2018 Pac-12 Championship Game Picks: Utah Utes vs. Washington Huskies
Utah Utes vs. Washington Huskies, Friday Nov. 30, 8 p.m. ET
This is the first of the five power conference championship games that I am previewing this week, and there is a reason I chose to do it first - it just doesn't matter. Not really. I mean, it will determine the Pac-12 champion, but what is that worth right now given the sorry state of that conference? The other four conference title games will have major implications on the three playoff spots that have not entirely been nailed down yet. But all that this one will determine is which team is heading to the Rose Bowl - and while that game has plenty of history and tradition, it isn't set up to be a particularly intriguing game this year. The Pac-12 winner will likely either face an Ohio State team frustrated by being left out of the playoff or a Michigan team limping in off a loss to Ohio State as humiliating as any loss by any team all year. In either case, it won't be the game of the year, but the winner of this game won't mind. In the pathetic Pac-12 this year, it wasn't realistic to have grander ambitions than that.
Utah vs. Washington Betting Storylines
Utah comes into this game having won their last three games. That's not that remarkable - they were favored in each game - until you consider the changes they have been forced to deal with in those games. Quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, who together were essentially the Utah offense, were both injured and lost for the rest of the year. Freshman QB Jason Shelley has stepped up in Huntley's absence, and he has been solid. His 208 passing yards per game won't set any records, but he adds a nice run dimension as well to help make up for the loss of Moss, and he has scored six times in total without a turnover. Having Huntley at the helm would obviously be better, but things could certainly be worse.
This is the last Pac-12 game for Washington QB Jake Browning, one of those guys who seems as if he has been in college for a few decades. Browning has been a little frustrating this year - he came into the season with massive expectations but has had his least impressive year in many ways. As a sophomore he seemed like he was on the verge of greatness, but he has taken a step back in each year since. He has experience going for him, and his yards per attempt are the best they have been, but he doesn't bring the advantage you would assume on paper - especially matched up against a youngster like Shelley. He is up against a defense that is strong in general and particularly strong against the run. We could have been more confident in his ability to exploit that defense two year ago than we are now. Shelley is also up against an elite defense, though, so at least scoring in bulk isn't likely going to be required to win this one.
The nice thing about handicapping conference championships is that we can often look back at an earlier meeting between the teams this season - though we have to be careful not to attach too much meaning to what we saw. The game was played way back on Sept. 15 when Washington seemed better than they turned out to be and Utah hadn't found their stride yet. The Huskies won it 21-7. What stands out most is how ineffective both Huntley and Moss were - the QB managed just 138 yards and a pick, and the running back ran for 67 and the only score. Browning was lousy as well, but Myles Gaskin, the star Washington running back, ran for 143 and a score. It was not a pretty game.
Utah vs. Washington Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Washington favored by 4.5 points. Four points was available very briefly, but the number moved to five points fairly quickly, and looks like it is settling in there . More than two-thirds of all bets have been on the Huskies, so a little more movement is possible - though we aren't likely to see a major move without significant news. The total opened at 43.5 and can be found at 45 now.
The Utes are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games overall and 10-3-1 ATS in their last 14 against teams with winning records. They are 6-1 ATS in their last seven conference games and 4-1 ATS in their last five neutral-site games. The Huskies are 1-6 ATS in their last seven games overall and 1-7 ATS in their last eight conference games. They are, however, 6-2 ATS in their last eight Friday games.
Utah vs. Washington Predictions and Picks
This is all about timing. Washington would have been a lot tougher to trust if his game was played a week ago. But they absolutely dominated Washington State in the Apple Cup, showing a lot more spark and hunger than they have in a long while. They had failed to cover six straight spreads before that game, but they finally seemed to remember how good they were supposed to be. Utah wasn't as good against BYU last time out as would have been ideal, and trusting Shelley on this stage is a little tough. Washington is the play here.
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