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College football championship weekend - Pac-12 Championship: (10) Oregon vs. (17) Utah

The Ducks take on the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship

Pac-12 Championship Game - Oregon v Utah Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Good evening New York Giants fans, we have a special Friday evening edition of College Football for you tonight.

Tonight marks the start of College football’s championship weekend, which could well determine the

The weekend gets started tonight with the Conference-USA championship between the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the University of Texas - San Antonio Roadrunners. The Hilltoppers come into the game with an 8-4 record, while the Roadrunners boast an 11-1 record on the season.

The game will kick off at 7pm on CBS Sports Network.

But not to be dismissive of Western Kentucky or UTSA, we’re more interested in the Pac-12 championship.

Pac-12 Chapionship - (10) Oregon Ducks vs. (17) Utah Utes

8pm - ABC

These two teams are familiar foes and met not two weeks ago on November 21st, when then 23rd ranked Utah delivered a stunning 38-7 upset to the then 3rd ranked Ducks. That loss definitively ended Oregon’s hopes to making an appearance in the College Football Playoffs, and likely cemented this game as the eventual championship matchup.

ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Utah a 61 percent chance of winning, but Oregon will certainly be looking for revenge after getting knocked out of playoff contention.

Storylines aside, this game has some great prospects to watch for the 2022 NFL Draft. Not only will two of the best defenders in the country be on the field, but both teams have prospects who could be good values throughout the draft.

Players to watch

Oregon

The player to watch for the Ducks is obviously EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux. Not only is Thibodeaux the best player on Oregon’s team, he’s in the debate for the best prospect in the upcoming draft. While he doesn’t quite have the overwhelming athletic profile of a player like Myles Garrett or Chase Young, Thibodeaux has the length, explosive athleticism, flexibility, and body control to be a consistent problem for blockers at the next level.

The 2022 NFL Draft is shaping up to be a strong one for the defensive secondary, Oregon is adding two DBs to a deep list of prospects.

First up is cornerback Mykael Wright, who could be a first round talent but will likely be drafted on the second day just because of the depth at the position. Wright is an undersized corner, listed at 5-foot-11, 178 pounds, but he possesses the kind of quick-twitch athleticism scouts love to see from starting cornerbacks at the NFL level. He’s also shown strong ball skills as well as surprisingly solid tackling for a smaller DB.

Oregon’s free safety, Verone McKinley III is another talented DB who could be drafted on the second day and find his way onto a team’s starting lineup. McKinley was originally recruited as a cornerback and received offers from Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Clemson, and Penn State — and that alone should speak to his talent. He has range and coverage instincts, to go with excellent ball skills. He’s had at least four interceptions in two separate seasons (2019 and 2021), and is coming into this game with 6 passes defensed. McKinley also has a reputation as a solid tackler who reliably gets ball carriers on the ground.

On the offensive side of the ball, Giants fans should probably be watching center Alex Forsyth. Forsyth will likely be a mid-round pick in the 2022 draft, but the fifth-year senior has established himself as a solid center for the Ducks. He’s regarded as a solid technician and a key piece in Oregon’s run game.

Speaking of Oregon’s run game, we should probably pay attention to junior running back Travis Dye. Dye is undersized at 5-10, 190 pounds, but that hasn’t stopped him from racking up yards and points at a prolific rate. This year he has 1,036 yards (5.8 per carry) and 14 rushing touchdowns, to go with another 347 yards (and 2 touchdowns) on 37 receptions. Dye is quick and agile, which makes him hard to tackle in a phone booth, but also shows complete willingness to use his natural leverage and grind out tough yardage. Dye hasn’t yet stated whether or not he’ll be leaving for the NFL, but he has the skillset to be a dangerous weapon in a modern NFL offense.

Oregon receiver Devon Williams is likely the player to watch in the passing game. At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, he has deceptive speed to go with a great catch radius. Williams only has 34 receptions on the year, but that’s a bigger share of the offense than it appears once we consider that Oregon’s starting quarterback only has 211 pass attempts.

Utah

We pretty much have to start with Utah’s star linebacker, Devin Lloyd. Lloyd has absolutely flown up draft boards after deciding to return to Utah for the 2021 season, and was Dane Brugler’s pick for the Giants at 6th overall in his first mock draft. He has prototypical size for a modern off-ball linebacker at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds with plenty of range and smooth movement skills. Lloyd has also been incredibly productive this season, racking up 100 total tackles, 22.0 tackles for a loss, 7.0 sacks, 6 passes defensed, 3 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), and a forced fumble. Lloyd will almost certainly be a factor in this game.

Spinning over to the offensive side of the ball, Giants fans will probably want to focus on offensive lineman Nick Ford. Number 55 is a “5 tool” lineman who is a two-time All Pac-12 offensive lineman (first team in 2020), and has started games at every single position on the line. Ford is primarily an interior offensive lineman, having started 35 games on the interior — 9 at left guard, 13 at center, 13 at right guard. That said, he can move outside if necessary and has started 1 game at left tackle and 2 at right tackle. Not only is Ford a solid and dependable lineman, his versatility will be an asset as he goes to the NFL.

And finally we come to Utah’s leading receiver, TE/H-Back Brant Kuithe.

It’s somewhat odd that a tight end is leading a collegiate team in receiving. Granted, it’s probably more accurate to label Kuithe as an H-back because of the variety of ways in which Utah uses him. Kuithe is undersized for a “prototypical” tight end at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. However, his size and athleticism allows him to be used in a number of roles. As a sophomore he averaged 17.7 yards per catch and picked up 6 receiving touchdowns, as well as 102 rushing yards and another 3 touchdowns on 6 carries.

Kuithe isn’t the kind of player to be matched up on an EDGE as a blocker, but he is a dedicated blocker who shows great effort.

Use this as your open thread to discuss the evening’s games. We’ll be back again in the morning for Saturday’s championship match-ups.