Pac-12 Championship Game, Colorado Buffaloes vs. Washington Huskies, Friday December 2, 7 p.m. ET
The Pac-12 title is on the line, and it's an odd pairing - for the first time in the six-year history of the game it does not include one of either Oregon or Stanford. Heading into the season you didn't have to be too bold in your predictions to see Washington surpassing those two to win the North. You would have had to have been freaking Nostradamus, though, to see Colorado winning the South. Yet here they are.
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The stakes are not balanced in this one. For Washington it is a fight for a playoff spot. Winning the game doesn't necessarily ensure them a spot because of the weakness of their schedule, but losing obviously destroys any chances they might have. Colorado isn't going to the playoff unless they win this game by a million and a hundred other even less-likely things happen, but they can secure a Rose Bowl bid and a whole lot of pride with a win. Either way, it shapes up as one of the more significant games this weekend, and it's certainly among the least likely.
Colorado at Washington Betting Storylines
Washington gets knocked so much for their schedule. And they deserve it. They have played four teams that were ranked at kickoff, but the only one ranked higher than 17th was Stanford, and anyone who thought that Stanford was still the seventh-best team in the country by Week 5 of the season was paying too much attention to the name of the school and too little to how they were playing. They were 3-1 against those ranked teams, but they lost quite decisively to USC, and that has proven to be the best of the bunch. The nonconference schedule literally couldn't have been more pathetic, and the rest of the Pac-12 didn't exactly enjoy a banner year. The other side, though, is it's not exactly like Colorado played a truly dominant schedule. In fact, their schedule makes Washington's look impressive. They played just three teams ranked at game time, playing Michigan tight until ultimately losing by 17 and then beating Washington State and Utah. They also played, and lost to, USC when the Trojans were at the tail end of their struggles. So, the common theme for the teams is that they lost to the best teams they faced. That's not all they have in common - both teams are tied for the Pac-12 lead allowing just 4.7 yards per play when on defense.
So, what do you need to face a good defense effectively? Well, a good quarterback would top the list and a strong running game would be next. On the quarterback front it's not close. Colorado's Sefo Liufau is a strong quarterback and would have had even a better year if the middle of his season wasn't gutted due to injury. He is a dual-threat quarterback who has both run and passed well in his last three outings. He's no match, though, for Washington's Jake Browning, who is very likely heading to New York as a Heisman finalist - albeit one who isn't bringing home the hardware. He had an off game against USC but was much better next time out against Arizona State, and he was brilliant in the last game against Washington State that earned them this spot. He's a serious edge for the Huskies here, and Oregon and Washington State both showed that it is possible to pass against this Colorado defense. The running game, though, is a bit more of a wash. Myles Gaskin has had a great year for Washington, but so has Phillip Lindsay for Colorado. Both teams have depth behind their stars, too. The ground battle will come down to who is best on that day, with no clear advantage going in.
The one thing an underdog doesn't need in a game of this magnitude is an off-field distraction. Unfortunately, Colorado has a big one. After their last win things got out of hand in a Boulder bar. One player punched another. The puncher is facing assault charges, and the other is in more trouble as cocaine was found in his wallet. Both are unavailable for this game - at least. Neither were core contributors, but it is still far from the ideal situation for a team to be dealing with or for a coaching staff that already has its hands full to be faced with.
Colorado at Washington Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Washington favored by 7.5 points, and it has stayed steady at that level in early betting action. Washington has drawn about two-thirds of early bets, so we might see some slight movement. However, given where the original number was set it seems unlikely that we will see earth shattering movement.
Colorado is 11-2 ATS in their last 13 games overall, which includes 7-1 ATS against teams with winning records and 8-2 ATS in their last 10 conference games. They are, however, just 2-5 ATS in their last seven games played in December - not that they have been playing a lot of December games in their recent, lousy years. The Huskies, on the other hand, are 6-1 ATS in their last seven December games.
Colorado at Washington Predictions and Picks
At this number this is a very tough game. I like Washington but don't envision a big win. This number is right where it should be. In the end, though, I have to go with Washington. I expect them to win, so there is too much risk involved in being that Colorado won't lose by much. The edge at QB, the more experienced coach on a big stage, the better chance at strong focus, and the bigger stakes all point to the Huskies.
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