Pickin' the Pac season finale: Pac-12 Championship Game and USC-Cal

Asia's Tech News Daily

Pickin' the Pac season finale: Pac-12 Championship Game and USC-Cal
© Provided by Trojans Wire

We arrive at the final Pac-12 football weekend of the regular season.

It’s a point of nostalgia for many college football fans to watch the final game of the regular season on the first Saturday of December, late at night from Hawaii. A visual trip to the islands was the warm-weather swan song for a full season of college football. It’s an experience many of us remember as kids or as college students.

This year, USC takes the place of Hawaii, playing a late-night game in that first-Saturday-of-December slot. We’ll pick USC-Cal and the Pac-12 Championship Game to round out the regular season in the Conference of Champions (and no playoff appearances since 2016).

USC 30, CAL 27

Knowing that Lincoln Riley (!!!) is the head coach should give USC’s players a shot in the arm. It seemed the Trojans played a lot harder last week against BYU, knowing that a coaching move was close (not Riley in particular, just that the carousel was working toward an endgame). Players dramatically improved in their technique and intensity. USC looked like a real football team in the second half, going after that game far harder than they did in any Pac-12 home game during the season.

With Riley surely looking on at this game — he has usually spent this weekend coaching in the Big 12 Championship Game at Oklahoma — USC players know they need to play hard if they want to stick around and wear the Cardinal and Gold in 2022. That should motivate everyone in the locker room to play well in Berkeley, even if the kickoff time is after 11 p.m. in the East.

On to the Pac-12 Championship Game:

UTAH 26, OREGON 20

USC expects to be in this game next year and for many years to come. Oregon and Utah better take advantage of this moment. They might not have many more chances to win a Pac-12 title in the coming years.

It’s a huge game for both coaches. Mario Cristobal has had the best program in the Pac-12 since 2019, but the Ducks have not made the playoff and have not dominated the league. They have been better than everyone else, but not by a huge margin. If Cristobal makes the Rose Bowl for the second time in three years, that’s a substantial achievement. If he fails, though, he will have the 2019 Pac-12 title and not much else to show for his recruiting prowess.

If you want to say Oregon won the Pac-12 title in 2020, you could, but we all know that conference championship was the product of a messy, short season with a ridiculous process presided over by Larry Scott. Colorado, not Oregon, should have filled in for Washington in the Pac-12 title game, if any team should have been selected to play USC. One could have argued that USC simply should have been named conference champion, and that no conference title game should have been played under those circumstances last December.

Oregon needs to retain its place as Pac-12 champion for Cristobal’s work to mean something. Cristobal needs to make this statement of superiority in order to gain leverage against Lincoln Riley in future recruiting battles in the state of California.

On the other side, this is Kyle Whittingham’s last, best chance to win the Pac-12 championship. Whittingham has been the best coach in the Pac-12 over the past four seasons, making three trips to the Pac-12 title game and lifting Utah to a higher level. Yet, he struggled with the Utes from 2011 through 2017. It took this program quite a while to settle into the Pac-12. Whittingham has been with Utah as a head coach since he took over from Urban Meyer at the end of the 2004 season. He has been part of the program for decades. If he makes the Rose Bowl, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News thinks he might call it a career. He would certainly be going out on top if that happens.

There’s a lot to consider for these two coaches.

Let’s go to the game itself: Utah has one more day of rest than Oregon heading into Friday’s clash. Utah played last Friday while Oregon played on Saturday. The Ducks have more key injuries than the Utes do. Defensive tackle Keyon Ware-Hudson and nickel safety Bennett Williams are out. Noah Sewell and Mykael Wright will play, but won’t be 100 percent.

This game won’t be a romp for Utah. The Utes’ two recent Pac-12 Championship Game appearances have been disasters for their offense: three points against Washington in 2018, 15 against Cristobal and the Ducks in 2019. I don’t expect Utah to play a great game, but Oregon’s injuries plus the limitations provided by quarterback Anthony Brown are substantial. Utah’s defense should still be able to keep Oregon’s offense under wraps. Oregon might have the ball late in the game with a chance to win; Utah’s defense against Oregon’s offense is the matchup the Utes want if this game does down to the wire in Las Vegas, which I expect on a fateful Friday night.

MORE:

USC basketball tries to go 8-0 in road test against Washington State

Evan Mobley, healthy and playing again, earns new rookie honors with Cavs

USC OC Graham Harrell emerges as option for Colorado State job

Kyle Whittingham better win the Pac-12 title; Lincoln Riley is coming in 2022

What Oregon must change from 38-7 blowout to beat Utah for Pac-12 title

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