Here’s the recipe for Utah, Utah State to win conference titles (plus weekly predictions)
The Utes, Aggies have a chance to win their first-ever Pac-12, Mountain West conference titles, respectively, this weekend
First-ever league titles for Utah and Utah State in their respective conferences?
That’s on the plate with all the trimmings in the next two days.
The Utes and Aggies are among 10 football teams who will be playing to win their first conference championship game in their respective leagues this weekend, including Baylor, Pittsburgh, Michigan and Oklahoma State.
Utah and Utah State can salt away conference championships this weekend, but it will take tremendous defensive efforts to do it. Are they up to the challenge?
Utah plays Oregon in Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday while the Aggies travel to San Diego to take on the Aztecs Saturday.
The Utes overwhelmed Oregon in the last meeting with a lopsided score of 38-7. Doing so again in Las Vegas without the home-field advantage is another thing.
Utah State has had a remarkable season. It was a campaign that no expert I’m aware of predicted: Annexing the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference in Blake Anderson’s first season in Logan.
Here’s how these locals walk off with trophies:
Both must play outstanding defense, busting up drives, forcing punts and turnovers and winning on first downs.
Utah has to get its running back triumvirate of Tavion Thomas (978 rushing yards), TJ Pledger (651) and Micah Bernard (454) in a rhythm again. This will enable Cam Rising to deploy play action and hook up with Britain Covey and a very capable tight end group to batter the Ducks.
Look for Oregon to be far more prepared to compete with Utah than two weeks ago when the Ducks looked lost. If Utah chisels out an early lead, it will punch a ticket to Pasadena.
Oregon beat up on Oregon State last week by converting 10 of 13 third downs and consuming the clock with 37 minutes of possession against a Beaver team built to run and hog the ball.
The intangible factor in this game is passion. Utah buried the needle in this category two weeks ago and Oregon had no answer.
But after two weeks of letting it settle, the Ducks are anxious for revenge.
This week’s predictions
Utah 34, Oregon 31
Western Kentucky 38, USTA 31
Oklahoma State 31, Baylor 28
Northern Illinois 27, Kent State 21
San Diego State 37, Utah State 28
Louisiana 24, Appalachian State 21
Georgia 34, Alabama 28
Cincinnati 31, Houston 27
Michigan 42, Iowa 31
Pittsburgh 28, Wake Forest 24
Southern Cal 24, California 21
Last week 10-3; Overall 136-61 (.690)
“We know what happened, and this team knows what we can do. We have to do with what we are comfortable with,” Oregon defensive end Brandon Dorlus said after the win over Oregon State. “We don’t have to play out of character, just be us.”
Looking at the Ute win, Utah did impose its will on Oregon and it was impressive.
But was Oregon even close to being itself? You know, the one with Nike swagger? Absolutely not.
If you get Oregon’s best effort and the best game out of Utah, give the edge to the Utes because of the level of play Kyle Whittingham is getting out of Rising.
USU’s challenge is far more formidable. SDSU, a team that beat Utah back in September, is balanced on offense and capable on defense. The Aggies have to win the turnover battle and get lucky on some special teams play.
Logan Bonner (3,242 passing yards), the transfer QB from Arkansas State who followed Anderson to Logan, will need to play his best game of the season. It will go a long way if he can hook up with Deven Thompkins (1,543 receiving yards) for at least three touchdown passes.
SDSU isn’t as explosive on offense, but the defense is solid. Aztec runners Greg Bell (949 yards) and Chance Bell (273) are talented enough to give USU’s Justin Rice a ton of work.
USU could really use a dominating run game to keep the Aztec defense guessing, but the lack of that may be the undoing of the Aggies in this Mountain West title chase. Regardless of the outcome, USU will be going bowling and Anderson is a hero with a momentous season thus far.