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It's the Pac-12 championship game here as the Utah Utes host the Oregon Ducks. Oregon suffered a loss to Arizona State a couple of weeks ago that likely knocked them out of the playoff hunt, but Utah still has very real playoff aspirations. Oddsmakers have Utah as nearly a touchdown favorite here for this one, which will be televised nationally by ABC on Friday night.
Oregon suffered a tough loss to Auburn in their opener, and they responded by winning each of their next nine games. It looked like they were going to be able to sneak into the playoff by winning out, and then they suffered a devastating setback by losing to Arizona State two games ago. That just about ended their playoff hopes, but they were able to bounce back with a win in their Civil War rivalry game over Oregon State. They will be attempting to play spoiler here.
Utah has been better than just about anybody expected this season, and they enter this championship game with only one loss. That came on the road to USC all the way back at the beginning of conference play, and they have been nearly flawless since. Their defense is one of the best in all of college football, and if they can shut down Oregon here than they've got a very good chance to be one of college football's final four teams.
Ducks trying to play the spoiler roleOregon would've been a lot more excited for this game a couple of weeks ago. After a disappointing last-second loss to Auburn in their opener, it looked like Oregon could be headed for a down year. They responded by rattling off nine straight wins, and they had themselves in the thick of the playoff race. It looked like they were headed for a Pac-12 championship game showdown with a playoff spot on the line, but then they shockingly choked a couple of weeks ago. Heading into Arizona State for a game against a mediocre Sun Devils team, they surprisingly lost and their defense got shredded by a freshman quarterback in Jayden Daniels.
The last time Oregon fans will ever watch Justin Herbert walk out of that tunnel. Large standing ovation for the hometown kid. pic.twitter.com/WTHWc1zRMR— Ethan Wyss (@WyssEthan22) November 30, 2019
It would have been easy for the team to fall apart and come out flat after that, but they responded with a win over an underrated Oregon State team in their rivalry game this past week. There's still a scenario where Oregon could hypothetically sneak into the playoff, but they mostly will just be playing for pride and to spoil Utah's season here. Oregon has the best quarterback in the conference in Justin Herbert, and if anyone can crack Utah's tough defense it's him. While Herbert has rightfully gotten most of the attention, this Ducks team quietly has a ton of talent on defense as well. They rank 10th in the nation in rushing yards per game allowed, and they're giving up only 3.22 yards per carry on the year. The secondary has been just as good, only allowing 6.12 yards per pass attempt.
Utah Playoff BoundWhat a season it has been for Utah. Utah was solid last season and there was a lot of excitement entering this campaign, but I don't think anybody expected them to be quite this good. The Utes enter this one at 11 - 1, and incredibly have their sights set on the college football playoff. It seems quite likely that if the Utes win this game over Oregon, then they will make it into the playoffs, although that's not quite guaranteed.
While Utah has been a great story this year, I must admit that I am a tad bit skeptical about their success. They played a fairly nondescript non-conference schedule, and then cruised through the Pac-12 in a down year for the conference. The best team they've played all season has been USC, and the Trojans beat them by a touchdown with their third-string quarterback. Utah's strength is their defense, and that unit has been undeniably elite statistically. Still, though, I wonder how much of their defensive success has been due to a weak schedule of opposing offenses.
They have looked vulnerable at times, such as when they gave up 30 points to USC and 28 points to Washington. Utah likes to play very conservatively on offense, and they have ran the ball almost twice as many times as they have passed it this season. That strategy works well when their defense is clicking early on and they can get out to a lead, but if the defense falters then they could get thrown off their game. Quarterback Tyler Huntley hasn't been asked to do too much recently, throwing for only 376 yards total over his past two games. He could have a lot more on his plate in this one.
Trends, courtesy of Covers.com: Utes are:
- 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games after accumulating less than 170 yards passing in their previous game
- 22-9 ATS in their last 31 games on grass
- 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games following an ATS loss
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
I'm taking the points with Oregon here. Justin Herbert and company are good enough to put up points against this Utah defense, and I don't think the Utes have the offense to cover this inflated number. Oregon's defense has quietly been almost as good as Utah's statistically, and they've played a much more difficult schedule. Utah has only played one good team the entire season, and they lost to a third-string quarterback in that game. They are being massively overrated, and I think we see them get exposed here. I'm also sprinkling some cash on the Oregon money line.
Prediction: Oregon +6.5
Full-Game Total Pick
Utah's defensive dominance has been well-documented, but not a lot of people are talking about Oregon's defense. Both teams are top 10 in rushing defense nationally and both teams have elite secondaries. Utah likes to run the ball at all costs, so don't expect to see them abandon the ground game here. The under is unsurprisingly 7-2-1 in Utah's last 11 games, and I expect Huntley to struggle now that he's going to be asked to do a lot for the first time in a while. This one should be pretty low-scoring.