PAC-12 Championship Preview: No. 4 Washington Huskies vs. No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes
When the 2016 college football season commenced, the No. 4 Washington Huskies (11-1) were expected to vie for the PAC-12 North title. From the opening kick, the Huskies battered opponents and raced out to a (9-0) record. Back to back wins over Stanford and Oregon solidified the Huskies return to glory, but they were still thought to be outsider when it came to the College Football Playoff.
The Huskies received so little respect, they were voted as the No. 5 team in the first College Football Playoff rankings. The first three teams were undefeated. However, the Huskies were topped by the 1-loss Texas A&M Aggies in the first edition. It seems funny now, but the Huskies are still battling the stigma of playing in the PAC-12. Therefore, a win over the No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes (10-2) won't guarantee a spot in the Final Four.
No. 4 Washington Huskies vs. No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes
When: Friday, 9:00 p.m. ET
Where: Levi Stadium- Santa Clara, CA
The PAC-12 should have the most cache of all the conference championship games this weekend. First of all, the quarterback match up is the best thing going. Jake Browning torched defenses, completing 65 percent of his passes this season. He added 40 touchdown passes and seven interception. His lone blemish came during the shocking loss to the USC Trojans last month.
Meanwhile, Sefo Liufau led the Buffaloes to their best record since the turn of the century. Due to injury, Liufao only threw for 11 touchdown passes, but he completed 64.6 percent of his passes this season. Furthermore, Liufau only threw three interceptions in 2016. More importantly, the Buffaloes scored over 34.8 points per game during their run through the PAC-12 South.
Both teams suffered one loss in conference play. Interestingly enough, they both lost to the Trojans. However, the Buffaloes second loss came to the Michigan Wolverines. Therefore, an upset victory can really hurt the PAC-12 on Friday. Even though the Huskies aren't guaranteed a spot in the Final Four, they'll have a great chance with a win. As for the Buffaloes, they are ranked behind five teams participating in championship weekend. They are also behind a pair of Big Ten teams that have the weekend off. Due to their early season loss to the Michigan Wolverines, Colorado could find themselves complaining to the selection committee on Sunday. How much will the conference championship be worth?
Defensive Battle In Store?
Both teams have legitimate defenses. The Huskies are slightly better on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to scoring. They hold opponents to 17.8 points per game, while Colorado gives up 18.8 points per game. Part of their greatness is due to the early portion of the schedule. However, they have dominated teams in the PAC-12. First of all, they held Stanford and Christian McCaffrey to six points. Last week, the Huskies throttled the Washington State Cougars in a 45-17 win. In fact, not one opponent scored more than 28 points against the Huskies in 2016.
The Buffaloes have an elite pass defense. So far, they are giving up 187 passing yards per game. In the PAC-12, that's a magnificent number. They'll be thoroughly tested by the Huskies wide receivers. Tedric Thompson leads the Buffaloes with seven interceptions. In fact, he accounted for three interceptions in the last two games vs. Washington State and Utah. He also recorded 55 tackles during a stellar senior season.
The Washington Huskies put up incredible numbers this season. Running back Myles Gaskin led the offense with 1180 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, they might have to worry about Lavon Coleman a little bit more. Coleman gained 735 yards on 89 rush attempts. He also scored 3 of his six touchdowns in the last two games. Sometimes it's not the main attraction that gets you in the big games. Therefore, the Buffaloes can't relax when Coleman enters the game.
Meanwhile, everybody knows where Browning is throwing the ball. Now the defense has to stop it. John Ross and Dante Pettis are lethal in the passing game. First of all, Ross caught 72 passes for 1071 and 16 touchdowns. Meanwhile Pettis recorded 49 receptions for 789 yards and 14 touchdowns. That means two players combined for 75 percent of Browning's touchdown passes. The Buffaloes must also be aware of Chico McClatcher and his big play ability.
Phillip Lindsay is one of the best all-purpose running backs in the country. He carried the ball 211 times for 1,136 yards and 16 touchdowns. Lindsay also caught 44 passes for 371 yards and one score. All four of his 100-yard games came in the second half of the season. Yet, Lindsay should be fresh to carry the ball as many times as possible. He only received 12 attempts during the win over Utah. Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, Washington only gives up 3.5 yards per carry. Therefore, the Buffaloes might not stick with the running game if they fell behind early. Keep in mind, the Buffaloes average 48 rush attempts per game.
With both teams giving up fewer than 20 points per game, it wouldn't be a shock to see a low scoring game. They each have strong running games, but the Huskies are way better in the passing game. It's the main reason why the Huskies average 10 more points than the Buffaloes. Therefore, Washington could feel the pressure of the game if they don't get off to a fast start. As a result, this game should come down to the fourth quarter.