Oregon Ducks plan to rewrite recent history against Arizona Wildcats

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Friday’s Pac-12 Champoinship Game will have a familiar feel.

College football fans have already seen this movie before. The Arizona Wildcats faced the higher-ranked Oregon Ducks and emerged with the upset victory on Oct. 2. However, Mark Helfrich‘s squad hopes to rewrite recent history.

There are plenty of differences already entering the Pac-12 Championship Game, though.

First, the Wildcats are now ranked in the Top 25. Rich Rodriguez‘s program has risen to No. 7 overall. Its ascension began with the 31-24 victory in Eugene. Arizona is now the champion of the Pac-12 South. And they’ll face the Ducks on a neutral field during their second meeting.

Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco will host the Pac-12 Championship Game. It will be the first time a neutral site hosted the championship game since Pac-12 expanded its conference.

Despite losing in the previous meeting, the Ducks, who are ranked No. 2 overall, are still considered the favorite to win the second contest between these two teams.

If that were to happen, Oregon’s approach must vary significantly:

1. Keep Mariota clean

When the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy is leading your offense, the goal is to keep him upright and allow him to work his magic. This hasn’t been easy for Oregon this season. When these two teams previously met, the Wildcats sacked Mariota five times. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III, who is third in the nation with 14 sacks, got to Mariota once, and he’ll find ways into the Ducks’ backfield if given the chance. Unfortunately Oregon shuffled its offensive line multiple times this season due to injuries, and Friday will be no different. Senior leader and starting center Hroniss Grasu has been ruled out for the game due to a left leg injury.

2. Limit turnovers

The one team in the Pac-12 Conference to confound Mariota over his career is Arizona. The Wildcats run an exotic 3-3-5 defense which allows them to bring pressure from anywhere. It also puts more athletes on the field with an extra defensive back. And Mariota has struggled to deal with the speed and confusion the defense presents. Mariota can’t make the same mistakes Friday for the Ducks to win, but his history suggests the quarterback may continue to struggle to some degree:

3. Hold Arizona’s rushing game in check

The Wildcats ran for 208 yards during the initial meeting. Senior Terris Jones-Grigsby led the way with 120 yards on 27 carries. Arizona’s rushing attack has only gotten better in recent weeks with freshman Nick Wilson developing into the team’s workhorse. Over the past four contests, Wilson averaged 163.2 yards per game. If the Ducks can slow the Wildcats’ rushing attack, the offense will then be placed in the hands of freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, who was previously sacked four times by the Ducks.

The outcome

While the Pac-12 Conference won’t admit publicly it has a rooting interest in either team, the league should be quietly supporting Oregon.

The Ducks are considered one of the nation’s elite teams. Mariota is on the precipice of winning this year’s Heisman Trophy. And a win by Arizona will likely lock the conference out of the inaugural College Football Playoff. A two-loss team is very unlikely to be named part of the final four.

Oregon is arguably the best team in the nation. The Ducks stumbled against the Wildcats earlier in the season. This is their opportunity to rectify the team’s only blemish.

Air Force and Boise State reach halftime knotted at 10-10

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A matchup of undefeated Mountain West Conference teams has been everything it was supposed to be. Air Force is giving Boise State a good battle on the strength of their running game. The two teams are tied 10-10 at the break.

After a scoreless first quarter, Air Force and Boise State exchanged touchdown drives in the second quarter. The Falcons opened the scoring with Donald Hammond III running eight yards for a score. Boise State answered with Hank Bachmeier tossing a 36-yard pass to CT Thomas for a score.

After forcing Air Force to punt on the ensuing possession, the Broncos took their first lead of the game minutes later. Eric Sachse booted a 40-yard field goal to give the home team a 10-7 lead.

As expected, Air Force has thrived by chewing up yards on the ground, but a pass completion from Hammond III to Ben Peterson late in the second quarter moved the football to the Boise State 13-yard line and a first down. That late drive ended with a field goal by Jake Koehnke to send the teams to the locker rooms all squared up.

We should have a good finish coming up on the blue turf in the second half.

USC QB Kedon Slovis injured on second play of game vs. Utah

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USC quarterback Kedon Slovis started Friday night’s game against Utah, but he may have been knocked out of the game after just two plays. Matt Fink has replaced Slovis, at least for now, after Slovis headed to the USC locker room early in the first quarter. According to a sideline report on the telecast, Slovis was being treated for a possible head injury.

Utah defensive tackle Leki Fatu came charging at Slovis on a 2nd-and-1 play on the second snap of the game. After Fink got the ball away, Fatu finished off a clean play in the college game (FS1 analyst Brock Huard correctly noted the follow-through to take the quarterback to the ground would be flagged in the NFL). Slovis struggled to get back on his feet as he attempted to get off the ground.

Fink, USC’s third-string quarterback behind Slovis and J.T. Daniels (who was injured and out for the year after the season opener), got right to work to finish off the opening drive. Fink missed on his first throw but then connected on his next three attempts, including a 29-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns for the early lead. Utah cruised down the field on the ensuing possession to tie it up.

This post will be updated with more information on Slovis once it becomes available.

Conference championship Saturday now locked in with confirmed kickoff times

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Feel free to update your planner accordingly, because the ACC and Big 12 championship games now have confirmed start times.

The Big 12 Championship Game will kick off Championship Saturday on Dec. 7 with a noon eastern kickoff. The game will be televised on ABC and will share a time slot with the MAC Championship Game (on ESPN or ESPN2).

The ACC Championship Game will once again be played in primetime with a 7:30 p.m. eastern start time scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 7 on ABC. It will once again go opposite the Big Ten Championship Game on FOX, although the ACC will get a half-hour jump on the Big Ten title game.

With the ACC and Big 12 now on the schedule, here is the updated look at the conference championship game schedule:

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6

  • Pac-12: 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC (Santa Clara, CA)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7

  • Big 12: 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC (Arlington, TX)
  • MAC: 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN 2 (Detroit, MI)
  • Sun Belt: 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2 (TBD*)
  • Conference USA: 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network (TBD*)
  • American: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (TBD*)
  • Mountain West: 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN (TBD*)
  • SEC: 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS (Atlanta, GA)
  • ACC: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Charlotte, NC)
  • Big Ten: 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX (Indianapolis, IN)

* = The highest-seeded team in the conference hosts the conference championship game

Mark Dantonio responds to accusation made by former staffer

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A day after an alarming story accused Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio of recruiting a player he was warned could be a potential problem, Dantonio has responded alongside his lawyer. Dantonio defended himself against the claims of former assistant Curtis Blackwell and re-directed to previous comments Dantonio made regarding the player in question.

“The fact that Mr. Blackwell’s contract was not renewed has nothing to do with Auston Robertson,” Dantonio said in a statement on Friday. “Two years ago, I spoke at length about Auston Robertson when he was dismissed from the team in 2017. Rather than engage in a public argument with a former staffer, I refer you to those previous statements. Further, there have been multiple investigations into the program’s handling of sexual assaults, including Jones Day in 2017 and the NCAA in 2018, and they concluded that the program and myself committed no violations.”

Blackwell, a former Michigan State recruiting director, claimed he and multiple coaches asked Dantonio not to continue recruiting Robertson, who was guilty of misdemeanor battery in high school and later was arrested and charged with assault to his girlfriend just after his freshman season in East Lansing. Robertson was later removed from the program.

Dantonio concluded his statement by saying he will have no further comment due to ongoing litigation.

“Mr. Blackwell’s lawsuit concerns his allegations that his contract was not renewed because he refused to co-operate with investigations being conducted by the MSUPD and a law firm hired to evaluate the MSU football program’s compliance with sexual assault reporting policies,” Dantonio’s lawyer, Tom Kienbaum, said in a separate statement. “The lawsuit has nothing to do with the recruitment or actions of any student athletes, including Auston Robertson.”