Utah Meets USC for All the Marbles in Pac-12 Championship Game


Julia Chuang

(Photo by Julia Chuang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Sports Editor


The University of Utah football team will attempt to repeat as Pac-12 Champions this Friday in Las Vegas. Utah got the perfect storm of events necessary in order to qualify for the title game, and they will now have an unexpected chance to defend their conference crown.

After their loss to Oregon two weeks ago, the Utes were nearly disqualified from title contention. Going into the college football Thanksgiving weekend, Utah needed four games to go their way in order to have a chance to play for the title.

Four games, four necessary results; Oregon fans who had already booked their plane tickets be damned. Utah is in the Pac-12 Championship game.

They will face a buzzsaw of a USC team in a rematch of what was the conference’s game of the year. The Trojans have just one loss this season: to these same Utes, by one point, in an all-time shootout. USC has College Football Playoff aspirations, and now just one team stands in their way.

For Utah, they’re playing with house money. Not many expected them to get a chance to be here, given the way the last few weeks have unfolded. But here they are, with a plan to repeat as conference champions against a top-four squad that has only stumbled once. If anyone has the blueprint to beat them, it’s Utah.

The Trojans are not to be trifled with. They boast the Heisman Trophy favorite in Caleb Williams, a guy who will certainly be playing on Sundays for many years to come following his college career. They have five-star recruits at every position, an explosive passing game and a stingy defense.

Utah looked overmatched against the USC offensive attack early on during the meeting in October, but settled in enough to get the victory. Still, digging a 21-7 hole halfway through the second quarter won’t cut it this time around. The Utes can’t afford to go down big early again, not with the way USC has been playing and injuries to key offensive players.

Cameron Rising and Dalton Kincaid shredded the Trojans on Oct. 15. Both players are now dealing with injuries that have limited their availability and effectiveness in recent weeks. Rising had perhaps the worst game of his Utes career against Oregon, and Kincaid left the Colorado game early with an injury. Kyle Whittingham told reporters that Kincaid is expected to play despite being banged up. They will both need to play well for the Utes to keep up with the Trojans on Friday, as the Rising-to-Kincaid connection has been the entire identity of Utah’s offense.

Tavion Thomas is gone from the team as he has declared for the draft and begun preparing for the NFL, citing a toe injury that will hold him out the remainder of the season. A tumultuous season for the embattled star running back ends early, and Utah will now rely on Micah Bernard, Jaylon Glover and Ja’Quinden Jackson as their backfield for the final two games. Jackson had a great game against Colorado on Saturday and has been trending upward every week since his position switch to running back.

Clark Phillips III missed the victory over Colorado, but that felt more precautionary than concerning. There’s little to no chance he misses the Pac-12 Championship Game.

The Utes will be up against it on Friday evening, but that’s exactly where they want to be. A chance to repeat as conference champions fell into their lap as things unfolded last Saturday, and they will absolutely make the most of it.

The game kicks off from Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas this Friday evening at 6 p.m. MST.


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