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Pac-12 Championship 2019: Oregon vs. Utah Breakdown, Predictions

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 2, 2019

Utah running back Zack Moss (2) carriers the ball against UCLA in the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Utah Utes need to showcase their dominance in Friday's Pac-12 Championship Game to create their best chance to make the College Football Playoff. 

After Alabama's loss to Auburn, the Utes are one of three teams jockeying for the No. 4 seed, and the competition will be down to two once Oklahoma plays Baylor. 

Utah stormed through the majority of its Pac-12 schedule, but its lone slip-up to USC has forced it to be perfect over the last two months.

Up until two weeks ago, the Oregon Ducks were alongside Utah in the playoff conversation, but a loss to Arizona State has limited their ceiling to the Rose Bowl. 

If the Ducks pull off the upset at Levi's Stadium, the Pac-12 will be eliminated from the playoff and both squads could settle for New Year's Six positions.

               

Breakdown

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 30: Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes sets to throw a pass against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first half at Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Since losing to USC, Utah's defense has played at a high level few FBS programs have been able to match. 

The Utes come into Friday with the top rushing defense, third-best scoring defense and 14th-ranked passing defense. 

The front seven has limited opponents to 56.3 rushing yards per game, which is the best total in the country by 15 yards. 

That unit is expected to make Oregon's offense one-dimensional by containing C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye. 

In the last five games, at least one of the Ducks running backs gained 70 yards. The last time neither reached that total was October 19 versus Washington, but even then, they combined for 99 yards. 

The last side to eclipse 65 rushing yards versus the Utes defense was Arizona State October 19. The Sun Devils gained 111 yards on the ground but only managed three points. 

Even if Verdell and Dye break Utah's deadlock on the interior, there is no guarantee they will combine with Justin Herbert to light up the scoreboard.

The top concern with Herbert is interceptions, as he was picked off on four occasions in the last four games. He has also suffered nine sacks during that stretch. 

If Utah takes advantage of the quarterback's recent inefficiency by earning a turnover or two, it may blow the game open through Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss. 

The quarterback-running back duo is one of the best in the nation, but they have not received as much attention as others due to a weaker schedule and a handful of kickoffs past 10 p.m. ET. 

Huntley went 66-for-82 with 995 passing yards and six touchdowns in November, while Moss racked up 853 of his 1,246 rushing yards and 11 of his 15 touchdowns since the September 20 defeat to USC. 

Oregon is 10th in rushing defense, but it allows 106.3 rushing yards per game and concedes 225.3 passing yards per contest. Those numbers suggest Moss can come close to triple digits and Huntley will be able to move the ball down the field. 

If that occurs, Utah could impress on a national stage with no other championship games occurring Friday night. 

Its best-case scenario features a dominant performance with a double-digit margin of victory that does enough to impress the selection committee before Oklahoma and Baylor take the field Saturday.

                     

Prediction

Utah 31, Oregon 13

MVP: Zack Moss, RB, Utah 

Utah has held five of its last seven opponents to single digits, and only one foe has reached 20 points since the stumble at USC. 

The Utes defense should continue the remarkable run against Oregon by containing the ground game and forcing Herbert into a few bad decisions. 

Huntley and Moss, who missed last year's Pac-12 Championship Game with injuries, will take advantage of the stage and showcase how strong the Utes can look. 

An impressive win over Oregon could do enough to secure the conference's first playoff position in three seasons. 

                   

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.