Pac-12 Championship Preview: No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 4 Washington

Story posted November 30, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Will Dessautelle

Who would’ve ever expected this matchup on championship week? It has been over 15 years since either of these teams has claimed a Pac-12 title, and one of them will finally put an end to the lengthy title drought. 

Despite winning just seven games a year ago, Washington came into this season with plenty of hype. Chris Petersen’s Huskies have lived up to all of the preseason praise and now have a chance to likely punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff with a win over Colorado on Friday night.

A red-hot USC team spoiled the Huskies’ perfect season several weeks ago, but Washington (11-1) has otherwise dominated its competition all year long. Many are still skeptical of this team, mostly due to their subpar strength of schedule, but Washington is one of the best in the country on both sides of the ball.

Colorado (10-2) has been an even bigger surprise this season. After beginning the season unranked, Mike MacIntyre’s squad finished the regular season with six straight victories to win a competitive Pac-12 South division. Their only two losses came on the road to two excellent teams in Michigan and USC. The Buffaloes will also be looking to snap their six game losing streak against the Huskies. 

Washington has one of the most balanced offenses in the country led by quarterback Jake Browning, who has put himself in the Heisman conversation with his performance this season. Browning has tossed 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and is second among power five quarterbacks in passer rating.

Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman have been a dependable one-two punch on the ground all year long, while John Ross and Dante Pettis are both NFL caliber receivers.

Colorado’s offense may not have the same level of high-profile talent as Washington, but this group is experienced and owns the eighth best turnover margin nationally. Sefo Liufau is a smart dual-threat quarterback and has been a tremendous leader for the Buffaloes’ offense. A three-time captain, Liufau has thrown only 11 touchdowns this season, but he throws an accurate deep ball and is a difference maker with his mobility.

Phillip Lindsay has rushed for over 1,000 yards with 15 touchdowns this season, while averaging five yards per carry. Then there’s the receiving trio of Shay Fields, Devin Ross, and Bryce Bobo, which is as good as any in college football.

Washington’s 10th ranked scoring defense in the country is led by a stout defensive line. Elijah Qualls, Vita Vea, and Greg Gaines have done a superb job of applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Losing star linebackers Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis for the season has left this defense somewhat depleted, but Keishawn Bierria, the team’s active leader in tackles, has stepped up and been great for this unit. The cream of the crop for this defense though, is the secondary, led by Budda Baker and Sidney Jones. Both are experienced and highly skilled. They will be a difficult challenge for the Colorado passing attack.

The Colorado defense has plenty of size up front and has allowed only 135.9 rushing yards per game this season. The Buffaloes feature one of the best pass rushers in the Pac-12 in Jimmie Gilbert, who compiled nine sacks, twelve tackles for loss, and six forced fumbles in the regular season. Rick Gamboa and N.J. Falo have also been tackling machines for Colorado to pad their solid run defense.

Similar to Washington, Colorado’s secondary is terrific and has been the strongest unit for this defense. The Buffaloes own the top passing defense in the Pac-12, allowing just 187.8 passing yards per game. Tedric Thompson’s seven interceptions rank third nationally, while his 21 passes defended lead the FBS. He along with Chidobe Awuzie, Afolabi Laguda, and Ahkello Witherspoon will be a great test for this potent Washington passing game.

The most intriguing matchup in this game will probably be between the two quarterbacks. Browning and Liufau are two different types of signal-callers who will be pivotal in determining the result of this contest. 

Browning has more talent around him, and if he can take care of the ball, Washington will be much more likely to win. Liufau, on the other hand, has a lot more pressure on him and will need to play one of the best games of his career to knock off the Huskies.

Third-down production and red-zone efficiency will be vital for the Colorado offense in this game. If they can capitalize in these areas, they will get their shot.

This game has a chance to be one of the best of the year. Washington is a bit shorthanded on defense as of late, which Liufau and the Colorado offense will exploit. Colorado will be able to score against the Huskies’ defense and hang around all game. But the difference down the stretch will be Jake Browning and his explosive receiving corps. Colorado’s secondary hasn’t faced an offense with this kind of firepower yet. They will get a few key stops throughout the game, but Browning will throw for another 250-plus yards and a couple of clutch touchdown passes to give the Huskies their first Pac-12 title since 2000, as well as their first College Football Playoff appearance.

Prediction: Washington 26, Colorado 24

 

Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email willdesautelle@gmail.com.