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No. 14 Utah shot outside of Pac-12 title, focus on Colorado ‘ Utah

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BOULDER, Colorado — The Utah Utes understand the complexities of what needs to happen to get into the Pac-12 championship game.

The convoluted equation begins with the 14th-ranked Utes beating a struggling Colorado team at Folsom Field on Saturday.

Utah (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12, No. 14 CFP) suffered a disappointing loss at No. 10 Oregon last weekend and wants to make sure it doesn’t cost the team twice.

“Can’t have a hangover. I can’t feel sorry for myself,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham of the 20-17 loss to Eugene. “You have to pick yourself up again. In purely mathematical terms, we still have a way to go to the championship.”

The formula is long. The key ingredient is a sixth straight win over Colorado (1-10, 1-7). Additionally, the Utes need No. 12 Washington to beat Washington State, No. 22 Oregon State to beat Oregon, and No. 17 UCLA to get past Cal.

That would result in a three-way block jam between the Utes, Ducks, and Huskies. Utah’s league opponents would have the highest combined win percentage in conference games, giving the Utes last place and a chance to defend their championship title. No. 5 USC has already secured a spot in the Pac-12 title game.

“We have a chance,” Whittingham said. Utah goes up against Colorado as a 29 1/2 point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Whittingham said the coaching staff needed to ensure last weekend wasn’t a strain on the team.

“When we walk around feeling sorry for ourselves and moping, the players read it. You read your players every day,” Whittingham said. “You better practice what you preach. It’s nothing new to have that attitude when you come back, put it behind you and move on.”

Saturday will also be an interesting day for Buffaloes interim coach Mike Sanford, who is expected to hand over the keys to the program after the season finale. Sanford is 1-5 since taking over after manager Karl Dorrell was fired in October.

“The legacy that I hope to leave and that our employees leave is that we are real, we are real,” Sanford said. “We are in it for them (the players), not for us. We have done everything to steer this program in the right direction.”

The Utes were the media’s preseason pick to repeat as conference champions. They won last season by beating the Ducks 38-10 in the Pac-12 title game.

“That a (potential) 7-2 record (in the conference) is a bit of a disappointment is probably in some ways a compliment,” Whittingham said. “But that’s not what we focus on. We’re just trying to repeat ourselves as conference champions.”

Quarterback Cameron Rising has led Utah into the top 25 in overall offense. On the other side of the ball, Clark Phillips III has helped the Utes to a top-25 ranking in total defense.

“Probably the team I like least in the conference, which is fair. I never hit her or anything,” said Colorado senior tight end Brady Russell. “Hopefully you change that this week.”

Sanford recently went through a long list of seniors and other players who may be leaving the program and spoke enthusiastically about each one. Right now, 19 Buffaloes are scheduled to run onto the field behind live mascot Ralphie for the final time.

“They have to be honored in the right way,” Sanford said of the departing players. “From us as a coaching staff, from us as a fan community, from us as the CU family.”

WHITTINGHAMS LONGEVITY

Whittingham has been with the Utes in some coaching capacity since 1994, which Sanford finds enviable. Sanford has a daughter who he said has moved nine times during his career.

“Personally, I’m looking for that Kyle Whittingham experience,” Sanford erupted.

Colorado will play its fourth straight team. The Buffaloes also played in four back-to-back ranked rosters during the 1973 regular season. That year, they faced No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 8 Missouri, No. 13 Nebraska, and No. 18 Kansas, beating only the Tigers.

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