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Non-TCU Game of the Week: Utah vs. Oregon

The schedule slows down a bit, as only two ranked matchups occur this weekend.

Utah v Oregon Photo by Ali Gradischer/Getty Images

The Headliner:

#13 Utah vs #8 Oregon (-6.5) 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday, October 29 on Fox

Is it crazy to refer to the Pac-12 as the best conference in all of college football? I certainly wouldn’t say so, as the Pac-12 occupies about 24 percent of the AP Poll. The Pac-12 has as many teams, six, as the premier college football conference, the SEC, does in the current poll. It’s likely that at least one Pac-12 squad will represent the conference in the College Football Playoff. And this matchup, between Utah and Oregon, will have massive implications for the Pac-12’s CFP bid. Each squad is 6-1 and looking for its first top-15 victory. Sure, Oregon beat Colorado when they were ranked, and Utah has downed both Los Angeles schools, but those victories looked better when they occurred as opposed to now. This battle between Pac-12 heavyweights won’t spell the demise of each respective team, but it’ll bounce the loser out of the CFP discussion.

The Pac-12 has been known for its offense, but Utah has played a different brand of football from the rest of the conference this season. Without star quarterback Cam Rising, the Utes have only scored more than 30 three times this season. Despite a less-than-stellar offense, they’ve won by defending well against the pass and especially the run. Utah ranks top-15 in total yards allowed and allows the sixth-least yards per game on the ground. While the defense has been phenomenal, the offense seems to be getting right at the perfect time. Over the past two games, Utah has averaged 34 points and 463.5 yards per game.

Quarterback Bryson Barnes, who’s taken over for the injured Cam Rising, has stepped up as of late. He had his best game of the season in a win against the USC Trojans. Barnes threw for a career-high 235 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 57 yards and a score on the ground. With improved play from the sport’s most important position, the Utes now have a solid passing game to go along with their emerging ground game. Utah has had a different player in each of the past two games go over 100 yards on the ground. A well-balanced passing and rushing attack is crucial to score on the Duck’s vaunted defense. In Oregon’s only loss of the season, Washington passed for more than 300 yards and had a running back go for 100 yards on the ground.

After Oregon’s defeat at the hands of their rivals, the Washington Huskies, the Ducks are looking for a statement win. Oregon is one of the most well-rounded teams in all of college football. The Ducks are one of three teams to have a top-20 offense and defense in terms of yardage. Oregon is especially dominant on offense, as they lead the nation in yards per game. Quarterback Bo Nix leads the way. He’s already amassed over 2000 yards through the air to go along with 19 touchdown passes. Nix has only been intercepted once and taken four sacks. The Ducks have put up at least 33 points in every contest thus far behind Nix’s Heisman campaign.

Although the Utes seem to be on the up-and-up, Oregon is such a well-rounded squad on both sides of the ball. The Ducks can move the ball using the pass or the run. The Ducks have two running backs with over 450 yards on the ground. And, six players with more than 200 receiving yards. The Ducks can beat you in a myriad of ways and have a great defense to boot. As previously mentioned, Utah looks to be improving on offense, but the improvement has come against teams with subpar defenses, USC and Cal. It’d take a lot for Utah to come out victorious, and it starts with being able to move the ball through the air. This game is huge for Barnes and the Ducks will do all they can to pressure the quarterback.

My pick: Oregon wins 30-24

The Undercard:

#18 Louisville vs #20 Duke (+4.5) 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday, October 29 on ESPN

The other ranked matchup on the books is between two schools typically synonymous with quality basketball programs, Louisville and Duke. However, this matchup between ACC foes will occur on the gridiron. Both squads have surprised thus far, as neither was poised for a great season. Louisville the year with their over/under for wins set at 8.0 and Duke’s was set at 6.0. It’s extremely likely that both teams will surpass these projections given Louisville is 6-1 and Duke is 5-2.

Unfortunately for Duke’s chances, quarterback Riley Leonard’s availability is up in the air. The junior quarterback sprained his ankle a few weeks ago and had to be taken out last weekend as he seemingly re-injured the same ankle against Florida State. On the other hand, Duke has relied on a dominant defense through eight weeks of action. The Blue Devils only allow 13.9 points per game, good for fifth in the nation. Like the week nine headliner, this game can be described as two teams that operate with a different approach.

Louisville has an explosive offense that ranks top-20 in yards per game. Quarterback Jack Plummer has nearly thrown for 2000 yards, but is prone to turnovers as he has tossed eight interceptions and fumbled five times. Besides Plummer, stands running back Jawhar Jordan, who has turned 89 carries into 661 yards and eight touchdowns. And downfield, Plummer typically targets receiver Jamari Thrash. Thrash has accumulated 23 more catches and 416 more yards than the next-best receiver on the squad.

If Lenoard misses this game or doesn’t look healthy, it’ll be tough sledding for the Blue Devils. The Duke offense would have to be more one-dimensional than they already are. And that’s a good thing for the Cardinals. Louisville allows less than 100 yards per game on the ground. This affair will truly come down to Leonard’s availability. If he plays, his running ability will surely be limited, thus limiting the Blue Devil’s attack. The Cardinals are the more well-balanced squad, therefore they have much more margin for error than Duke does.

My pick: Louisville wins 27-17