Cameron Rising and Utah overcame a two-touchdown deficit to defeat Southern California in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, opening the door for Ohio State to make the College Football Playoff.
One-loss Ohio State (11-1), No. 5 in the College Football Playoff ranking, now awaits its fate on Sunday at noon when the final ranking will be announced on ESPN.
After the game, former Buckeyes and Utes head coach and current FOX analyst Urban Meyer joked that Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham likely won’t have to pay for a meal in Columbus “for a while” after knocking off the Trojans.
“Coach (Ryan) Day, you’re welcome,” Whittingham replied after his team came back from a 17-3 deficit to defeat USC, the No. 4 team in the CFP ranking, 47-24 in front of 61,195, a Pac-12 championship game record for a neutral site.
No. 1 Georgia (12-0), which meets LSU in the SEC championship game on Saturday, and No. 2 Michigan (12-0), which faces Purdue Saturday in the Big Ten championship, appears locked for the Playoff. No. 3 Texas Christian (12-0), which faces Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, also has a high probability of making the Playoff, and would need to get utterly blown out for No. 6 Alabama (10-2) to have a shot at making the Playoff.
Three-loss Utah (10-3) appears headed to the Rose Bowl as the Pac-12’s representative, likely against Penn State, assuming Michigan beats Purdue.
“We definitely got the message loud and clear that a lot of people were underestimating us, not giving us much of a chance in this game,” Whittingham told reporters. “That’s the wrong group of players to do that to. We’ve historically been a chip-on-our-shoulder type of program. That’s getting harder and harder to do the more success you have, but that was in our DNA from way back when, as far as feeling a little bit disrespected and people weren’t giving us our due.
“You shook up a little bit of a hornets’ nest when that happened.”
Rising finished 22-for-34 passing and now has three 300-yard passing games in four career starts vs. USC.
“I thought we took it a little personal and saw all that as disrespect,” said Rising. “We just wanted to go out and prove a point.”
USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the Heisman Trophy favorite, “popped a hamstring” on a long early run, according to USC head coach Lincoln Riley, but wouldn’t come out of the game.
“Shit, that’s one of the gutsiest performances you’ll ever see,” Riley told reporters.
Williams, who walked with a clear limp after the injury, was sacked seven times by the Utes.
“You ever have an old rubber band? That’s kind of what it felt like,” Williams said.
The biggest winner of the night was Ohio State, which hasn’t played since getting dominated, 45-23, by Michigan at home on Nov. 26.
If the Buckeyes are slotted in as the fourth team in the Playoff on Sunday, the Big Ten would have two of the four representatives in the Playoff.
The Big Ten has only won one national championship under the current College Football Playoff format and that came during the first year in 2015 when Ohio State beat Oregon, 42-20, in Arlington, Texas.
In the Big Ten’s only other appearance in a championship game in this format, Alabama smashed Ohio State, 52-24, in Miami Gardens in 2021.
The SEC has won five titles under the current format — three by Alabama (2016, ’18 and ’21), one by LSU (2020) and one by Georgia (2022) — while Clemson (2017, ’19) of the ACC has won two.
The College Football Playoff semifinals will be played Dec. 31 at the Fiesta and Peach Bowls, with the national championship game Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.