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The ball left Coleman Petersen's foot and immediately sailed to the right, traveling about 10 yards wide of the goal post and 700 miles east of the Rose Bowl.

Utah's adventurous football season took one more zany turn Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Of all the possibilities and permutations involved in deciding the Pac-12 South's contestant in next week's conference championship game, this logically was not among them: Colorado 17, Utah 14.

So what are we supposed to think of these Utes now?

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham would not allow the loss to "diminish the turnaround" of his team's season, but it has to do so, right? In a weird way, I suppose, losing to the lowly Buffaloes makes winning those four conference games in a row and becoming bowl eligible seem like greater achievements, but too much potentially was available Friday to allow anyone to feel great about this season.

This was the kind of game the Utes routinely would lose in the old days, not in the Urban Meyer/Whittingham era.

Maybe the defeat saved Utah (7-5) some embarrassment, as could have resulted in the title game at Oregon. Then again, if everything had aligned in the Utes' favor, just enough of a sense of destiny would have made the accompanying Rose Bowl bid seem conceivable.

Instead, Ute followers will turn on their televisions next Friday and watch Oregon play South champion UCLA — yes, the same Bruins who lost 31-6 to Utah two weeks ago.

Welcome to the Pac-12.

"You can't look down on us for this one game," said Ute defensive lineman Dave Kruger, but the loss definitely colors Utah's season.

The Utes finished 4-5 in conference play, without meeting Oregon or Stanford. They lost three home games and failed to win the South title, even amid USC's sanctions.

And yet, in the most bizarre game of a crazy season, the Utes absolutely had their chances to add a closing chapter to their story of resilience. That was remarkable, considering how Colorado outgained them in the first half, 254 yards to 39. During their first touchdown drive, the Utes lost running back John White and offensive lineman Sam Brenner to injuries on consecutive plays.

The weird stuff just kept coming. Tauni Vakapuna (77 yards, one touchdown) was outstanding in relief of White, but he lost a fumble at midfield on Utah's next-to-last possession. After the Utes' second score, kicker Nick Marsh had a great chance to recover an onside kick, but the ball squirted out of his arms. The killer sequence — even before the final, failed drive — came after Reggie Topps' interception early in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Jon Hays completed passes to Kenneth Scott, DeVonte Christopher and David Rolf, moving the ball to the Colorado 6, trailing 17-14. But the Utes settled for a field-goal try, and Petersen missed a 26-yarder.

If Petersen had made his 48-yard kick at the end and forced overtime, the Utes would have overcome sacks of Hays on back-to-back plays during their final series of downs.

That's what kind of game this was.

That's what kind of season this has been.