Utah or USC: Who are national experts predicting will win the Pac-12 championship game?
Defending conference champion Utah would return to the Rose Bowl with a victory, while USC has its sights on a College Football Playoff berth
If Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes need any further motivation as they head into Friday’s Pac-12 championship game against USC, national media are providing some fuel.
A roundup of predictions from several national publications show that most media observers believe the Trojans will get some revenge on the Utes for a loss earlier this season.
Here’s what those experts are predicting ahead of Friday’s championship game (6 p.m. MST, Fox):
A panel of seven CBS Sports writers leaned heavily on picking USC, though Utah did get one vote.
- Dennis Dodd: USC.
- Tom Fornelli: USC.
- Chip Patterson: USC.
- Barrett Sallee: USC.
- Shehan Jeyarajah: USC.
- David Cobb: Utah.
- Jerry Palm: USC.
Cobb explained why he believes the Utes will win.
“USC had to grind for a 38-27 victory over Notre Dame last week while Utah coasted to an easy win at Colorado. On a short week and in a game between two evenly matched teams, wear and tear could be a factor,” Cobb wrote.
“Utah won the first meeting by a point on Oct. 15, and the Utes have experience on this stage as the reigning Pac-12 champions. While beating the same team twice in a season can be tough, Utah did it last season against Oregon. The Utes can do it again as they take on a USC team that remains shaky defensively and overly reliant on an uncanny ability to force turnovers.”
A panel of six USA Today journalists were unanimous in their predictions.
- Scooby Axson: USC.
- Jace Evans: USC.
- Paul Myerberg: USC.
- Erick Smith: USC.
- Eddie Timanus: USC.
- Dan Wolken: USC.
Bill Connelly, who uses ESPN’s Football Power Index and SP+ rankings to indicate the favorites, is bullish that the Utes can find a way to beat the Trojans again.
“The Utah run defense is improving dramatically. USC was the third straight opponent to gain at least 170 rushing yards on the Utes, but only one has topped even 65 yards since. Utah ranked 45th in defensive SP+ after the first USC game, but has risen to 21st,” Connelly wrote.
“Utah’s biggest weakness remains big plays — the Utes don’t make enough of them, and their aggressive defense can allow a few too many. USC had 10 gains of 20-plus yards in their first matchup, while Utah managed only six. But the Utes won in part because they suffered just one negative play to USC’s seven.
“They probably can’t count on (Utah tight end Dalton) Kincaid to come through in such a ridiculous way again, but if their improved defense can load up on tackles for loss again, they’ll give themselves a great chance to prevent USC from securing its first CFP bid.”
- SP+ projection: Utah by 0.3.
- FPI projection: Utah by 3.9.
Athlon Sports’ John Coon predicted a close game between the Trojans and Utes.
“The math is simple for USC — win and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, we all know nothing ever comes easy in the Pac-12. Utah has the offensive firepower to match USC, and the Utes’ defense has made strides since the two teams met earlier in mid-October,” Coon wrote.
“Ultimately, it will come down to health. USC’s key playmakers are healthy and productive again. Utah has lingering question marks at key positions because of injuries. That may be a subtle difference-maker for the Trojans late in a close game.”
- Prediction: USC 34, Utah 31.
Three of Coon’s Athlon Sports’ colleagues also made their predictions on the Pac-12 championship.
- Steven Lassan: USC.
- Mark Ross: USC.
- Ben Weinrib: USC.
Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard outlined why he has the Trojans edging the Utes in another high-scoring contest — Utah rallied to beat USC 43-42 in their regular-season meeting in October.
“It’s not a lot of fun to go status quo with picks, but every time a challenge has been thrown in front of the USC Trojans this year, they’ve answered — other than once,” Shepard wrote.
“That came when the Utes honored late players Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe on October 15 in an emotional 43-42 Utah win. It was a special game, but that was a different Utes team and this is a different Trojans team that will play at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
“Caleb Williams is the Heisman front-runner, and Lincoln Riley will have a date with destiny and the College Football Playoff if he wins. The Pac-12 needs this, and it’s going to happen.”
- Prediction: USC 40, Utah 34.
Sporting News’ Bill Bender, too, believes that USC will emerge victorious in Las Vegas.
“Utah won the regular-season meeting 43-42 on Oct. 16 and has the chance to play spoiler in the Pac-12 championship game, especially if Cam Rising can replicate his 475 total yards. The Trojans did have a 28-14 first-half lead in that game, and Caleb Williams had 381 yards and five TD passes. That was on the road,” Bender wrote.
“This one is at a neutral-site at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Lincoln Riley was 4-0 in conference championship games at Oklahoma. That track record of success continues in a thriller that sends the Trojans to the CFP.”
- Prediction: USC 35, Utah 28.
College Football News
It’s become a theme — CFN’s Pete Fiutak also thinks the game will be tight.
Fiutak wrote that Utah will be feeling less pressure — with USC playing to earn a spot in the playoff — but he sees the Trojans, behind Heisman favorite and star quarterback Caleb Williams, rising to the challenge.
“Utah will get up fast and look like it’s in control, but Williams and the Trojans will creep on back before taking over midway through the second half after the team calms down and settles in, Fiutak wrote.
“It’s not going to be as much fun as the first time around, but it’ll be a blast.”
- Prediction: USC 38, Utah 34.