How Pac-12 football woes resulted in historic finishes for BYU, Utah and Utah State
When the final 2021 Associated Press college football poll was released on Tuesday, it was hailed as a historic accomplishment for the sport in the state of Utah.
For the first time in the poll’s history, all three FBS programs finished the season ranked as Utah (10-4) came in at No. 12, BYU (10-3) ended up at No. 19 and Utah State (11-3) finished at No. 24.
It showcased a year in which the trio of programs from the state exceeded expectations, weathered adversity and won 31 total games.
But the harsh reality is that the main reason for that banner year for the Cougars, Utes and Aggies was the fact that the Pac-12 had one of the worst seasons of any Power Five conference in history.
Consider what happened to the league in 2022:
- No Pac-12 team had fewer than four losses.
- No Pac-12 team won a bowl game.
- The Pac-12’s combined out-of-conference record was 16 wins and 25 losses.
- Eight of the 16 victories were against FCS opponents, while five others were over Mountain West teams.
- Only one out-of-conference win came against a team that finished ranked (Oregon winning at Ohio State), while two of the losses came to FCS teams (Montana beating Washington and NAU beating Arizona).
- The other two Power Five wins came against SEC programs that struggled (UCLA beating LSU (6-7) and Stanford beating Vanderbilt (2-10)).
- According to RealTimeRPI.com, the league ranked eighth overall in the ratings percentage index and ninth in strength of schedule out of 11 FBS leagues.
Those aren’t numbers any conference would be proud of but those difficulties certainly made it a lot easier for BYU, Utah and Utah State to pad their win totals.
All three had multiple wins over Pac-12 opponents — 16 of the 31 victories were against teams from that league — but didn’t have a whole lot of notable successes beyond those triumphs.
The Utes certainly benefitted the most, since nine of the 10 Utah victories were over teams from the conference (to go with one loss at Oregon State(7-6)). The one Ute nonconference win was over FCS-foe Weber State.
Utah’s other losses were at BYU, at San Diego State (12-2) and to No. 6-ranked Ohio State (11-2) in the Rose Bowl.
The Cougars didn’t have as many opportunities to face Pac-12 opponents but took advantage, knocking off Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and USC to get half of its wins.
BYU’s best non-Pac-12 win was a victory at home over ACC-opponent Virginia, a team that finished the year at just 6-6, or on the road at Utah State. The Cougars also had losses to Boise State (7-5) at home, at No. 5-ranked Baylor (12-2) and to UAB (9-4) in the Independence Bowl.
The Utes and the Cougars also had the major benefit of playing most of their toughest games against Pac-12 teams at home.
BYU was in Provo for its wins over Utah and Arizona State (8-5), while the road games were against Washington State (7-6) and USC (4-8). The win over Arizona (1-11) was at a neutral site in Las Vegas.
Utah also hosted Arizona State as well as Oregon (10-4), Washington State, UCLA (8-4) and Colorado (4-8) as well as beating the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship in Las Vegas.
The Aggies had the fewest games against Pac-12 teams but wins at Washington State and over Oregon State in the Los Angeles Bowl certainly helped Utah State earn a spot in the Top 25.
Now the question will be whether these results were because of a unique set of circumstances with the Pac-12 or whether they will continue to be the trend.
The league has struggled for much of the last decade, only getting a team in the College Football Playoff in 2014 (Oregon) and 2016 (Washington). Whether the conference can again become a player on the national stage will have to be determined on the field.
The Pac-12 will likely have less impact on college football in the state of Utah in the years to come.
Although obviously Utah’s fate will mostly hinge on what happens in the league, BYU will soon be joining the Big 12 and thus will have fewer slots to face Pac-12 opponents.
The Cougars are slated to face just two teams from the conference in 2022, playing at Oregon and at Stanford. Utah State has no Pac-12 games lined up for next season.
While there is the possibility of bowl matchups against Pac-12 opponents for both BYU and the Aggies, there will still be far fewer opportunities for either of the other two Utah-based football teams to build their résumés against teams from that league.