The first College Football Playoff rankings are released on Tuesday, and it’s perhaps fitting to happen on Halloween.
While the clock won’t strike midnight and turn contenders into pumpkins just yet, the time is now for a few teams to turn up the intensity.
Oregon and Utah meet Saturday in what is almost certainly a CFP “loser out” matchup.
Despite a disappointing loss by USC at Notre Dame, the Pac-12 is enjoying a high-profile position in its final season as we know it. The rising tide has lifted all boats, including the Ducks and Utes.
Saturday’s matchup in Salt Lake carries realistic CFP implications in particular for the Ducks. With only one defeat, Oregon would likely be on the good side of a CFP final four vote if it wins out.
We have a tasty parlay for our betting choice along with news, notes and quotes.
–Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., ET
–Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City.
–Point Spread, Total: Oregon -6.5; Total 47.5
Among the myriad factors applied to the CFP ranking system is strength of schedule; not only the opponents, but the opponents of those opponents.
That means the Pac-12’s top half, five of whom are in this week’s AP Top 25, brings serious substance to conference contenders.
Oregon’s lone loss was at No. 5 Washington; Utah fell to No. 19 Oregon State – and upset USC last Saturday in Los Angeles.
In an atypical year – Pac-12 fans aren’t so readily able to complain about a lack of national respect – Oregon lost very little CFP traction in its 36-33 road defeat in Seattle.
The Action Network power ratings, for example, have the Ducks all the way up at No. 4. The ratings, according to Action, “aim to judge the true quality of a team based on advanced metrics, coaching changes, year-over-year roster continuity … and a host of other underlying components.”
Ducks QB Bo Nix, who sits sixth on the BetMGM Heisman futures list, faces a make-or-break Saturday but is skilled and experienced enough to handle the road pressure.
Bookmakers opened Oregon as a three-point favorite but saw the early money drive the spread past six points.
The Ducks now have enough video of Utah quarterbacks Bryson Barnes – who threw three TDs and rushed for 57 yards against USC – and backup Nate Johnson to cultivate a winning defensive scheme.
The pick: Oregon 27, Utah 21
The bet: Alternate spread/total: Oregon -2.5, Total over 41.5 (+100 at BetMGM).
The Ducks have more firepower with an offense that ranks second nationally in scoring (47 points per game) and total offense (551.6 yards per game).
Nix, who made his NCAA-record 54th career start at quarterback last week, has passed for 2,089 yards, 19 touchdowns and one interception this season. That pick is the lone turnover committed by the Ducks, who have the fewest in the nation.
Utah is tied for third with just four turnovers.
The Utes rank 96th in scoring (23.4 ppg) and 98th in total offense (345.0 ypg). The attack has been spruced up by having standout safety Sione Vaki (tied for the team lead with 35 tackles) play on both sides of the ball.
Vaki caught two touchdown passes and compiled 217 yards last week in Utah’s 34-32 road victory over then-No. 18 Southern California. He caught five passes for 149 yards and rushed nine times for 68 more.
“The impact he makes on offense is actually bigger than the impact he has on defense,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “And he’s one of the best safeties in the country, so that tells you how valuable he has been for us.”
Utah ranks 11th in scoring defense (15.0 ppg) and 14th in total defense (295.4 ypg).
The Utes, No. 5 nationally in rush defense at 78 yards per game, face a daunting challenge in trying to execute a repeat performance on Ducks standout Bucky Irving.
Irving, who has rolled up 649 rushing yards this season, had just 20 yards on 10 carries in Oregon’s 20-17 home win over the Utes last season.
He scored three touchdowns last week against Washington State when he put up a season-best 129 yards and posted 127 rushing yards against Washington.
THEY SAID IT
“I would say his heart is pounding out of his chest. This dude is so passionate, he cares so much for his teammates and never goes down on first contact. Really selfless player, and I think that really shows up when you see this guy play on the field.”
–Oregon coach Dan Lanning on Ducks running back Bucky Irving
–Field Level Media