The Pac-12 will help get championship weekend underway Friday with the Pac-12 title game between the no. 17 Utah Utes and no. 11 Washington Huskies. Kickoff is at 8:00 EST on Friday, November 30, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The game will be broadcast nationally on Fox.
Oddsmakers have opened betting for this game with the Huskies as 5-point favorites. Click here to check out all of the betting odds for this week’s college football schedule.
The Huskies haven’t accomplished all they set out to do this season. But at the start of the season, they did expect to be playing for a conference championship. After losses to Oregon and Cal took away any hope of reaching the College Football Playoff, Washington still finished strong to fight their way back to the top of the Pac-12 North. The Huskies are now on a three-game winning streak, including last week’s Apple Cup snow bowl against Washington State. They now have a chance to win their second conference title in the last three years.
The Utes, meanwhile, also head to the Pac-12 Championship Game on the heels of a three-game winning streak. In fact, Utah’s streak is probably more impressive since they did it after quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss were lost to season-ending injuries. Without those two, the Utes managed to beat Oregon, Colorado, and BYU to close out the regular season. Those wins have Utah in the Pac-12 title game for the first time since joining the league in 2011. They have also given the Utes a chance to win a conference championship for the first time since winning the Mountain West in 2008.
Of course, it’s worth noting that these teams met the third week of the season in Salt Lake City. The Huskies won that game 21-7 with the Utes turning the ball over three times. Washington has now won five of their six head-to-head games against Utah since the Utes joined the Pac-12.
I’m not putting too much stock in the earlier meeting between these teams, as it was over two months ago. But I still think Washington is the better team. The Huskies are a senior-laden team and have looked good coming down the stretch. I like the Utes, but playing without Huntley and Moss will be too much to overcome in a game like this. With the spread less than a touchdown, I like Washington to win and cover.
To be fair, Utah has handled the loss of Huntley and Moss better than almost any other team in the country would losing their quarterback and running back. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Shelley hasn’t been perfect, but he’s avoided turnovers and has thrown three touchdown passes while rushing for three more touchdowns in his three starts. Backup running back Armand Shyne hasn’t been quite as impressive, but he’s gotten the tough yards and found the end zone a few times.
That being said, facing the Washington defense won’t be easy for the Utes and their deflated offense. The Huskies haven’t received much attention for their defense this year, but they’re giving up just 16.5 points per game. They’ve held eight of their 12 opponents to 21 points or less this year, including the Washington State air-raid offense just last week. Even with the Utes managing 30 or more points in their last three games, the Utes will face an uphill battle with an inexperienced quarterback leading the way against an elite defense.
The silver lining for Utah is that they also have a top-notch defense. The Utes gave up less than 20 points per game this season and did a nice job against the Washington offense when they played the Huskies earlier this year. However, the Utah defense has been on a downslide late in the year, giving up at least 25 points in three of their last four games. That may not sound like a lot, but it is when the Utes don’t know how much they’ll get from their offense against Washington.
Even a lackluster BYU offense was able to do some damage against Utah last week, which is a concern. The Washington offense may have underperformed this year, but they still have a good balance between the run and pass and experienced players in key spots. Senior quarterback Jake Browning has responded positively to a benching earlier this year during their loss to Cal.
Running back Myles Gaskin has also finished the season strong after missing a couple of games due to injury. Over the last few weeks, he’s finally looking like one of the best running backs in the Pac-12. If Gaskin can keep running the ball the way he has the last few weeks, Washington’s offense should be efficient against Utah, even if the Huskies aren’t usually explosive on that side of the ball.
Ultimately, I think the Washington defense will slow down a Utah offense that’s missing their most important offensive players. Keep in mind that the Utes managed just seven points against Washington earlier in the year with Huntley and Moss on the field. With the Utes struggling to score, the Huskies should have no problem covering a modest 5-point spread.