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No. 5 Oregon takes aim at No. 3 Washington in Pac-12 title game

Field Level Media

November 29, 2023 at 4:42 pm.

The final Pac-12 championship game has it all.

An undefeated team. Two top Heisman candidates. The nation’s best two passing attacks. A rematch of a regular-season thriller. A heated regional rivalry. And the winner essentially punches a ticket to the College Football Playoff.

No. 3 Washington (12-0) and No. 5 Oregon (11-1) — two programs headed to the Big Ten in 2024 — will meet Friday night in Las Vegas, where a spot in the CFP and the Heisman race could be decided in the Pac-12’s high-profile swan song.

And here’s one more twist: The Huskies, who won the regular-season meeting 36-33 at home on Oct. 14, were staggering 9.5-point underdogs early in the week.

The reason for that is mostly because the Ducks have surged to six consecutive wins, lead the nation in scoring differential (plus-29.33), and are one of three teams nationally in the top 10 in scoring (second, 45.3 points per game) and scoring defense (seventh, 15.9).

“We’ve got great energy,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said.

“I don’t think it’s really my job to necessarily temper the energy, but more so make sure that we maintain the focus on where it needs to be. And our guys have done a great job of that. They realize that energy doesn’t win games; execution does.”

Oregon quarterback Bo Nix has surpassed Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and LSU’s Jayden Daniels to be the new betting favorite for the Heisman. Nix is second to Daniels nationally in passing efficiency (189.8 rating) and has completed 315 of 401 passes for 3,906 yards with 37 touchdowns and two interceptions.

“He’s playing at an extremely high level and everybody’s seen it right now,” Lanning said. “He’s gotten better and better every single week of the season.”

Penix has slowed a bit since the first half of the season, but he checks in having completed 280 of 427 passes for 3,899 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

With the Ducks steamrolling opponents, there is a sense the programs are on different trajectories, as the Huskies have won three consecutive one-possession games (Utah, at Oregon State, Washington State).

Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said Monday that his team is getting healthier now. That includes wide receiver Jalen McMillan, who caught his first passes in more than two months last week against the Cougars.

“Relative to where we were at in the middle of the season, I think we are healthier,” DeBoer said Monday. “The receiving corps is slowly coming back to being intact, and the offensive line is back to where it was at the beginning of the year. I think we are getting to a good spot when it comes to the health of the team.”

Penix threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns in the first meeting this season. Two wide receivers went more for than 100 yards — Rome Odunze (128) and Ja’Lynn Polk (118) — and now McMillan is back.

Nix had 337 passing yards and two touchdowns against Washington, and he tried to rally the Ducks after a touchdown pass to Odunze put the Huskies up with 1:38 left. Oregon reached the Washington 25 before trying a last-play 43-yard field goal that was no good.