Game Preview: Pac-12 Football Championship
Host Jeremy Ganes and analysts Caleb Schweiger and Josh Portney take an inside look at each of the biggest conference championship games in college football this weekend.
It’s conference championship week in the land of college football, which means there’s plenty on the line for all the teams involved. In the Pac-12 Championship game, the No. 5 Utah Utes face off against the No. 13 Oregon Ducks on Friday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Both teams have plenty at stake, but perhaps no time in college football has more to play for than the Utes. Utah is sitting just outside of the College Football Playoff this week, but a convincing win against rival Oregon would give the Utes a conference title and the top 25 win that their resume so sorely lacks. Depending on what transpires in the SEC and Big 12 championship games, Utah just might be able to convince the committee that they deserve the fourth and final spot in the playoff with a victory on Friday night.
On the flip side, the Ducks have an opportunity to finish the season strong. They are very much still in play for a Rose Bowl appearance: a solid consolation prize for missing out on the College Football Playoff with two losses.
This matchup of west coast heavyweights pits two of the country’s most exciting quarterbacks against each other. Tyler Huntley has been effective in his third year as a starter for Utah, completing 75.5% of his passes for 2,773 yards and 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Huntley plays smart, complimentary football to a team that runs the ball well and plays very good defense.
Justin Herbert, the NFL draft prospect who stayed at Oregon an extra year, is asked to do a bit more than Huntley for his offense. Herbert has attempted 133 more passes than his Utah counterpart, compiling 3,140 passing yards and a superb touchdown-interception ratio of 31:5. Herbert will have a lot of eyes on him, as he gets to make possibly his final in-game statement for NFL scouts and general managers, assuming he elects not to participate in Oregon’s bowl game.
This is a very even matchup upon first look, as ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Utes just a 51.1% chance to win. In other words, this game may as well be picked via coin flip. However, there are some clear distinctions between the two teams. Utah is a very well-balanced football team. The Utes have a potent rushing attack that averages 214 yards per game, led by Zack Moss with 1,246 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Utah also boasts a shutdown defense, conceding a mere 241 total yards per game, and excels in both pass and run defense. The most points that the Utes have allowed is 30 against USC: the Utes’ only loss of the season.
Oregon, however, is much more about its offense. The Ducks run the ball well, too, but not quite as well as Utah does, with only 178 yards per game. They also allow a much more human 331 yards per game on defense, giving Utah a distinct advantage in more phases of the game.
Utah enters as a 6.5-point favorite, which more accurately reflects the all-around strength of the Utes. Oregon will fight hard in this game, but Utah will be able to ride a strong second half to a huge victory against the Ducks.
Prediction: Utah 28, Oregon 21
Jeremy Ganes is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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