2014 PAC-12 Championship Game Preview: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 7 Arizona
Friday night, the 2014 PAC 12 Championship Game will take place between the number two Oregon Ducks and number seven Arizona Wildcats. The matchup of the Ducks and Wildcats comes as a huge surprise in comparison to preseason picks by most.
The Ducks were expected to be here and they endured the marathon of the season to get to this point. On the other side the Arizona Wildcats not only have made the PAC 12 title game, but enter this game as a top ten team.
The job that Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez has done is nothing short of masterful. He has brought a team used to being in the bottom portion of the PAC 12 to not only PAC 12 title contention, but national title contention with their seventh place ranking in the latest edition of the College Football Playoff rankings.
Earlier this season these two teams met in Oregon and the Wildcats pulled off the massive upset. At the time it was believed to be one of the biggest upsets of the entire season, but as the season progressed and Arizona showed how great they were it was less of a shock.
The Ducks not only lost their previous meeting this season, but the Wildcats also defeated Oregon last year costing them a shot at the Rose Bowl. Arizona crushed Oregon 42-16 in 2013 and helped build momentum for the Wildcats entering this 2014 season.
All of those memories for Oregon can be erased with a win on Friday night in the PAC 12 title game. It will be a tough task to say the least, but how will the game play out in this top ten clash for the PAC 12 title?
The Ducks are led by Heisman front running candidate Marcus Mariota. Mariota leads the nation in touchdowns responsible for with 48. This stat, along with the nation’s top quarterback rating, has put him in the lead as the Heisman Trophy favorite with one week left to play.
Mariota decided to not enter the NFL Draft this past spring just for this moment, to win a PAC 12 title and make the first annual College Football Playoff and anything short of that will be a disappointement for both him and the entire Oregon team.
The Arizona Wildcats have a dynamic quarterback of their own with freshman Anu Solomon. Solomon has thrown for 3,424 yards this season and accounted for 27 passing touchdowns. Solomon also has the dimension of running the football at the quarterback position, which is crucial in a Rich Rodriguez offense.
This game will certainly come down to which quarterback has the best night and mistake free football is a must for whichever team hopes to win. The Ducks and Wildcats both run an extreme version of the up tempo offense at times. That can lead to mistakes at times and that is where the veteran presence of Mariota has to payoff for Oregon.
The Ducks will look to attack the Wildcats down field and test the defensive backs in the pass game. I think Oregon needs to do this to help open up the run game and take pressure off of Mariota and the run game.
In their meeting earlier this year, Mariota was sacked, hit and hurried numerous of times because of the Arizona front four. The Ducks had multiple injuries on the offensive line in that earlier meeting, but now with a healthy offensive line Oregon should be more equipped to handle the Arizona pressure.
I feel the huge X-factor in this game will turn out being freshman running back for Oregon, Royce Freeman. Freeman has emerged as Oregon’s game breaker the second half of the season and he will be valuable to help ease that pass rush of Arizona.
So, how will this game play out when all is said and done? I believe the Arizona Wildcats will be able to score on Oregon because of their explosive offense. The difference this time around will be the health of the Oregon offensive line.
The rest of the season compared to that October 2nd loss to Arizona for Oregon is night and day. The Ducks were not themselves physically or mentally when they suffered that loss to the Wildcats, but as I mentioned earlier Mariota returned just for this moment.
Mariota wanted to return for a possible Heisman Trophy run, which he has appeared to have wrapped up already. He also wanted to lead the Ducks to a PAC 12 title and that will be step number two. He can accomplish step two on Friday with this win against Arizona and help him get to the final and greatest goal, a national title.
The Ducks will revenge their last two losses to Arizona on Friday night and earn the crown as PAC 12 champions. In my preseason picks I not only had Oregon winning the PAC 12 title, but the Ducks were my national title pick for 2014 and for that to happen they obviously have to win this game on Friday.
The Ducks will play with revenge on their mind and with the leadership of Mariota they will get the job done. Oregon can’t afford to have a letdown on Friday as they have been known to have at times in their past. If they happen to lose, it could mean trouble for their program in the future.
In conclusion, I have the Oregon Ducks defeating the Arizona Wildcats 38-27 in the 2014 PAC 12 title game. Mariota will make sure his Ducks do not fall to the Wildcats for a third straight time and ruin his national title dreams that he returned to school for this season.
Oregon wins and moves on to the final four for a shot to win their first national title in college football. The season has been a great one for Oregon and it will continue on Friday night in what is expected to be a thrilling PAC 12 Championship Game.