The Pac-12 title and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff could be on the line for the no. 5 Utah Utes when they face the no. 13 Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Kickoff is set for 8:00 EST on Friday, December 6 in the first of 10 conference championship games this weekend. The game will be played on neutral ground at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California and broadcast nationally on ABC.
Current odds list the Utes as 6-point favorites over the Ducks with an over/under of 50.5 points. Be sure to check out all of the college football betting odds for this week’s title games.
For Utah, this game could be their ticket into the CFP and the national stage. Alabama’s loss last weekend has opened the door for either the Pac-12 champion or Big 12 champion to sneak into the top-4, depending on other results on Championship Saturday. The Utes don’t have the most impressive resume because the Pac-12 is lacking high-quality teams. However, they have just one loss and have won convincingly more times than not. Plus, a win over a ranked Oregon team should help them.
Of course, whether it gets them to the CFP or not, the Utes would love to take home a conference championship. Utah was in the Pac-12 title game a year ago and came up a little short against Washington. While the program has accomplished a great deal, Kyle Whittingham hasn’t won a conference championship since the Utes won the Mountain West in 2008.
As for the Ducks, they are no doubt kicking themselves for their loss to Arizona State a couple of weeks ago. If not for that loss, this game might be a play-in game for the CFP. Nevertheless, Oregon should be excited to be back on top of the Pac-12 North. With their win last week over Oregon State, the Ducks finished the regular season 10-2 and 8-1 in league play, giving them a four-game cushion over the rest of the North Division.
While they can’t reach the CFP, the Ducks will still be hungry for their first Pac-12 championship since 2014. That year was also the last time Oregon played in the conference title game. Mario Cristobal has taken the program a long way since taking over a team that finished 7-6 in 2017. Two years later, he now has a chance to win a conference title and take the Ducks to the Rose Bowl.
Despite playing in separate divisions inside the Pac-12, the Ducks and Utes have met in each of the last six seasons. They didn’t meet during the regular season this year, although the Utes won last year’s meeting in Salt Lake City 32-25. However, the Ducks have won four of the six meetings between the two teams as Pac-12 foes.
This spread is just high enough for me to seriously consider taking Oregon and the points. However, I think the Utes have been the more impressive team this season. I also think last year’s experience in the Pac-12 Championship Game will pay off. Other than their loss to USC and a 5-point road win against Washington, the Utes have won every game by at least 18 points this season. Utah has taken care of business this season and that makes me confident that they can win by at least a touchdown and cover.
While I respect senior quarterback Justin Herbert and the entire Oregon defense, facing the Utah defense is unlike any challenge they’ve faced this season. The closest they came was facing Auburn in the season opener. In that game, the Ducks failed to run for 100 yards and saw their offense go cold after a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter. Even facing the likes of Cal and Washington hasn’t adequately prepared the Ducks to face the Utah defense.
The Utes are outstanding along the defensive line. They’re able to bully teams at the line of scrimmage, enabling them to slow down the run and pressure opposing quarterbacks. At times, they’ve been vulnerable against the pass, which is one area where Herbert and the Ducks could have an advantage. However, the Utes are giving up just over 11 points per game with 10 of their 12 opponents scoring 17 points or less. Keep in mind that Herbert has been sacked at least twice in five straight games, so even a strong Oregon O-line might have trouble with the Utah defensive front.
On the other side of the ball, Utah’s biggest weakness could be their offensive line. However, that hasn’t stopped the Utes from averaging over 200 rushing yards per game behind senior running back Zack Moss. They’ve also conceded just 16 sacks this year, in part because of the athleticism of quarterback Tyler Huntley. More importantly, Huntley hasn’t been a huge factor running the ball this year because he’s taken his efficiency as a passer to another level. Oregon has yielded at least 31 points in three of their last six games, so quality offensive teams have given them trouble, which makes me think Utah’s balanced attack will put some points on the board.
To be honest, this has all the makings of a great game that could go either way. I’m a little cautious to lay down the points because I wouldn’t be that surprised to see Oregon win this game. Remember, the Utes have far more on the line in this game, so the Ducks will be playing without too much pressure on their shoulders. However, I think Utah is a little better on both sides of the ball, especially when you compare the two defenses. To me, that translates to Utah winning the game by a touchdown and covering the spread.