top of the South, but can certainly still win it by playing well down the stretch — and that starts Saturday. Utah’s final two conference games are against the Ducks and at Colorado (5-4, 2-4).
Oregon, which is 4-1 against the Utes since 2013, needs a lot of help to win the North, but is still one of the top teams in that division.
How crazy is the South division? With three weeks to play, last-place UCLA (2-7, 2-4), which started 0-5, is not mathematically out of the race.
OK, so it would take the miracle of miracles to get them there, but in this conference, it’s probably not wise to count them out just yet.
The team with the clearest path is Arizona State. The Sun Devils (5-4, 3-3) are the only team that doesn’t need any help to win the South. Win their last three games — vs. UCLA, at Oregon and at Arizona — and they take the division.
USC (5-4, 4-3), of course, still has a shot and may have the easiest remaining schedule. They’ve got California (5-4, 2-4) and UCLA in their last two Pac-12 games and don’t leave Los Angeles the rest of the regular season.
Arizona (5-5, 4-3) put itself in position for run by winning its last two, but has to play at Washington State and home against ASU in its final two games.
Colorado is also alive, but has to win its last three and get a lot of help along the way.
Since a 37-7 loss to UCLA on Oct. 13, Cal has allowed just 36 points in its last three games combined. The Bears are 2-1 in those games, with the loss coming in the final minute at Washington State. … ASU’s N’Keal Harry has at least one catch in each of his 34 career games. … Stanford (5-4, 3-3) is just 1-4 in its last five games. In the last 10 seasons, the Cardinal have gone this deep into a season still seeking bowl eligibility just once, in 2014.