Today is the day. It's Christmas in early December, if you will. Today, December 5th, is the Pac-12 Championship Game, and later on this evening at 9/6 EST, a pristine football will be clobbered off a tee and sent spiraling into the night at the San Francisco 49ers brand-new home, Levi's Stadium.
Ahead of the contest, we're going to take a look at five things that need to go right for each team in order for them to come out victorious. Based on the nearly 3000 votes on the site, the Oregon Ducks come in as heavy favorites, with 85 percent of our audience siding with the Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota campaign. The Las Vegas betting line agrees with variations such as -13.5 or -14.5 point favorites for the Pac-12 North Champions.
With that being said, let's give some credence to the underdogs and let them go first. Even if they did beat the Ducks on their home turf earlier this season...
Force turnovers from Marcus Mariota
Yes, this sounds incredibly easy to say. Just like, "see ball, hit ball," or learning how to ice skate. If the Wildcats could somehow program their game plan to include turnovers from the nation's stingiest quarterback, and surefire top-5 pick in next season's NFL Draft, they'd already have this contest wrapped up.
Mariota throwing an interception just isn't likely. It defies logic to believe that in 334 pass attempts, he could only be picked off twice, but Mariota is the once-in-a-generation talent that causes logic to be defied. As most know, the ‘Cats clinched the win on October 2nd with a forced fumble from Scooby Wright III, which leads us to another key factor.
Scooby Wright III will need a heroic performance
Popular wisdom tells us that Wright had a brilliant game in Eugene back in October, but the numbers simply don't back it up. His game-clinching strip-sack was impressive no doubt, but he would tie for his season-low in tackles with seven. And that was with the Ducks' debilitated offensive line that did not do a well enough job of getting to the second level to block players like Wright.
In five separate games this season, Wright had more than a dozen tackles. This is the same player who is a First-Team All-Pac-12 Defensive selection, the conference's Defensive Player of the Year, forced three fumbles against Washington State in late October, and then had three sacks of another future NFL quarterback in Brett Hundley the following week. His reputation precedes him, but in order for U of A to have a chance to at the College Football Playoff, Scooby will have to be the catalyst on defense.
Pound the ball to Nick Wilson
In the now-famous October meeting between the two teams, it was actually Terris Jones-Grigsby who saw the majority of the carries, getting it 27 times for 115 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with just over two minutes to play.
Nick Wilson tore apart the three non-conference opponents he faced for 100+-yard games, but once Pac-12 play began, there was a bit of an adjustment period. He would pound out 92 yards on the ground against the Ducks, rushing for two touchdowns and catching another one, but against the combination of California, Washington State and UCLA, he combined for just 69 yards and one touchdown.
Then out of his shell he came. His last four games have seen him rush for more than 100 yards in each, with eight touchdowns in his last three games alone. He nearly single-handedly obliterated both Utah and Arizona State, rushing for three touchdowns each to help put the ‘Cats in this position.
Now, Wilson is running the best he has all season long. On top of that, the Ducks don't have a true gauge on what they're getting, as Jones-Grigsby was the primary ball carrier the last time the two met. The road to the College Football Playoff will have to be paved by Wilson.
Keep it simple for Anu Solomon
Hampered by injury, the ‘Cats will need to understand that Solomon isn't the same dynamic player they had back in October.
In his last five outings, Solomon has had a high of 242 yards passing. On October 2 in Eugene, he tossed around the pigskin for 287, but that many may not be necessary this time around. As they showed in their defeat of Arizona State, they're willing to allow the run game to dictate the pace and tempo, while having Solomon be the cerebral leader they've come to know and trust. He hasn't thrown an interception since November 15.
Hit a Special Teams "Home Run"
All season long, the ‘Cats have only had two touchdowns on either a kick or a punt return. In his only kick return of the season, Cayleb Jones took the ball 44 yards to the house, and Davonte' Neal, the team's primary punt returner had the other. Calling for something such as a kick or punt return seems like quite the specific request, but in order to topple the giant that has become the Oregon Ducks, they'll need any and all momentum shifts.