In the annual tradition of playing a championship game on a Friday night, USC and Utah will matchup in Vegas. Some from USC are calling it a revenge game. Some from Utah are exposing how weird they really are. Either way, it’s an intriguing matchup based off of Utah’s 41-40 win over USC being USC’s only loss of the year.
How Does USC Feel?
It’s clear that USC fans feel a bit frustrated, to say it lightly, with the officiating of last matchup’s game. Regardless, USC fans are feeling confident from a mixture of Caleb Williams surge in offensive production, Jordan Addison and Mario Williams returning to the lineup, and a tough, physical win vs Notre Dame.
Then there’s the X-Factor. USC chose to attack Utah’s secondary the last time around, running the ball less than their season average. Lincoln Riley went untraditional against Notre Dame, choosing to run the ball at a very physical front 7 and take the pressure of of Caleb Williams. Riley could very well choose to do the same with USC’s 3-headed core of running backs in Austin Jones, Raleek Brown, and Darwin Barlow.
USC fans also feel confident based on Utah’s history in neutral site and road games. Utah notoriously has had a home field advantage at Rice-Eccles Stadium due to altitude, weather, and traditionally strong crowd support. While this is fine and well, Whittingham’s team showed up strong against Oregon in last year’s championship game.
Vibe out of Utah
While USC fans are focused on matchups and historical stats, Utah fans are pissed off at the conference for not allowing them to get more seats to the game at fair prices. Unfortunately, ticket sale prices are incredibly high on resale websites as a result of a highly ranked USC team making their return to a huge stage. The good thing is Utah notoriously travels well, and this should be no different.
But again, Utah fans are still focused on the wrong things. Attendance will be strong for both teams. This is a matchup that USC fans have wanted since losing at Utah, and it’s a game they envisioned being a part of when they hired Lincoln Riley. Could it be 70/30 Utah fans-to-USC fans? Sure. Will it be? Probably not.
The biggest issue facing Utah, whose fans have evolved to talking about the actual game rather than fan attendance and bed jumping, is that their starting DEs are both out for this game. That leaves them with a 3-man rotation of DEs, one of which was a WR last year, to face up with a USC offense with a mobile QB. Utah has historically had players emerge late in the season and I don’t see this year being any different. Their defense has come together despite injuries and playing the basement of the Pac 12. That confidence should shine through in the championship.
And finally, the biggest storyline. Utah has the opportunity to play the role of villain by beating USC in the championship game, removing them from playoff contention, and derailing a solid year 1 for Lincoln Riley’s squad. For those that follow Utah fans on Twitter, they still have roses in their handles from last year’s Rose Bowl game. A Rose Bowl game they lost. But those fans are likely holding out for this specific game, where they have the chance to win and play in the Rose Bowl. Or they’re just weird people. I’m really unsure.
As a college football fan, I love this matchup. USC has the opportunity to beat the only team they’ve lost to while Utah has the chance to prove they belong amongst the top teams in college football. For USC fans, it’s a revenge game. For Utah fans, it’s a rivalry game (which is weird because no USC fan thinks that way…but remember, Utah is weird).
USC gets two key playmakers back on each side of the ball. Jordan Addison missed most of the game vs Utah the first go-around, while Eric Gentry was a big body presence in the middle that was injured. Utah has added new wrinkles to the offense by converting quarterback speedster Ja’Quinden Jackson to running back. We shall see tomorrow night if this makes a difference or if the result will be the same as the first game in Utah.