What’s at stake is pretty simple when Utah meets Oregon in the Pac-12 title game
If the Utes can beat the Ducks again, they’d capture their first-ever Pac-12 title and earn a coveted spot in “The Granddaddy of them All” in Pasadena, California.
The stakes were high back on Nov. 20.
Utah embarrassed then-No. 3 Oregon 38-7 at Rice-Eccles Stadium that night, less than 10 days ago, to win the Pac-12 South title.
Just like that, the Ducks’ College Football Playoff aspirations were ruined, they tumbled in the CFP rankings and their goal of clinching the Pac-12 North title was delayed by a week.
Now, the two teams square off again Friday (6 p.m., MST, ABC) in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
What’s on the line now?
Simple. A Pac-12 crown and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
If the No. 19 Utes can beat the No. 11 Ducks again, they’d capture their first-ever Pac-12 title and earn a coveted spot, for the first time, in “The Granddaddy of them All” in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day, possibly against Ohio State of the Big Ten.
The loser of Friday’s game could end up in the Alamo Bowl and possibly meet Oklahoma of the Big 12.
Winning the Pac-12 and playing in the Rose Bowl would be yet another huge milestone for coach Kyle Whittingham and Utah’s football program.
But first, the Utes have to get past Oregon — again.
Asked about a possible rematch against the Ducks in the moments following Utah’s dominating victory on Nov. 20, wide receiver Britain Covey was blunt.
“I think that we probably angered them,” he said. “If we see them in a couple of weeks, we know that we’ll be seeing a different team on a different playing field ... A team that wants vengeance.
“We’re going to be prepared when that time comes.”
Oregon certainly looked like a different team Saturday against Oregon State. The Ducks beat their rivals 38-29 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
After rushing for just 63 yards against the Utes, Oregon ran for 231 yards against the Beavers.
Travis Dye had 20 carries for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Anthony Brown completed 23 of 28 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns and also ran 14 times for 83 yards and a TD.
Coach Mario Cristobal loved his team’s resilience after a humbling loss at Utah.
“It was a rough plane ride back last week … When you go through something like that, you have to look in the mirror and you have to dig deep and regroup quickly,” he said. “Our team leadership did a good job with that. I thought the coaching staff did a great job with that as well. The scheme was good. The adjustments were good. Guys played at a high level.
“They made the decision to have 11 guys play as one, played with great effort, executed at a high level and finished knowing that you’re going to have to earn it knowing that these rivalry games are — you’re never out of it. Whether you’re leading or behind you’re never out of it and you see it. You see it all over the country and you saw it on our field (Saturday).”
While the Ducks have some momentum again after beating OSU, the Utes have won seven of their last eight games, including last Friday’s 28-13 victory over Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Whittingham said his team is relatively healthy heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game.
As for Oregon, middle linebacker Noah Sewell and cornerback Mykael Wright were sidelined in the second half Saturday with injuries.
“I don’t think there’s anything too bad,” Cristobal said of his team’s injury situation. “Nothing too serious ... We’re a little bit dinged up but Game 12, earn the right to play in a 13th game against a great football team and we have one less day, so put on some Band-Aids and pop some Advil and let’s go.”
Safety Verone McKinley was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter against the Beavers and will miss the first half of Friday’s game.
The Oregonian reported that Cristobal was flying home Saturday night to tend to his ailing mother but that he was planning to return to Oregon Sunday afternoon.
So the stage is set for another showdown between Utah and Oregon.
While the Utes have played in three of the last four Pac-12 Championship games, quarterback Cam Rising has never even attended one.
Two years ago, when the Ducks defeated Utah 37-15, he was watching the game from home.
Rising is looking forward to this opportunity while trying to remain focused on the task at hand.
“It’s amazing. I know it is a bigger game but I still treat every game as the same,” he said. “No game is bigger than the last.
“It’s still a game that I intend on wanting to go win and play good.”
For the third time in four years, Utah has a chance to win the conference championship and go to the Rose Bowl.
Once again, the stakes are high.
Pac-12 Championship Game
No. 11 Oregon (10-2 , 7-2) vs. No. 19 Utah (9-3, 8-1)
Friday, 6 p.m. MST
Radio: ESPN 700