PAC-12 Conference Championship Preview
Well, it’s officially Conference Championship weekend. First up is the Pac-12 Championship. The game between Utah and Oregon will start tonight at 8 ET at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. This game has huge implications, as the Utah Utes could be heading to the College Football Playoff with a win.
There will be plenty of talent on display in this game. Utah has one of the best defenses in college football, allowing a mere 11.3 points per game. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson and defensive linemen Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae get most of the attention, but they have other play-makers, too. Linebackers Devin Lloyd and Francis Bernard are the top two tacklers on the team. Saftey Julian Blackmon has 4 interceptions to lead the team with Bernard and cornerback Jaylon Johnson right behind him with 2 apiece.
Offensively, the Utes are led by three seniors from Florida. QB Tyler Huntley is a true dual threat. He has always been able to run, but this year he has improved as a passer with a career-high 2,773 yards, 16 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions. He is also 5th in the nation in QBR. RB Zach Moss averages 6.2 yards per carry with 15 touchdowns. He’s 19th in rushing yards, and although he’s a heavier back, he has the burst to break off long runs. Demari Simpkins (the third Floridian) and Brian Thompson are their top wideouts. Don’t overlook TE Brant Kuithe, who is coming off of a 3 TD game against Colorado and is faster than a lot of other tight ends.
The Oregon Ducks are a talented team as well. The offense is explosive, can score quickly, and will provide a big test for Utah’s incredible defense. QB Justin Herbert has been projected as a top NFL prospect for a couple years now and is a virtual lock to be drafted in the first round come April. He has 3,140 passing yards, 31 TDs, and only 5 interceptions this year. He’s not much of a running threat, but he’s more mobile than you would expect given his size. Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd lead a good receiving group, which also features Juwan Johnson and Mycah Pittman. TE Spencer Web will be a huge x-factor, as he is replacing the team’s best receiving threat Jake Breeland.
They will also feature 3 sophomore runningbacks in their offense. CJ Verdell leads the way and will most likely cross the 1,000 yard mark during this game. Travis Dye has 642 yards and leads the team in yards per carry. Cyrus Habibi-Likio has burst onto the scene recently and leads the team in rushing TDs with 10.
The Ducks have a good defense as well, only allowing 15.8 points per game. They are all quick and athletic. Senior linebacker Troy Dye will likely be all over the field. He can do many different things in his position very well and leads the team in tackles. The secondary is led by Thomas Graham Jr, Jevon Holland, and Verone McKinley III. McKinley and Holland each have 4 interceptions to lead the team, and Graham will make plays on the ball if it comes his way.
While I think this will be a really good, close game, I think Utah has too much on offense for Oregon to keep up. Huntley’s running ability can be a huge asset for them, especially with the improvements he’s made as a passer. Oregon showed they can be prone to deep threats and speed receivers against Arizona State, and that’s exactly what Utah has.