8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Oregon -9.5, Over/Under: 65.5
The Pac-12 as we’ve come to know it will meet its conclusion tonight in Las Vegas, as the (No. 6) Oregon Ducks and (No. 4) Washington Huskies clash in a seismic rematch that will not only decide the ultimate conference champion, but which of these teams will be advancing to the College Football Playoff. Though they come into this matchup with one loss, you certainly can’t fault the oddsmakers for favoring Oregon (11-1, 7-1 in Pac-12), who have largely run roughshod over the competition this Fall. Through twelve games, they rank second in the FBS in scoring (45.2) on a whopping 540.3 total yards, including 351.4 yards through the air and another 188.8 on the ground. Coming over from Georgia, where he served as their Defensive Coordinator during their National Championship campaign of 2021, (Head Coach) Dan Lanning has done a tremendous job of building the quality of talent across this roster, importing SEC-caliber athleticism via the Transfer Portal. As a result, this team has a plethora of size, speed, and athleticism on both sides of the football, which is a major reason that they’ve been so dominant down the stretch. Since suffering their only defeat at the hands of Washington (much more on that affair in a bit), the Ducks have embarrassed the opposition over the last six weeks, besting them by an average of 26.0 points and 195.5 total yards, all the while enjoying a positive turnover differential of +3. Speaking of former SEC talent, (Senior Quarterback) Bo Nix has enjoyed a career revival since transferring to the Pacific Northwest, leading UO to 21-4 record over the last two seasons and throwing his name into the Heisman discussion this Fall. Nix (pictured below) has operated much like a Point Guard in basketball, facilitating the attack by distributing the ball to his weapons in space, completing a highly efficient 78.6% of his throws for 3,906 yards on 9.7 yards per attempt, with THIRTY-SEVEN touchdowns opposed to just two interceptions. Oh, and he has also proven to be an effective runner within the red zone, logging another six scores with his legs. Both (Tailbacks) Bucky Irving and Jordan James have rushed for ten touchdowns apiece, with the former leading the team with 1,043 yards on 6.4 yards per carry, while the latter had added another 663 yards on a healthy 7.1 yards per attempt. However, Irving has proven to be quite the playmaker in the passing game to boot, hauling forty-eight receptions for 379 yards and another two touchdowns. Of course, this is a unit that is NOT short of athletic weapons for Nix to target downfield, chief among them being (Junior Wideout) Troy Franklin, who has reeled in seventy-seven catches for 1,349 yards and FOURTEEN touchdowns. (Fellow Junior) Tez Johnson isn’t far behind though, totaling seventy receptions, 942 yards and nine scores of his own. When we last saw Oregon, they avenged last year’s loss in the Civil War, the latest chapter in their ongoing rivalry with (archnemesis) Oregon State, hammering the Beavers in a 31-7 victory. This one was all Ducks, folks, as the hosts raced out to a 14-0 lead on the strength of a 14-yard strike from Nix to Irving, followed by a 16-yard jaunt into the end zone but the Quarterback. When it was all said and done, Lanning’s troops outgained the visitors 480-273, outrushed them 113-53, and outpassed them 367-220. Nix was sublime in completing 33-of-40 attempts for 367 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for another thirty-one yards and that aforementioned score. Franklin and Johnson eviscerated OSU’s Secondary, combining for twenty receptions and 265 yards, with the former ripping off a 41-yard touchdown just before halftime to take the momentum away from the Beavs right after they managed their finally get on the board.
From a betting perspective, Oregon went 11-1 straight-up during the regular season, though nearly matched that mark against the spread in posting a very profitable 9-2-1 record. Covering large spreads has become regular business for these Ducks, who have bested seven lines of 14+ points, including three in their last four outings. Under the leadership of Lanning, this is a team that is a stellar 17-7-1 against the spread since he arrived in Eugene last Fall, including a commanding 12-5-1 mark against conference opponents. Interestingly, their lone draw against the spread came in their previous meeting with the Huskies, who escaped in Seattle by way of a missed field goal from (Senior Kicker) Camden Lewis that would have sent the 33-36 affair into overtime. Nix & Co moved the ball at will in this one, amassing 541 total yards on thirty-two first downs, outrushing the home side 204-99, and even the won the turnover battle (+1). However, the biggest difference in the game came just before halftime, where rather than kick a short field goal, Lanning opted instead to go for it on fourth-and-goal though was ultimately turned away. Nix finished the contest with 337 yards and two touchdowns on 33-of-44 passing, while Irving rushed for 127 yards and a score along with thirty-four yards receiving. As for Franklin, he hauled in eight receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. Looking at this particular matchup, OU is 15-4 straight-up and 15-3-1 against the spread all-time versus UW, who have won and covered each of the last two encounters. Though he has yet to beat Washington, Nix has performed rather well against them, completing an efficient 72.7% of his throws for an average of 308.0 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions, while logging another 34.5 rushing yards and a score. On the injury front, the Ducks are happy to be at full strength heading into this titanic clash that will effectively serve as the crescendo of the Pac-12 as we’ve come to know it, with both teams transitioning to the ever-expanding BIG 10 next Fall. Looking ahead, we all know what is on the line for Lanning & Co in this trip to Sin City, for a win will guarantee them a spot in the College Football Playoff, while a loss will instead send them to a consolation bowl.
Meanwhile, one win away from their first conference championship since 2018 is Washington (12-0, 8-0 in Pac-12), who are looking to book passage to the College Football Playoff, where they would in turn be gunning for their first National Championship since 1991. In many ways, the Huskies have been a mirror image to their opponent tonight, what with a high-powered offense led by a Senior Transfer at Quarterback under the direction of a Sophomore Head Coach. Coming into this clash with Oregon, the offense has averaged 38.0 points per game (11th Overall) on 468.1 total yards, including 345.5 yards through the air and another 122.6 yards on the ground. Make no mistake about it, UW is built upon the passing game, which is one of the most effective in the country, with (Senior QB) Michael Penix in the proverbial cockpit. After spending the first four years of his collegiate career at Indiana where injuries dogged him, Penix (pictured below) has evolved into one of the most prolific passers in the nation. In fifteen games, he has thrown for 8,540 yards and SIXTY-THREE touchdowns. A pure pocket passer in every sense of the term, the lefty has made good use of the talent surrounding him, which is NOT lacking at the skill positions, challenging the Ducks in that regard. Coming into last Fall, Washington had not fielded a Receiver to record a 1,000-yard season since 2016, only for (Juniors) Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan to both break that threshold with 1,145 and 1,098 yards apiece. This year, Odunze has established himself as the top pass-catcher in the country NOT named Marvin Harrison Jr, reeling in seventy-three receptions for 1,326 yards and thirteen touchdowns, while (Sophomore Wideout) Ja’Lynn Polk has filled the void left from McMillan, who has been relegated to eight games due to injury, with fifty-five catches, 943 yards, and eight scores. However, while (Head Coach) Kalen DeBoer’s charges have managed to stay unbeaten, they haven’t earned many style points in doing so; SIX of their last eight games have been decided by an average margin of 5.0 points, including each of their last three which have come by a combined TWELVE points. This goes for their most recent outing, a narrow 24-21 victory in the Apple Cup, the latest installment of their longtime rivalry with (archnemesis) Washington State. The two sides alternated scores throughout the affair, though the difference came in terms of discipline; Wazzu committed two crucial turnovers en route losing the takeaway battle (2-1), while earning the ire of the officials with ten penalties for a loss of eighty-five yards. If there has been one criticism of the offense, it is that they have been a little too reliant upon Penix and the passing game, though DeBoer went out of his way to put together a more balanced approach in this one, rushing for 102 yards on THIRTY carries as (Junior Tailback) Dillon Johnson churned out eighty-two yards and a touchdown on twenty-one carries. It was the third time in four games that the Huskies eclipsed thirty rushing attempts, which is a major improvement after reaching that threshold twice in the first eight contests. Granted, it was a windy and rainy evening in Seattle, which was evident in the difficulties that Penix had in throwing the football, completing just 18-of-33 passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. However, when in doubt, getting the ball to Odunze proved to be the remedy to his struggles, as the big fella caught seven passes for 120 yards and both of his QB’s touchdowns, while even rushing for another twenty-three yards as well. Defensively, Washington hasn’t been great by any means this year, nearly giving up 400 total yards per game, but it is hard to argue that they didn’t have a positive impact in this victory, as they sacked Cameron Ward five times and picked him off twice.
From a betting perspective, Washington may have just completed an undefeated regular season, but they have been far from a perfect in the eyes of the betting community, posting a mediocre 5-6-1 mark against the spread. The Huskies started off strong, covering three of their first four games of the campaign (all of which featured spreads of at least fourteen points), though have since covered only TWO of the last eight outings, the last of which coming as an underdog in 22-20 victory over (No. 21) Oregon State, which marked the first time this season in which they received points from the oddsmakers. under the leadership of DeBoer, this is a program that is 13-11 against the spread since he arrived in Seattle last Fall, including 2-0 as an underdog. Looking at this particular matchup, the outright winner in this series has covered the spread in TWENTY-THREE consecutive meetings, with the favorite posting an 18-4-1 mark along the way. Penix & Co have win each of the last two encounters since he transferred to UW, carrying the Huskies in that previous affair back in mid-October, with his left arm accounting for all but ninety-nine of the home side’s total yardage. Against an athletic UO defense, the Senior completed 22-of-37 passes for 302 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, with Johnson rushing for 100 yards and a score on twenty carries, while the tandem of Odunze and Polk combined for 246 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Trailing 29-33 with less than two minutes left in the tilt, Penix drove the hosts downfield, hitting Odunze for the 18-yard go-ahead strike, their second scoring connection of the afternoon. In two battles with Oregon, Penix has handled himself well, completing 66.7% of his throws for an average of 355.0 yards with six touchdowns opposed to a pair of interceptions, while Odunze has torched them for seventeen receptions, 195 yards and two scores. On the injury front, Washington is also largely healthy coming into this Pac-12 grand finale as they look to close out their tenure in the conference with an eighteenth conference championship, which would be their first since 2018, which coincidentally saw them become the last Pac-12 resident to advance to the Playoff. Speaking of the CFP, as we stated earlier, a win in Las Vegas tonight will propel the Huskies to the National Semifinals, while a loss may will instead ship them to a consolation bowl.