Wilner Hotline – Pac-12 Title Game Preview, Week 14 Notes

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Six need-to-knows for Week 14 in Pac-12 football …

1. The ratings game

Utah and Oregon collide Friday for the second time in three weeks and for the second time in three years in the Pac-12 championship game.

The conference would be thrilled if this duel generates as many eyeballs as the 2019 title tango.

Oregon’s lopsided victory was the second most-watched Pac-12 championship of the 10 played thus far, generating a 3.5 rating and 5.86 million viewers.

The top-rated title game of them all came in 2014, when Oregon’s victory over Arizona pulled in a 3.7 rating and 6.0 million viewers.

Both the ’14 and ’19 affairs had something in common: College Football Playoff repercussions.

— In ’14, the Ducks were a victory away from clinching a berth in the first-ever playoff and featured the soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner (quarterback Marcus Mariota).

— In ’19, the Utes were No. 5 in the playoff rankings and very much alive for a bid (until their loss).

Also, the third most-watched Pac-12 championship carried playoff implications: Washington’s 2016 win over Colorado sent the Huskies into the semifinals.

(The ratings and viewership figures are taken from the SportsMediaWatch database.)

No playoff berth is on the line this year, which could impact the audience. Oregon is No. 10 in the current playoff rankings, while Utah is No. 17. The winner will head to the Rose Bowl; the loser is likely headed to the Alamo Bowl.

Here are the viewership totals for the nine titles games in the SportsMediaWatch database, which does not include the 2011 matchup between Oregon and UCLA:

(Note: Saturday games in italics.)

6.0 million: Oregon vs Arizona in 2014
5.86 million: Oregon vs. Utah in 2019
5.67 million: Washington vs. Colorado in 2016
4.9 million: Stanford vs. UCLA in 2012
4.05 million: Washington vs. Utah in 2018
3.85 million: Oregon vs. USC in 2020
3.65 million: Stanford vs. USC in 2017
2.58 million: Stanford vs. USC in 2015
1.45 million: Stanford vs. ASU in 2013

Our best guess for Friday: about four million viewers — an audience comparable to the Washington-Utah game in 2018.

2. Sweeps, not splits

This is the seventh time in 11 seasons that the Pac-12 championship game has been a rematch of a game played earlier in the season.

The winner of the first game is 5-1 in the rematch.

The only reversal of fortune came in 2014, when Arizona beat Oregon early in the season and the Ducks returned the favor with a 51-13 blowout on the big stage.

3. Hello, Las Vegas

The championship game was supposed to make its debut in Allegiant Stadium last year, only to get uprooted by the pandemic and moved to the L.A. Coliseum.

It’s the third Pac-12 championship event relocated to Las Vegas, following the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

Of note for fans attending the game, per the conference office:

“The Pac-12 Football Championship Game will follow local health authority protocols in Las Vegas.  Currently, all fans must wear masks at public indoor venues, and that includes Allegiant Stadium.”

4. Our prediction

The Utes are favored by 2.5 points on the strength of their 38-7 victory two weeks ago in Salt Lake City.

The decisive factor that night will be decisive again Friday: success at the line of scrimmage.

Two statistics stand out from the first meeting:

— Utah rushed for 208 yards against an Oregon defense that typically allows 124 yards per game.

— Oregon’s offense, which averages 214 yards per game on the ground, managed just 68 that night.

If the Utes once again dominate upfront, their first conference championship — and first-ever Rose Bowl appearance — will follow.

We like Oregon, 27-23.

5. Saturday nightcap

The Pac-12 regular season will conclude 24 hours after the conference championship.

The bizarre scheduling situation is straight out of 2020. Because of a spike in COVID cases, the Bears were unable to play Nov. 13 as scheduled.

USC agreed to move the game to Dec. 4 out of fairness to Cal and so its players wouldn’t miss out on 1/12 of their season.

It’s the final college football game of the 2021 regular season, save for Army-Navy. Once it concludes, we’ll have two weeks before the Pac-12 bowl season begins.

6. Big Sunday

The College Football Playoff teams will be revealed Sunday at 9 a.m. (ESPN), followed a few hours later by the matchups for the New Year’s Six games, which include the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State is expected to represent the Big Ten in Pasadena, opposite the Oregon-Utah winner.

All the Pac-12 bowl pairings — in the Alamo, Las Vegas, Holiday, Sun and LA bowls — should be announced by approximately 2 p.m.

Support the Hotline: Receive three months of unlimited access for just 99 cents. Yep, that’s 99 cents for 90 days, with the option to cancel anytime. Details are here, and thanks for your support.

*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to pac12hotline@bayareanewsgroup.com or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.