No. 4 USC must avenge loss to No. 11 Utah to seal CFP bid
The Pac-12 Conference championship game on Friday in Las Vegas offers no shortage of stakes.
No. 4 Southern California is looking both to avenge its lone loss of 2022 and remain in contention for the College Football Playoff, while No. 11 Utah seeks a second straight league title and a shot at Rose Bowl redemption.
USC (11-1) completed its best regular season since 2008 with a 38-27 vicrory over Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Trojans’ place in the conference championship game was already set heading into the regular-season finale, but USC remained alive for a first-ever CFP berth and quarterback Caleb Williams bolstered his Heisman Trophy case with three rushing touchdowns and one passing TD.
“We have bigger goals in mind that I’m a part of,” Williams said at Tuesday’s media availability about being in line to win the Heisman. “I do get a little bit more texts and phone calls … but like I said, trying to block out all the noise.”
Williams’ standout debut season at USC this year included a 381-yard, five-touchdown passing performance when the Trojans last saw Utah on Oct. 15. The Utes ultimately came away with a 43-42 win, however, capped when quarterback Cameron Rising punctuated the last of his three rushing touchdowns on the game with a successful two-point conversion carry. Rising also threw for two scores in the win.
USC coach Lincoln Riley was adamant during his Tuesday media availability that he does not view Friday as “a revenge game.”
“That’s not what this is,” Riley said. “We played a really good football game, as did Utah, up in Salt Lake. It came down to one play here or there. They got us that time. But this is not about that game. This is a new game, a new challenge, a new setting (and) both teams have evolved.”
Utah (9-3) is playing in its fourth Pac-12 title game since 2018 and is looking for its second crown in that span. The Utes dominated Oregon 38-10 in the Pac-12 championship game a season ago, earning the program’s first-ever bid to the Rose Bowl.
The prospects of going back-to-back looked bleak for the Utes last Saturday when Oregon — which owned the head-to-head tiebreaker for the other berth in the conference title game — led rival Oregon State 34-17 in the early fourth quarter.
Twenty-one straight points gave Oregon State the win, which — coupled with Utah’s 63-21 blowout of Colorado later in the day — landed the Utes in Las Vegas.
“As we all know, very difficult to beat a really good team twice, but that’s what our challenge is,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in his press conference on Monday. “SC is ultra-talented, very efficient on offense. I know they’re not No. 1 in total offense, but they’re No. 1 in yards per play, which is to me, is more important.”
Indeed, while USC ranks fifth nationally in total offense at 506.6 yards per game — remarkably, good only for fourth in the Pac-12 — the Trojans’ 7.27 yards per play ranks third nationally behind only Tennessee’s 7.35 and Ohio State’s 7.30.
USC and Ohio State are two of the only three opponents that have posted 40-plus points against Utah over the past two seasons. The Trojans’ 42-point outburst in Salt Lake City was the most the Utes had given up since losing the Rose Bowl to Ohio State 48-45.
Utah kept pace with USC in October thanks in part to tight end Dalton Kincaid, who went for 234 yards receiving in the win.
USC running back Travis Dye rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown against the Utes. He is out due to an injury, but backup Austin Jones gained 154 yards to give USC balance in last week’s defeat of the Fighting Irish.
–Field Level Media