Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mark J Terrill/AP/Shutterstock (13639156o) Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams runs the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, in Los Angeles Notre Dame USC Football, Los Angeles, United States – 26 Nov 2022
Outside the Region Special: The Pac-12 Championship Game
No. 4 USC vs. No. 11 Utah
Game Time: 7:00 p.m. CT
TV/Radio: FOX, Sirius XM 83 & 84
Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game has serious implications for the College Football Playoff. If USC can take home a win, they will likely be a no-doubter for the playoff. With that being said, the Trojans have one loss on the season. The culprit? The Utah Utes. Utah earned a one-point win at home in the first matchup, 43-42, back in mid-October. Heisman contender Caleb Williams threw for 381 yards, and five touchdowns in the loss as Utah quarterback Cameron Rising amassed five touchdowns of his own, three of which came on the ground.
The pressure advantage in this game falls heavily in favor of Utah. They are playing with house money without a shot at the playoff and as the clear underdog, while this is a must-win game for USC. For USC, it is a win, and you are in; lose, and you are out.
USC finished the regular season as the third-highest-scoring offense in the country. Nobody can question the explosiveness that this group plays with. Caleb Williams has been one of the most electric players in college football, completing 66% of his throws for over 3,700 yards and 34 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He has also put up ten rushing touchdowns, which leads the team. On top of that, his receiving group can stack up against any team in the nation. Jordan Addison, Tahj Washington, and Mario Williams are the real deal, with Addison leading the way. The Trojans convert on 55% of their third-down tries and rank among the best in total yards and passing yards offensively. They cannot be contained. The issue USC runs into is that they can be exposed against a solid passing game. The Trojans are surrendering over 260 yards per game through the air, which puts them outside the top 100 in the country. If Cameron Rising can be efficient with the football and come up with a big play or two, the Utes could find a path to victory. For USC to win, they need to outscore you. They can drop 40 on any given night, but can surrender 40 at the same pace. Lincoln Riley’s offense can handle anybody in the country, which will be their key to winning.
Utah needs to play as if they have nothing to lose. Why? Because they actually do not have anything to lose. Other than ruining USC’s shot at the playoff, they have the opportunity to hoist up a championship trophy of their own as the only team to take down the mighty Trojans; twice. Utah’s well-rounded defense can get after the quarterback and stop the run. USC’s run game is average, giving Utah an edge in that aspect. Despite giving up 43 points in their previous matchup, the Utes were able to sack Caleb Williams four times in that game. Utah holds the advantage of controlling the pace with the run game. Running back Tavion Thomas has provided the Utes with a formidable rushing attack that allows Utah to play the game at their own tempo. Star tight end Dalton Kincaid is a guy to watch out for in the short to intermediate passing game. As the team’s leading receiver, he provides an element to their offense as not only a go-to guy but also an extension to an already strong running game.
However, with all of this in mind, Utah’s fate rests in Cameron Rising’s hands. Rising has been dynamic yet inconsistent this season, to say the least. He is either the reason you win or the reason you lose, and he leaves you guessing as to whom you will get each week. Rising can leave completions out on the field and sometimes struggles with decision-making. But Rising can go toe-to-toe with Williams on his best day. If Utah can get the good Cameron Rising and dictate the pace of play, they have a chance to disrupt the college football playoff.