An original BCS buster will not be doing the same to the College Football Playoff as the Pac-12 once again found a way to cannibalize itself on the national stage.
Not that you’d find No. 13 Oregon lamenting such woes for Larry Scott and company as they clinched roses between their teeth and hoisted a league title on Friday night, turning in a complete effort to upset No. 5 Utah 37-15 in the Pac-12 Championship Game’s swan song at Levi’s Stadium.
As has generally been the case most of the year, the Ducks defense was the real star of the show. Safety Brady Breeze was all over the place and notched an interception to go with his nine tackles while former No. 1 overall recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux was a terror off the edge, recording two and a half sacks while also blocking a punt in the first half. The group was fast, physical and, for most of the night, simply overwhelming in limiting the Utes to just 4-of-18 on third or fourth down.
That’s not to say that UO’s offense was just sitting around either. QB Justin Herbert delivered his hometown school their first conference title since 2014 and did so using his legs scrambling as much as his arm (193 yards, one touchdown pass). The run game was particularly impressive, quadrupling what their opponent typically gives up in a week by going over two bills when things counted most. C.J. Verdell notched most of that, running for 208 yards and three touchdowns — the last of which was a lengthy scamper that sealed the result in the fourth quarter and sent red-clad fans streaming toward the exits.
Utah played most of the game from behind as a result of those efforts that were combined with an inopportune time to make mental mistakes and look somewhat lost on key short yardage situations. QB Tyler Huntley tossed his third and fourth picks of the season and, despite leading a brief third quarter rally to close to within eight, had to labor to throw for 193 yards and two scores. Backfield-mate Zach Moss ran for 113 yards but most of that came on one play and he was otherwise stuffed near the line of scrimmage with some regularity in a big reversal from the past two months of 2019.
The lone bright spot for the Pac-12 South title holders? At least they scored a touchdown in this trip to Santa Clara after being kept out of the end zone by Washington last season. That’s not much of a consolation for Kyle Whittingham’s team however, as they blew a shot at Power Five glory and ending the Pac-12’s drought in the College Football Playoff (much to the delight of No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 7 Baylor as the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday turns into what could essentially be a quarterfinal game).
Instead, the conference of champions’ absence will be extended to at least three seasons on the outside looking in at the final four. Oregon at one point found themselves in that race but a trip to Tempe a few weeks ago derailed such hopes. Still, a return to the Rose Bowl for first time since thumping Florida State in the very first CFP semifinal in 2015 is quite the consolation prize.