Week 11 Preview: Oregon at Utah

Oregon (8-1) at Utah (6-2) Nov. 8, 10:00, ESPN 

Here’s The Deal: Oregon’s blueprint for a first-ever national championship is beginning to come into focus. 

Survive the next three regular season games, beat the Pac-12 South representative and then start preparing for the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Ducks took another enormous step toward the game’s promised land, routing nemesis Stanford to move up to No. 4 in the latest rankings. But Oregon isn’t done facing tough, physical teams that don’t typically beat themselves. And unlike the games with Michigan State and the Cardinal, this test will take place on the road. 

No. 17 Utah revels in these kinds of opportunities to play the spoiler. Night game. Fired-up crowd. And a chance to make a national splash. The Utes have only lost a pair of games in 2014, by four combined points, including last weekend’s heartbreaker to Arizona State, 19-6. And they’ve already handled UCLA and USC, so the doubts about this program’s ability to compete in the Pac-12 have now dissipated. 

Why Oregon Might Win: Too much offensive firepower. 

Okay, so Utah is ornery on defense, which could tamp down the production of the Duck attack. But even if Marcus Mariota and the gang are off their usual 45-point pace, it’ll still be enough to outscore the Ute offense. Remove the first two games with Idaho State and Fresno State, and Utah is averaging only 25 points per game. And without Dres Anderson on the outside to stretch the defense, it’s going to be all RB Devontae Booker all the time. Oregon has enough playmakers, such as backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and an improving collection of receivers, to keep the Utes at an arm’s length distance. 

Why Utah Might Win: The Utes have a penchant for dragging opponents out of their comfort zone. 

The Ducks want to speed things up, but the Utes operate at a very different tempo. They make teams earn everything they get on offense, which will frustrate a program like Oregon. Every Utah opponent this fall scored less against the Utes than its current scoring average. Kyle Whittingham’s kids win at the point of attack, leading the country in sacks behind the oppressive pursuit of ends Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. Yeah, the Ducks have proven this season they can beat rugged, blue-collar opponents, but Utah is still the type of team that can give them a ton of trouble. 

Who To Watch Out For: Will Utah QB Travis Wilson be any threat to an Oregon secondary led by veteran CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and S Erick Dargan? Wilson was already inconsistent, and that was before Anderson was lost to a season-ending injury. Over the last five games, he’s completing only 50% of his passes, which will encourage Duck defensive coordinator Don Pellum to flood the line of scrimmage to slow down Booker. 
What’s Going To Happen: Utah is not a team to be taken lightly, and Oregon knows it. But the Utes won’t have the offensive consistency to parlay a close game early into a signature upset late. 

While the Ducks will have to break a sweat in Salt Lake City, they’ll still get out of town with their national championship hopes intact. Mariota, with help from his myriad playmakers, will eventually break through, staking Oregon to a lead that Wilson & Co. won’t be able to erase. 

Prediction: Oregon 35 … Utah 21 
Line: Oregon -8 o/u: 60 
Must Watch Factor: 5: Sonic Highways – 1: Anything involving Nik Wallenda … 4