Pac-12 Championship Preview

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ACC · Big Ten · Big 12 · Group of 5 · MAC · Pac-12
Matchup: Utah vs. Washington
Date: Friday, Nov. 30
Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. ET - FOX
Venue: Levi's Stadium
Location: Santa Clara, Calif.
Line, Total: Huskies -5, 44.5

The Pac-12 Championship Game kicks off on Friday night at Levi's Stadium, and we'll get some new blood in the battle. The Utah Utes (9-3 straight up, 7-5 against the spread) survived in the South Division, and they will be making the first-ever appearance in the league's title game. In fact, it might be the school's most important game since Kyle Whittingham took them to the Sugar Bowl against Alabama back in 2008.

The Washington Huskies (9-3 straight up, 3-9 against the spread) surprised the 10-win Washington State Cougars last weekend in the Apple Cup, pushing their rivals out of first place to claim the Pac-12 North for themselves. The season started with championship expectations of high proportions. However, a loss in a neutral-site battle against Auburn in the opener, and a couple of conference road setbacks against Oregon and California forced the Huskies to refocus.

The Utes lost in their conference opener back on Sept. 15 against the Huskies by a 21-7 score at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City as the 'under' (45.5) connected. The Utes followed that loss with a 28-24 setback in Pullman against Washington State, and an appearance in the conference championship game certainly didn't appear very possible with an 0-2 SU league start. However, Utah pulled together for an impressive 40-21 road victory at Stanford on Oct. 6, kicking off a four-game winning streak and cover streak to get right back into the thick of things. During the span the offense posted 40 or more points and things were humming again. The only loss since Oct. 6 was a 38-20 loss at Arizona State, but the team rebounded with three straight wins against Oregon and Colorado, as well as their rivalry game in the Holy War against Brigham Young in the season finale, 35-27. After a 1-3 ATS start, Utah ended up 6-2 ATS over their final eight outings.

The Huskies are making their second appearance in three seasons in Santa Clara, representing the North Division. They rolled past Colorado 41-10 in the 2016 installment to easily cover as 8 1/2-point favorites as the 'under' (55.5) cashed in that one. As mentioned, Washington won their conference opener Sept. 15 in SLC, and they fired out to a 3-0 SU/1-2 ATS start in the conference. They lost a heartbreaker in Oregon on Oct. 13, dropping a 30-27 decision in overtime, a game which could have been a win in the fourth quarter if not for a missed field goal. While that game might have knocked them out of contention for a national playoff spot, a stunning 12-10 loss at Cal on Oct. 27 looked like a potential death blow to their conference title hopes. The Huskies went 2-9 ATS in the first 11 outings, including an 0-6 ATS run from Oct. 6 through Nov. 17. However, they won in a snowy Apple Cup in Washington State to find their way back to the Bay Area and a potential Rose Bowl bid.

 The Huskies ranked 52nd in the nation in total yards (421.2 YPG), while posting a very ordinary ranking of 64th in passing yards (236.2 YPG). They were a very ordinary 53rd in rushing yardage, too, posting 185.0 yards per contests with 28.0 PPG, ranking 77th in the country.

Senior QB Jake Browning took another step backward after his magical 2016-17 season. He completed 65.1 percent of his pass attempts (196-for-301) for just 2,692 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing for 114 yards and four scores this season. Senior RB Myles Gaskin missed some time due to injury at the end of October, but he still managed to roll up 1,076 yards (5.1 yards per carry) with 10 touchdowns, including 143 yards and a score in the win against Utah in mid-September. Sophomore RB Salvon Ahmed, the heir apparent to Gaskin in the backfield, posted 576 yards and seven touchdowns while actually outgaining Gaskin in yards per carry (6.3 to 5.1). Junior WR Aaron Fuller was good for a team-high 754 yards on 49 grabs with four touchdowns, while sophomore WR Ty Jones, a Utah native, led the team with six receiving scores.

This defense is championship caliber, and the secondary is littered with NFL prospects. Washington allowed 311.2 total yards per game which ranked 13th in the land, and their 16.5 points per game allowed was good for eighth in the country. Junior S Taylor Rapp is a game changer and heavy hitter in the secondary.

Utah averaged 414.0 total yards per game to rank 61st in the country, while the team scored 30.8 PPG to check in 54th in the nation. It was all about the run game, as they rolled up 201.0 yards per game to finish 40th in the land. Like Washington, it all starts and stops with defense for Utah. They were 15th in the country in total yards allowed (317.1 YPC), while yielding just 101.6 yards per game on the ground to finish sixth in the nation. They also allowed 19.2 PPG to end up 17th in the country.

Junior QB Tyler Huntley (collarbone) is listed as questionable for Friday's game. He completed 149-of-233 passes for 1,762 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions while also posting 304 rushing yards with four scores. He is a dual-threat signal caller for sure, checking in third on the team in rushing. If he cannot go it would be freshman QB Jason Shelley (54-of-96, 723 yards, three TD, one INT) taking the reins. No matter who is under center, they'll be handing off to junior RB Zack Moss, who led the team with 1,092 rushing yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. Junior RB Armand Shyne is the change-of-pace back, posting 442 yards and five scores on 95 carries. WR Brittain Covey is the Swiss Army Knife for Utah. He ran for a score, had a receiving touchdown and he was the primary kickoff and punt return specialist, too. He ranked 103rd in the country with 1,137 all-purpose yards.

Betting Trends to Watch

-- The Utes head into the game 5-0 ATS in their past five appearances on Friday, for whatever that's worth. They're also 7-1 ATS in their past eight appearances on a grass surface, while going 10-3-1 ATS in the past 14 against teams with a winning record. Utah has cashed in four of the past five outings on a neutral site field, while cashing in six of their past seven conference tilts. They have covered six of the past eight overall.

-- The Huskies have also excelled on Fridays, going 6-2 ATS in the past eight on the day. However, they're struggled with just one cover across the past eight conference battles, while going 1-6 ATS in the past seven overall and 1-4 ATS in the past five against winning sides. The Huskies have also failed to cover in each of their past five appearances on a grass surface.

-- The 'over' has connected in four straight for Utah against teams with a winning overall mark, although the under is 7-3 in the past 10 outings on grass.

-- For Washington, it's been all 'under' all the time. The under is 9-3 in their past 12 overall, while going 6-2 across the past eight neutral-site battles. In addition, the under has hit in eight of the past nine games against teams with a winning record.

-- In this series, the underdog has hit in five of the past six battles, while the 'over' is 4-1 across the past five battles, with the under hitting earlier this season.

Pac-12 Championship History

Pac-12 Championship (2011-18)
Team Matchup Line Score ATS Result
2018 Utah-Washington - - -
2017 Stanford-USC USC -3.5 (58.5) USC 31-28 Underdog-Over
2016 Washington-Colorado Washington -8.5 (55.5) Washington 41-10 Favorite-Under
2015 Stanford-USC Stanford -4.5 (59) Stanford 41-22 Favorite-Over
2014 Oregon-Arizona Oregon -14.5 (72.5) Oregon 51-13 Favorite-Under
2013 Stanford-Arizona State Arizona State -3 (53.5) Stanford 38-14 Underdog-Under
2012 Stanford-UCLA Stanford -8 (44) Stanford 27-24 Underdog-Over
2011 Oregon-UCLA Oregon -31 (66.5) Oregon 49-31 Underdog-Over