Oregon Ducks (-14.5, 73 o/u) vs. Arizona Wildcats
After a gruelling season of Pac-12 play, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks and No. 7 Arizona Wildcats emerged on top of the North and South divisions, respectively. This Friday, they will square off in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California (9:00 p.m. Eastern).
For the Ducks, the title game represents not only a chance to earn a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, but also an opportunity for redemption. The Ducks’ only loss this season was a 31-24 setback against the Wildcats in Eugene, when the Ducks were huge 23.5-point favorites. It was the second time in two years that Arizona triumphed over a heavily favored Oregon.
Oregon’s star QB – and Heisman frontrunner – Marcus Mariota is not concerned about that loss. “We’re just going to play our game. Arizona did a great job setting and dictating tempo in the last meeting,” Mariota said. “If we go out and execute to the best of our abilities and execute the game plans that are put in front of us, we should hopefully be successful.”
Mariota leads the fourth-best scoring offense in college football (45.9 points per game); the mobile QB is prolific in both the passing game (3,740 yards, 36 touchdowns, and just two interceptions) and the running game (636 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns). Arizona knows that stopping Mariota is not really an option, and that containment will be the goal on Friday.
“If you look back at his stats, he got a lot of yards and big plays, but we got a couple turnovers. Some of it was great individual effort, and some of it was a little bit of luck,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “If you go back to this game or even the game last season, he still got his yards, and he is still going to get his yards and make his plays.”
In the first meeting, Arizona was able to limit Mariota’s yards and, thus, Oregon’s points with a tenacious pass rush. The Oregon offensive line had no answer for the Wildcats’ front seven, which sacked Mariota seven times. The O-line has continued to struggle for Oregon late in the season, surrendering ten sacks in the last three games (combined), including four last weekend against Oregon State.
For the 10-2 Wildcats, a win in the Pac-12 title game may have to be its own reward, as they need to leapfrog three teams to reach the top-four and qualify for the College Football Playoff. That said, there is still hope for Arizona. Currently ranked No. 7 in the nation by the CFP Selection Committee, the Wildcats are the top two-loss team in the nation. A win over Oregon would likely move them past the Ducks in the rankings. If two of Ohio State, TCU, Baylor, and Florida State also lose this weekend, Arizona could find itself with a playoff berth.
But losses to USC and UCLA earlier in the year have put Arizona’s fate in the hands of others and the playoffs remain a long-shot.
Despite Arizona’s recent success against Oregon, the Ducks are a 14.5-point favorite (and the game total is at 73 points). Looking at the trends, the Ducks are 7-0 ATS in their last seven conference games (ever since the loss to Arizona), while the Wildcats are 6-13 ATS versus teams with a winning record.
(Photo credit: Don Hankins (flickr) “Eugene Oregon Ducks” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode].)