Posted on December 3, 2021
If I had played it safe and gone with ASU and BYU, Nick’s No-Nonsense Betting Tips would have been 7-0.
But hey, I’ll take 5-2 most days of the week. And that boosts my record over the past nine weeks to 31-17. I hope it’s served you well.
This week, it’s all about the Pac-12 Championship Game. Sure, I’m picking a winner in the Cal-USC matchup, but it really doesn’t matter much which team wins.
I’m focusing on the matchup that will determine the Rose Bowl participant from the Conference of Champions.
Typically, my predictions come with incredibly accurate game scores, and just enough commentary to keep me from hanging out at this Starbucks too long.
But this time, I wrote two-scones-and-two-coffees worth of commentary on the Utes and Ducks. The contest is that big.
Pac-12 Championship Game
Oregon 35, Utah 21To me this feels like the most interesting conference championship game in quite some time.
Both of these coaches believe in a strong defense, and both squads feature strong offenses.
Utah averages 35.2 points per game while Oregon tallies 33.2, ranking them 23rd and 33rd in the nation, respectively.
These numbers are telling, but I wouldn’t read too much into them. They certainly didn’t predict the 38-7 schlubbing in Salt Lake City.
What we’re gonna do here today is analyze my Three Deciding Factors that are guaranteed to determine the outcome of the game.
Factor 1—The Quarterback Battle: Anthony Brown vs. Cam Rising
Whoever wins this battle will likely win the game.
Both of these signal callers have put up significant stats this year with Anthony Brown throwing for 2,536 yards, 15 touchdowns, and four interceptions.
He’s also added 642 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Cam Rising’s numbers have been equally impressive, with 2,109 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and three interceptions. He’s also added 346 yards and five touchdowns rushing.
However, here’s the trick this week: I think both quarterbacks need to play within themselves and minimize mistakes. Both are capable of changing the game with their legs, and that’s where they’ll do the most damage.
Brown needs to keep with his short-throws, where he has been most consistent, rather than throwing the deeps balls, which hasn’t been his strong suit.
Unless he’s scrambling away from trouble. For some reason, Brown has been more accurate throwing down field when he’s rolling out of the pocket than when he’s standing in it.
Likewise, Rising would benefit from managing the game like a point guard and shortening the game with long drives.
He’s more capable taking a few more deep shots down field, though, and doing so at opportune times would really stretch out the Ducks secondary.
I personally think Cam is the better quarterback, but this is Anthony’s one shot at redemption from the embarrassing loss a few weeks prior, and I think he’s ready to climb the “Super Aggro Crag.”
Factor 2—Running Back Battle: Travis Dye vs Tavion Thomas
The emergence of Tavion Thomas is probably one of the most captivating stories in the Pac-12 this year.
After the unfortunate passing of Ty Jordan, it appeared the Utes were going to be limited in the backfield.
So far, his rushing stats read 168 carries, 978 yards, and 18 touchdowns. Who does he think he is? LaDainian Tomlinson?
However, the one big area of concern would be Thomas’s lack of production catching passes out of the backfield. He only has one reception for seven yards this season.
Travis Dye’s importance to the Oregon offense is well known, but it rose to the forefront with the injury to CJ Verdell in Week Five.
So far, Dye’s rushing numbers read 178 carries, 1036 yards, and 14 touchdowns. But where he really impacts the game is through his dual-threat capabilities, adding 37 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns.
Both of these running backs are phenomenal and offer a nice contrast of styles. But I expect UO’s Defensive Coordinator Tim DeRuyter to limit Thomas’s production in this matchup.
Even though he’s an absolute menace to tackle, Oregon’s combination of Kayvon Thibodeaux, Noah Sewell, and Verone McKinley should be able to slow him down considerably more than in their first matchup.
Dye will be tough to cap down the way the Utes did last time. Utah will not be able to hold him to seven combined touches for 35 yards again. He’s a fighter and fighters always get back up.
Factor 3—Is Utah Finally for Real?
The Utes have long felt like Gonzaga’s basketball program, a top-tier team who’s never been able to finish the job.
Ok…Maybe Utah isn’t quite the Zags, but their lack of finishing the job in the Conference Championship is starting to trend.
And this is their opportunity to brand themselves on the National stage. Regardless of how analysts perceive the Pac-12, if the Utes beat Oregon twice it should garner respect.
Just think back to 2019, Utah entered the conference championship game with a senior laden team led by Tyler Huntley and Zach Moss.
They even had an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff.
The only problem, UO shlubbed them 37-15.
These types of performances give Utah a faux-mid-major vibe, and this has gotta change.
The year prior, The Utes couldn’t get it done in the Pac-12 Championship game either, falling to Washington 10-7 in a contest that featured no offensive touchdowns.
And while it may not feel like a big deal to us west coasters, it’s important to remember analysts probably don’t watch much Utah football outside of Championship Week.
Bottom line: This is their third opportunity, no excuses, it’s time to get it done.
USC 27, Cal 21
The only reason I am doing this preview is because…I don’t know why, I don’t care and neither should you.
In all seriousness, this contest gives Cal’s fan base an opportunity to see Chase Garbers one final time.
Garbers is a Drew Brees-type quarterback who may have been overlooked at the collegiate level but could prove to be a steal in the upcoming NFL Draft.
For USC, this game is a chance to build momentum heading into the Lincoln Riley era. The season is a lost cause, and Trojan fans already want this mini-preview to be over.
USC by six.
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