Conference championship weekend kicks off Friday night with a fun one in Santa Clara, California. No. 5 Utah will take on No. 13 Oregon for the Pac-12 title in a game that’s sure to be heavy on defense. The two were preseason darlings, picked by the media to meet in this game, but the Utes have higher aspirations beyond Friday night.
Utah is looking for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The last thing this team wants to be is out of sight, out of mind, so how it performs against its best opponent of the season matters. Meanwhile, while Oregon won’t be able to make the College Football Playoff thanks to a late-season upset loss to Arizona State, the Ducks can still claim their third Pac-12 Championship Game win. It would tie Oregon for the most all time with Stanford.
So who wins this showdown out west? Let’s take a closer look at these two teams in the Pac-12 and make some picks both straight up and against the spread.
Utah: Obviously, it’s the Utes who have hopes of making the playoff. But let’s take a minute and explain how Utah got to this position to begin with. Amongst the other hopefuls vying for that No. 4 spot, one could argue the Utes have been the most impressive team since losing to USC in September. They’ve been outscoring opponents by an average of 29 points per game. The analytics love them, too. SP+ has the Utes seventh overall with the 10th-best offense and sixth-best defense. This is as complete of a team as there is playing at the moment. The combination quarterback Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss has been a nightmare on defenses, and the Utes have a bunch of NFL-caliber talent on their own defense. Say what you will about the schedule strength — it’s not as terrible as it’s made out to be — but Utah has done exactly what you’d expect a great team to do against it. Now, can it do it one more time?
Oregon: It’s weird to think of the Ducks as a forgotten team in this game, but that’s kind of the case. As mentioned above, only Utah has playoff hopes, but that doesn’t mean all the oxygen has to be sucked out of the conversation for Oregon. Remember, this team still has Justin Herbert. The senior quarterback has had ups and downs this year, but there’s no denying his physical gifts. And if he plays well at the right time, he can get back into the conversation of being a surefire first-round pick. Another name to keep an eye on is receiver Juwan Johnson. The former Penn State player has been the team’s most dangerous weapon in the second half of the season. And if there’s one weakness Utah has shown this year, it’s giving up big plays to NFL-type wideouts.
Date: Friday, Dec. 6 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Levi’s Stadium — Santa Clara, California
TV: ABC | Live stream: WatchESPN.com
Game prediction, picks
If Utah continues cruising, don’t be surprised if it tries to put up as many points as possible. This is a beauty contest and playing out west doesn’t always garner the most attention. Utah needs to impress the selection committee, especially when it plays before Georgia, Oklahoma and Baylor. However, Oregon’s defense is tough and Herbert can still make some ridiculous throws. Its two losses this year were by a combined nine points, so I’m taking the points. Pick: Oregon (+6.5)