While the Huskies and Cougars battle for the Pac-12 North title this week, their championship game foe from the South has already been determined: Utah, the last of the six teams to earn the division crown — but who also took the most difficult path.
It took a mere eight years for all six teams to win the Pac-12 South championship.
The Hotline would argue that the best came last.
Utah isn’t the best of the eight division champs. (We’d take USC ’17 over any of ’em.)
Heck, this might even be the best Utah team of the division era. (The ’15 version was pretty good.)
But from our vantage point, the Utes’ path in 2018 was the most challenging, thereby making their accomplishment the most impressive.
It came with a twist, too:
The Utes have been knocked off course before under more favorable circumstances. When confronted by obstacles at every turn this year, they managed to endure and overcome.
Their 0-2 start in conference play included a close loss at Washington State in which the Utes were on the wrong end of several questionable calls.
They lost starting quarterback Tyler Huntley in the second half of a close game at at ASU on Nov. 3, then starting tailback Zack Moss to a freak injury (at his home) a few days later.
And because of the division rotation, they were the only team in the South that had to play all the best teams in the North, which have a 31-12 combined record.
Utah drew Washington State (10-1), Washington (8-3), Oregon (7-4) and Stanford (6-4) …
USC missed Washington and Oregon.
Arizona missed Stanford and Washington.
ASU missed Washington State.
UCLA missed Washington State.
Colorado missed Stanford and Oregon.
Seeking context on Utah’s accomplishment, the Hotline examined the paths traveled by the seven previous South winners and found the Utes can credibly claim to have faced the most challenging cross-division schedule.
2017 USC: Missed 10-3 Washington and 7-6 Oregon
2016 Colorado: Missed 12-2 Washington
2015 USC: Missed 9-5 Washington State
2014 Arizona: Missed 8-5 Stanford
2013 ASU: Missed 11-2 Oregon
2012 UCLA: Missed 12-1 Oregon
2011 USC: No significant misses and the only division champ to face a road comparable to Utah’s. But the Trojans didn’t lose Matt Barkley on the first Saturday of November.
Well done, Utes.