Utah completed a journey on Friday night that will go down in program lore when the No. 17 Utes blasted No. 10 Oregon 38-10 for the program's first Pac-12 title. The dominant victory over the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game also clinches Utah's first appearance in the Rose Bowl, where they will meet either Iowa or Ohio State.
The outcome came just 13 days after a 38-7 win for Utah against Oregon that clinched the Pac-12 South for the Utes. The rematch was just as dominant, and it took just one drive for Utah to establish that it had no intentions of letting the Ducks get revenge. The Utes went 61 yards on nine plays to score on the game's opening possession and never looked back.
Utah limited Oregon to just 221 total yards as the Utes finally got over the hump to stand atop the league after a disastrous 1-2 start to their season. The win is especially meaningful to the program because of the tragedy it has endured in recent months. Two Utah players, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, have died in the past year with Lowe's shooting death rocking the program to its core in September.
The Utes have honored their fallen teammates in various ways throughout the season and Friday's performance was yet another fitting tribute. Utah stopped Oregon from becoming the first program to ever win three straight Pac-12 Championship games and avenged a 37-15 loss to the Ducks in the 2019 league title game that eliminated the Utes from College Football Playoff contention.
Star linebacker Devin Lloyd took home the game's MVP award. He finished with seven tackles and a tone-setting interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter to put the Utes up 14-0.
New heights for the Utes
There's little doubt this marks Utah's plateau as a Power Five program. Utah went undefeated with wins in the Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl in 2004 and 2008, respectively. But those accomplishments came when the program was still in the Mountain West. Then, the Utes were on the verge of the CFP in 2019 before losing in the league title game to Oregon and winding up in the Alamo Bowl.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham is in his 17th season and has been on the Utah staff since 1994. This accomplishment is an affirmation of the culture he's built and sustained over the long haul in a sport that often lacks stability. Perhaps it could be a launching pad to even greater things.
If the CFP had a 12-team field this season, the Utes would have a compelling case for inclusion as an at-large team and would be in the field if power conference champions received automatic bids. A team like this, which grinds you down with defense and toughness, would be a nightmare draw in a first-round game. As it stands, a Rose Bowl appearance will bring plenty to play for with a team firing on all cylinders
Where does Oregon go from here?
This was a concerning performance for the Oregon program. The questions around head coach Mario Cristobal's future are swirling amid speculation that he's a top candidate for the Miami job if the Hurricanes part with Manny Diaz. Expect for that speculation to only ramp up now that Oregon is done playing until its bowl game.
Even if Cristobal returns for a fifth season at Oregon, there are issues to address. This team has been bullied two times in the last three weeks by a more physical Utah team. Also, don't forget that while the Ducks did technically win the 2020 Pac-12 Championship, they only played in the game because of COVID-19 issues within Washington. Oregon is just 11-6 over its last 17 games.
One thing appears certain: there will be a much-needed offensive overhaul. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is expected to be the next head coach at Akron and quarterback Anthony Brown is out of eligibility. Ty Thompson, a five-star quarterback from the 2021 Class, is waiting in the wings to take the gig. The next iteration of the Oregon offense will need to be more explosive if this program is legitimately going to compete for a spot in the four-team CFP.
Pac-12 pecking order
Utah's victory keeps Oregon from winning a third consecutive Pac-12 Championship and illustrates just how up for grabs the league remains. The Utes are certainly a force in the Pac-12 South, having won three division titles in the last four seasons. But that successful run has coincided with a down period for USC.
New Trojans' coach Lincoln Riley ought to be encouraged by what he saw Friday night. If a Utah team with recruiting classes consistently ranking in the 30s and 40s of the 247Sports team rankings is running this conference, Riley should like his chances of quickly getting the Trojans in the league title mix.