Playoff spot on line for No. 5 Utah in Pac-12 title game
The Pac-12 championship game has been largely an afterthought for the rest of the country the past two seasons with the conference mostly out of contention when it comes to the College Football Playoff.
That will be far from the case this year when there will be plenty of focus on how No. 5 Utah fares against No. 13 Oregon on Friday night and whether the Utes are worthy of being one of the top four teams in the country.
“We haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to it,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We certainly understand the big picture, but you control the controllable and all we can control is trying to get a win on Friday against Oregon and then it is out of our hands at that point. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.”
The Utes (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12, No. 5 CFP) head into the final weekend with a slight edge over Big 12 title-game participants Oklahoma and Baylor, which hold the next two spots in the playoff rankings. If No. 2 LSU takes care of business against No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship game Saturday, there figures to be one spot open.
Utah, which has won eight straight games, with seven of those victories coming by at least 18 points, would be in competition with the Big 12 champion for that No. 4 spot. But none of that will matter if the Utes can’t handle the Ducks in a matchup of the conference’s two top teams.
“We have a lot of talent on either side of the ball, offense and defense. They have a lot of talent on their side,” Utah running back Zack Moss said. “So there’s going to be some fireworks, for sure. It’s going to be a bit chippy. It’s just going to be a fun game to watch for sure.”
If Utah wins and gets squeezed out of the playoffs, the consolation prize of the school’s first Rose Bowl berth isn’t too shabby.
Who: No. 5 Utah (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12, No. 5 CFP) vs. No. 13 Oregon (10-2, 8-1, No. 13).
Where: Levi’s Stadium
When: 5 p.m.
TV /Radio:Channel: 7Channel: 10 / 1050
At stake: A win would give the Utes their first Pac-12 championship since joining the conference in 2011 and a possible spot in the four-team playoff. The Ducks are seeking a berth in the Rose Bowl and their third win in the Pac-12 title game.
Key matchup: Oregon QB Justin Herbert vs. Utah’s D. Herbert is one of the top QBs in the nation and a projected first-round pick. His 94 TD passes are the most of any active player, and the Ducks are averaging 37.5 points per game in his 40 starts. He faces a tough challenge against a Utah defense that ranks fourth in the FBS with 4.2 yards per play allowed, leads the Pac-12 with 185.3 yards passing allowed per game and has held six opponents to seven points or fewer.
That’s all that the Ducks (10-2, 8-1, No. 13 CFP) are playing for after they lost 31-28 at Arizona State on Nov. 23.
Despite the disappointment from that loss, Oregon is showing great progress in the second full season under head coach Mario Cristobal, who has gotten the Ducks back into the national conversation after a three-year run when they went 20-18.
“We feel like the trajectory, it continues to go up and up and up,” Cristobal said. “At the rate that our players are developing both in the classroom and on the football field, the rate that we’re acquiring talent, it’s really exciting and it makes you want more and more and more.
“When we got here, obviously, there was some things to fix and get on track but Oregon has been great for a long, long time. We feel very obligated to uphold that legacy and that standard. We’re driven to do so.”
Leach agrees to extension: Washington State head coach Mike Leach has agreed in principle to a one-year contract extension that could keep him at the school through the 2024 season.
Leach will be paid $4 million for each year of the five-year contract, school officials said. He also will receive a one-time retention bonus of $750,000 following the 2020 season.
Leach is in his eighth season at Washington State and has led the Cougars to a school-record five consecutive bowl games, though they stumbled to a 6-6 record this year. Leach’s 55 wins with the Cougars rank him third in program history.
Leach’s success at Washington State consistently has made him the subject of speculation that he might jump to another program.