Pac-12 Championship Game: Preview Box for Oregon-Utah Matchup

Utah QB Tyler Huntley might be named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.Photo by Joe Camporeale - USA TODAY Sports

Jake Curtis

A lot is on the line in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game between Oregon and Utah in Santa Clara, Calif., and the rainy, windy weather expected for Friday night will probably be a factor.

Here are the important facts for Friday’s conference title game:

NO. 13 OREGON (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. NO. 5 UTAH (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12)

SITE: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

WHEN: Friday, 5 p.m. Pacific time (8 p.m. Eastern time)

TV: ABC -- Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Molly McGrath (sideline)

RADIO: ESPN Radio -- Sean Kelley, Barrett Jones, Ian Fitzsimmons

BETTING LINE: Utah is favored by 6 ½ points. Over/Under – 46.

WEATHER FORECAST: Showers and high winds are expected during the day Friday, with rain becoming heavy in late afternoon. Showers and windy conditions will continue Friday night with temperatures dropping to 57 degrees late in the evening.

IF UTAH WINS . . .
The Utes would have a chance to earn a berth in the four-team College Football Playoff. Utah is No. 5 in this week’s CFP rankings, which means it needs to move up one spot to get into the national-championship playoff. If the Utes win but do not finish among the top four in the final CFP rankings (which will be released Sunday), they would go to the Rose Bowl.

To jump into the top four, the Utes need to win and also need No. 4 Georgia to lose to LSU in the SEC title game Saturday. Even if Utah and LSU win, it is possible that No. 6 Oklahoma could jump over Utah if the Sooners beat No. 7 Baylor in the Big 12 championship game Saturday. That’s why it is important that Utah not only win, but win impressively on Friday. A victory over Oregon would represent Utah’s best win of the season, and the Ducks would have three losses. After that, the Utes’ best win was against BYU, and Utah has no wins over a ranked team. Its lone loss was to USC.

A Utah win would give the Utes their first Pac-12 title.

Here is the Pac-12 Network argument for why Utah should get into the College Football Playoff if it wins on Friday:

Here is Kirk Herbstreit's assessment of whether Utah will get into the College Football Playoff if it wins Friday and whether the Utes need to win big:

IF OREGON WINS . . .

The Ducks would go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2014 season (Jan. 1, 2015), when it beat Florida State 59-20.

It would be Oregon’s fifth conference title in the past 11 years, and its third since the conference expanded to 12 schools and added a conference championship game.

IF UTAH LOSES . . .

The Utes might go to the Cotton Bowl, probably against a Group of Five qualifier, but if they drop significantly in the final CFP rankings, Utah could wind up in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, where the Utes would play a Big 12 team.

IF OREGON LOSES . . .

The Ducks could wind up in one of three bowls – Rose, Alamo or Holiday.

If Utah gets to the College Football Playoff, Oregon would probably go to the Rose Bowl, although that assumes its final CFP ranking is higher than USC’s. However, the Trojans would get the Rose Bowl bid if their CFP ranking is better than Oregon’s. (USC is 22 in this week’s CFP rankings; Oregon is No. 13 but would drop with a loss.)

If USC goes to the Rose Bowl, a three-loss Oregon team would go to the Alamo Bowl, where it would play a Big 12 team.

If Utah wins Friday but does not get into the College Football Playoff and goes to the Rose Bowl instead, Oregon probably would go to the Alamo Bowl. (The Ducks are unlikely to qualify for the Cotton Bowl with three losses.) In that scenario it is also conceivable, though unlikely, that the Alamo Bowl would choose USC (8-4) instead of Oregon (10-3) as its Pac-12 representative, in which case the Ducks would drop all the way to the Holiday Bowl, where they would play a Big Ten team.

QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: UTAH’S TYLER HUNTLEY VS. OREGON’S JUSTIN HERBERT

Utah QB Tyler Huntley is the favorite to be named Pac-12 offensive player of the year and ranks fifth in the country in passer rating with 16 touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is projected to be a first-round NFL Draft pick in the 2020 draft by CBS Sports, Yahoo, USA Today and Sporting News, among others. Sporting News predicts Herbert will be the fourth overall draft pick, and ESPN's Todd McShay lists Herbert as the fifth-best prospect in the draft.

Justin Herbert 2
Justin Herbert has stuggled a bit in recent games. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACK MATCHUP: UTAH’S ZACK MOSS VS. OREGON’S CJ VERDELL AND TRAVIS DYE

Utah running back Zack Moss leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards (1,246), rushing yards per game (113.3) and rushing touchdowns (15) while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Utah leads the conference in rushing.

Oregon running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye have combined to rush for 1,605 yards. Verdell has 963 yards while averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and Dye has 642 yards and a 6.3 yards-per-attempt average. The Ducks are second in the Pac-12 in rushing.

KEY UNIT MATCHUP: OREGON’S OFFENSIVE LINE VS. UTAH’S DEFENSIVE LINE

Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae (12.5 sacks) and defensive tackles John Penisini and Leki Fotu all might be named to the all-conference squad next week. Fotu was named an AP midseason second-team All-American earlier this season. The Utes rank third in the country in both total defense and scoring defense (11.3 points per game), and only two of the Utes’ past seven opponents have scored more than seven points.

The Ducks' offensive line helped them average 35.8 points per game, second in the Pac-12 and 16 in the country. Oregon offensive guard Penei Sewell may be the best offensive lineman in the country, and Pro Football Focus named him the Pac-12 player of the year, an unprecedented award for a lineman. Oregon guard Shane Lemieux and tackle Calvin Throckmorton are also all-conference-caliber linemen. Ducks center Jake Hanson, who missed last week’s game against Oregon State, is expected to play Friday, so the Ducks’ offensive line will be at full strength.

UTAH PLAYERS TO WATCH: Cal QB Tyler Huntley (16 TD passes, 2 interceptions); RB Zack Moss (Pac-12’s leading rusher); DE Bradlee Anae (12.5 sacks); TE Brant Kuithe (12 receptions, 276 yards over past 3 games); CB Jaylon Johnson (lock-down corner; possible first-round NFL Draft pick); S Julian Blackmon (4 interceptions)

OREGON PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Justin Herbert (struggled a bit lately); WR Johnny Johnson III (10 receptions, 207 yards vs. Arizona State two weeks ago); RB CJ Verdell (1,018 yards in 2018, 963 yards in 2019): LB Troy Dye (67 tackles in 2019, 100-plus tackles each of the two previous seasons); S Jevon Holland (4 interceptions); OG Penei Sewell (perhaps the best offensive lineman in the country).

Here is the Pac-12 Network preview of the conference title game:

Here is the Pac-12 Network assessment of what Utah needs t do to win:

Here is the Pac-12 Network assessment of what Oregon needs to do to win:

UTAH GAME NOTES, STATISTICS, DEPTH CHART: Click here: 

OREGON GAME NOTES, STATISTICS, DEPTH CHART: Click here 

TICKETS: Click here  Or at Stub Hub: Click here 

PARKING, GAME-DAY STADIUM POLICIES, ENTERTAINMENT, ETC.: Click here 

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