By Richard Bowman
It’s finally upon, the PAC-12 Championship is here and it includes quite a few interesting storylines. As of now the (#4)Washington Huskies are sitting pretty in the college football playoff but make no mistake about it, this game will decide their fate. (#8)Colorado is a quality team but Washington will need a good performance if they want to secure their spot in the playoff, a loss or an uninspiring win could see them watching the playoff instead of being in it. It wasn’t too long ago that Washington got bullied by USC, however, they have responded with two blowout wins including a 28 point win over (#22)Washington St. last week. Both of these teams are very similar, they’re both built around a balanced offense that can put points on the board and good defense. For Washington, this game is about making a statement while Colorado would love nothing more than to play the role of spoiler.
How They Got Here
Before the college football season got underway neither of these teams were ranked in the top 10 in either the AP Top 25 or the Coaches Poll. Washington was ranked #14 in both while Colorado was unranked heading into the season. Washington started the season strong scoring at least 35 points in their first four games while allowing only allowing more than 15 one time(against Arizona), however, they really put themselves on the map when they blew out #7 ranked Stanford at the time, 44-6. Washington would then win another four straight before losing to (#11)USC, 26-13 just a weeks ago, however, they were able to bounce back winning their last two, and now find themselves in a win-and-in college playoff scenario.
The(#8)Colorado Buffaloes, they weren’t ranked until around a month into the season, they had an early loss to Michigan, which was and still is not a bad loss, however after being ranked, they would find themselves out of the top 25 until they shutdown and held Stanford to just five points in Stanford. Over the past month, Colorado has surged through the top 25 including two wins over ranked opponents(#20 Washington St., #21 Utah) with both those wins coming these past few weeks. Colorado has a lot of momentum heading into this match-up, they might not be able to play in the playoff but they would love nothing more than to spoil Washington’s playoff dreams.
Led by a high-powered offense that is averaging nearly 45 points per game featuring arguably the best-receiving duo in the nation in John Ross and Dante Pettis as well running backs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman and quarterback Jake Browning. Despite, Browning’s great season Washington is a very balanced offense. On average, they run almost 9 more rushing plays a game than passing plays, which would surprise most when you factor in Browning’s 40 touchdown passes. On defense, Washington is no slouch either as evident in their performance last week vs their rival Washington St. when they held the Cougars to just 17 points(averaging 40 ppg) while picking off three passes and holding them to just 65 yards rushing on 24 carries. Washington currently sits at 17th when it comes to yards allowed per game, 16th in redzone defense, and they aren’t too far behind in both passing and rushing defense either. Defensively it has been all about playing as a unit for Washington as eleven different players have interceptions, 18 different players have sacks, and 14 having forced fumbles. Washington is a very talented team but they’ve made it this far playing as a team with many different people contributing, they might not be the most popular team because of playing on the west coast but there’s no denying their quality and talent.
Despite sharing some similarities with Washington, the Buffaloes are different in many areas, especially when it comes to quarterback. Senior QB Sefo Liufau is making the most of his senior season, after a hot start to the season which included a three touchdown performance vs Michigan, the senior quarterback suffered an ankle injury. However, he was able to return in three weeks and while he might not have been the main reason for the team’s success this season, his leadership and will to win has really helped Colorado this season. In total, Colorado only has 21 passing touchdowns this season with one of those coming from receiver Bryce Bobo. Liufau currently leads the team with eleven while backup quarterback Steven Montez has nine. Running back Phillip Lindsey has carried the load on the ground, his 15 rushing touchdowns ranks first in the PAC-12 and his 16 total touchdowns put him just one behind John Ross for most total touchdowns by a skill position player in the PAC-12. At receiver Colorado has relied on a collective effort from Shay Fields, Devin Ross, and Bryce Bobo. This might be Colorado’s biggest weakness offensively, they aren’t necessarily weak at receiver but if Washington starts to get going offensively then Colorado will have a lot of problems. Defensively, Colorado has an insane pass defense with solid rushing defense. The secondary led by senior Tedric Thompson has held opposing passing attacks to just 187.8 yards per game while only allowing 13 passing touchdowns to the team’s 15 interceptions with Thompson providing seven of those interceptions(3rd in the nation). Colorado also ranks #4 in the nation when it comes to redzone defense.
Colorado’s rushing defense might not be as impressive as their passing and redzone defense but they make it work. They’re currently 33rd in the nation which is still impressive and have held opposing running backs to just 3.9 yards per carry. They should see a lot of Myles Gaskin especially if Jake Browning struggles against their secondary. Colorado is by no means a great team if anything they’re this year’s Iowa even though Iowa had a better chance of playing in the playoff last season, Colorado like Iowa has some great strengths but also some big weaknesses that have held them back this season.
Key Match-Ups and Storylines
Washington’s passing attack vs Colorado’s secondary
This is the most obvious key match-up that should decide the game tomorrow night. As I mentioned above Washington has a great passing attack but Colorado’s secondary has made life hell for opposing offenses so far this season. We saw USC have a lot of success defensively vs Washington a few weeks ago. Can Tedric Thompson be the difference maker in this one? He’s got five interceptions these past few weeks. He’ll have the tough job of having to stop either John Ross or Dante Pettis. Colorado can make this game interesting if they’re able to lock up either Pettis or Ross.
Can Sefu Liufau complete the Storybook Ending?
Sefu Liufau is by no means a star in college football, he’s been a serviceable quarterback at Colorado but there’s no denying his impact on Colorado this season. Liufau is from Tacoma Washington which just happens to be close by to where Washington plays their home games, he would love nothing more than to cap off a great senior season by defeating Washington. Last season Liufau a significant foot injury and many believed he wouldn’t ever play college ball again but here he is leading Colorado into the PAC-12 Championship Game. Colorado never won more than four games in a season with Liufau as the starter, he was the quarterback when Colorado went 2-10 and now he is the quarterback of a 10-2 Colorado team playing on the biggest stage in the PAC-12.
Myles Gaskin vs Phillip Lindsey
Two talented running backs playing in a high profile game, they will both need to play good for their respective teams if they want this win. A few weeks ago USC was able to completely shutdown Gaskin and we saw how much Washington struggled offensively after that. Washington will need a balanced effort on offense and Gaskin cannot disappear against a Colorado team that would love nothing more than to play spoiler. Phillip Lindsey can put points on the board and Colorado will need him to do that especially with Sefu Liufau only throwing double digit touchdowns one time since the Michigan game if not then the storybook ending could come to an end for Colorado.
Rundown and Prediction
It’s time for the west coast to showcase their talent on the big stage. Both (#4)Washington and (#8)Colorado are quality teams that are deserving of recognition. For Washington, this game is about showing up on the big stage and prove to the committee and everyone watching that they’re deserving of being in the playoff. Even though Colorado won’t be in the playoff they have a lot to play for, they’ve come a long away from the 2-10 season just a few years ago, they’re led by a senior QB that has overcome the odds and is now leading them into the biggest game Colorado has had in fifteen years. Something’s gotta give.
Prediction: 24-19, Colorado pulls it off and tells the committee to shove it.
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