2016 Pac-12 Football Championship Game preview: Washington and Colorado look to take the title
On Friday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, history will be made. Washington and Colorado - two teams making their debut in the Pac-12 Championship - will clash to decide the conference title. It'll be the first time since 2008 that a Pac-12 football champion will be someone other than Stanford or Oregon. Oh, and the Pac-12 North is currently 4-0 in the conference title game.
The Huskies haven't brought home a conference championship since 1999, while the Buffs haven't even had a winning record since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. But both programs and coaches committed to a rebuilding process and the reward for that committment has led to a trip to Santa Clara. Before seeing the two teams kick off on Friday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT on FOX, learn how these two teams made title game.
What to watch for: Washington
More is on the line for the Huskies than just a conference championship. Washington currently sits at No. 4 in the College Football Playoff poll, moving up after No. 3 Michigan lost to No. 2 Ohio State.
Chris Petersen's team will look to keep the ball rolling on offense after leading the Pac-12 in touchdowns and overall points scored this season. Quarterback Jake Browning was obviously a huge part of that. The Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year led the conference in passing touchdowns and passer rating (181.6).
He also set the conference record for most TD passes in a game (six, against Oregon), and joined Jared Goff (Cal) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon) as just the third Pac-12 QB to throw at least 40 touchdown passes in a single season. That's some good company, right there.
Jake Browning is third Pac-12 player with 40 passing TD in a season, joining Jared Goff in 2015 (43) and Marcus Mariota in 2014 (42).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 25, 2016
Browning has used his impressive receiving corps to the fullest, throwing 30 of his 40 touchdowns to either John Ross (16) or Dante Pettis (14). And that UW defense is nothing to overlook. The Huskies are tough to go inside against, allowing the fewest rushing yards of any team in the conference.
What to watch for: Colorado
After taking his team from 1-8 to 8-1 in conference play in just one season, Mike MacIntyre was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year. The worst-to-first story is a result of the committment that MacIntyre made to the Buffs when he took over the program after the 2012 season, saying in Monday's teleconference, "It always takes awhile. The culture is where you start first."
The Buffs will have their hands full with Browning and the UW offense, but CU can put up some impressive scoring numbers of it's own, averaging 34.8 points per game. Quarterback Sefo Liufau has been a huge part of the Buffs' success - as Sefo goes in a game, so goes the Buffs' offense. Colorado's two losses came in games that Liufau got injured (Michigan and USC) and couldn't play the entire game.
— David Wharton (@LATimesWharton) November 29, 2016
Throughout his career Liufau has shown just how tough he is, coming back from an ankle injury this year and a fractured foot in 2015. The Buffs stepped up and got wins over the Oregon schools with Steven Montez under center while the senior signal caller was out. You can bet Liufau's grittines will be on full display in Santa Clara.
— Colorado Football (@RunRalphieRun) November 29, 2016
The Colorado ground attack isn't too shabby either. Liufau has rushed for seven scores this season, despite missing time with an injury, and is always a threat to run out of the pocket. Phillip Lindsey was fourth in the Pac, averaging 94.7 yards per game and has the most rushing TDs in the conference with 15.
On the other other side of the ball, the Buffs' defense has shown that it can be just as valuable on the scoring front when the team needs it. CU leads the conference in defense, surrendering just 323.8 total yards per game. Right on the Buffs' heels - Washington with 328.9. Colorado is also No. 1 in passing defense, allowing 187.8 yards in the air on average.
Will Washington's tough line be able to stop Colorado's run game? Will the Buffs be able to contain Browning? Whatever happens, it'sll be a fight to the finish between two teams who haven't seen each other yet this season, and a new Pac-12 champion will be crowned on Friday night at Levi's Stadium.
Tune into to Pac-12 Network Friday at 5 p.m. PT/6 p.m. MT to get set for the Pac-12 Football Championship Game with host Mike Yam and analysts Curtis Conway, Nick Aliotti and Eric Allen. Then switch it back right after the game for instant reaction and complete coverage from Levi's Stadium.
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