Pac-12 Championship: Preview & Draft Implications

The Pac-12 Championship game pits a pair of programs in Utah and Oregon who have their eyes set on the national stage. While Utah is alive for a birth in the College Football Playoff, Oregon is playing for a Rose Bowl birth and its first conference title since 2014. 

Utah has never won the Pac-12, despite winning the Pac-12 South division three times in the last five years. Last season, Utah lost the Pac-12 Championship game to Washington, 17-3. 

Pac-12 Championship: The Game

The marquee for this game features two quarterbacks, Justin Herbert and Tyler Huntley. Both seniors are Heisman hopefuls and 2020 NFL Draft prospects

This game could be decided, as the football cliché goes, in the trenches. Utah sports one of the conference’s best defensive lines, and Oregon’s offensive line is largely considered one of the top units in the NCAA. 

Utah’s offense relies on Huntley’s dual-threat nature, and their dominant runner Zack Moss. The senior tailback has piled up 1,246 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns this season.

Oregon’s run defense, though, is No. 10 in the NCAA, surrendering just 106.1 yards-per-game. The only run defense better than Oregon’s in the Pac-12 this year? Utah. The Utes are No. 1 in the NCAA versus the run, giving up a paltry 56.3 yards-per-game. 

The onus will fall on Justin Herbert to generate the offense, and his offensive line to protect him from the likes of Utah’s Bradlee Anae, whose 12.5 sacks this season are the seventh-most in the NCAA.

Herbert will need a solid performance in this one to give the Ducks a chance. Herbert struggled to end the season, particularly in the team’s late-season loss to Arizona State, where he threw a pair of interceptions. 

Pac-12 Championship: Oregon’s Draft Implications

There are a number of 2020 NFL Draft prospects who will take the field in this one. While Justin Herbert might be the only first-rounder in the group, there are several second- and third-day picks in play.

Oregon has Herbert and potential second-round picks in offensive guard Shane Lemieux and tight end Jacob Breeland. Lemieux is considered the second- or third-best guard prospect in the 2020 draft. Breeland is the second-best tight end in this year’s group. 

Oregon has potential third-round picks in inside linebacker Troy Dye and center Jake Hanson. Dye has 67 tackles this season and Hanson has been a steady presence in the middle. Both players could solidify their draft stock with solid performances in the title game and bowl.

Potential fourth-rounders from Oregon include junior cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and offensive tackle Calvin Throckmorton. Lenoir has seven career interceptions and 30 passes defensed. Throckmorton has started at four different positions along the offensive line, and that sort of flexibility is valued at the NFL level.

Pac-12 Championship: Utah’s Draft Implications

Tyler Huntley is a top-7 quarterback prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft. (Photo Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP)

Utah doesn’t feature any top-end prospects for the draft, but has a number of talented players who will take the field on Sundays. 

Huntley is a dual-threat quarterback considered by some to be the sixth- or seventh-best prospect at the position. He could play his way ahead of Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm with a great performance. 

Moss is among the top-10 running back prospects in the draft and he could use this game and the bowl as a showcase and propel himself up the board. 

Utah features potential third-rounders in defensive lineman Leki Fotu and cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Both could solidify their stock with solid performances. 

Edge rusher Bradlee Anae has great size for his position, but he’ll need a dominant performance against an elite offensive line to improve his stock beyond the sixth round. 

Pac-12 Championship: College Football Playoff

This game will have a major affect on the College Football Playoff. Utah currently sits as the No. 5 team, with No. 6 Oklahoma right behind. A win for Utah (and loss for Georgia) should get the Utes into the final four. Utah needs a good showing to hold off Oklahoma.

An Oregon win means the Ducks will head to the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 will be shut out of the CFB. 

Pac-12 Championship: Prediction Utah 27, Oregon 21

While Oregon has the most recognizable name in Justin Herbert, I think Utah has the better team overall. While Oregon’s defense will be the best Utah has faced all season, the combination of Huntley and Moss should be enough to overcome the Ducks. 

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