Pac-12 championship game preview: UW’s comfort zone, the Lanning factor and radio silence from the Pac-12 Networks

The final Pac-12 championship game will feature two playoff contenders with a combined record of 23-1, two Heisman Trophy candidates, ABC’s top broadcast crew and a sold out stadium Friday night in Las Vegas.

Not in attendance: The Pac-12 Networks.

The conference’s wholly-owned media company will have no linear television presence in Allegiant Stadium, where No. 3 Washington and No. 5 Oregon collide with a College Football Playoff berth at stake.

No Pac-12 Networks pregame show.

No Pac-12 Networks halftime update.

No Pac-12 Networks postgame show.

Anyone tuning into the networks Friday at 9 p.m. will see a women’s volleyball match (USC vs. UCLA), not interviews with the Huskies and Ducks.

The on-site football coverage was swallowed up by cost cuts as the conference downsizes operations. The scope-of-services plan crafted by commissioner George Kliavkoff and approved by the presidents did not bother to include expenses for a Pac-12 Networks presence at the championship game.

According to multiple sources, it would have cost a maximum of $100,000 to send the on-air talent to Las Vegas and provide the production support. That was too much to bear, apparently. (Also not in the budget this year: Pac-12 basketball pre- and postgame studio shows.)

A more fitting end we could not have scripted.

After all, the networks’ failed business model and ongoing distribution woes helped create the circumstances that led to the demise that produced the cash crunch that’s preventing the networks from having a presence in Las Vegas.

So the circle has come full, and it looks a lot like the Dodo’s flight path.

The situation is unfortunate for the participating teams and the fans watching from home. The Pac-12 Networks crews — both the on-air talent and the producers and directors — were best-equipped to provide the most compelling coverage.

Instead, fans will have two options: The ABC telecast, which will have limited pre- and postgame coverage; and some digital features available on the Pac-12’s website.

The conference declined to comment on the situation.

To the pick …

Last week: 3-3Season: 41-38-1Five-star special: 7-6

All picks against the spreadLines taken from BetMGM (via VegasInsider.com)

(All times Pacific)

Washington vs. OregonKickoff: 5 p.m. on ABCLine: Oregon -9.5 (total: 66.5)

Comment: The case for Washington is a three-point head-to-head victory six weeks ago. The case for Oregon is (almost) everything else.

The Ducks have bludgeoned opponents that Washington struggled to beat, from Utah to Oregon State to Washington State to Arizona State.

The Ducks are more complete offensively with their run-pass approach: 35 percent of their total yards have come on the ground compared to just 26 percent for the Huskies.

The Ducks have more balance across the lines of scrimmage: They generate more yards-per-play offensively than Washington and allow far fewer yards-per-play defensively.

The Ducks are fresher, thanks to an extra day of rest: They whacked Oregon State on Friday night while UW went to the wire against Washington State on Saturday afternoon.

And the Ducks possess the more efficient quarterback: Bo Nix has been brilliant lately, in a mind-meld with his tailbacks and receivers; meanwhile, UW’s Michael Penix Jr. hasn’t been as sharp late in the season as he was early.

But not every factor carries a distinct shade of green.

Two favor the Huskies:

1. Comfort in discomfort

The Huskies have played close games week upon week and are steeled to the pressure of executing under make-or-break circumstances. No team in the country has been more resourceful.

The Ducks haven’t played a close game since the loss in Husky Stadium in the middle of October.

If Friday night’s affair is tight in the fourth quarter, UW will have a deep well of experience upon which to draw — including two harrowing wins over Oregon in the past 55 weeks.

That cannot be overlooked.

2. The Lanning factor

Oregon coach Dan Lanning was roundly criticized (here and elsewhere) for his playcalling, especially in the Red Zone and on fourth down, in both the 37-34 loss to Washington last year and the 36-33 loss to UW last month.

A desire to set an aggressive tone, combined with the emotionally-charged circumstances, seemingly pushed Lanning beyond the range of reasonable decisions and cost his team dearly in both games.

Will Lanning ease off the pedal just enough Friday night to allow Oregon’s greatest asset — its players — to do what they do best?

We aren’t suggesting Lanning take a conservative approach, but there’s a difference between aggressive and reckless.

Veer toward the latter, and you undermine the cause.

Our hunch: His decisions are ever-so-slightly more measured this time around, and that’s all the Ducks need to slay their nemesis.

Our pick: Oregon

Score: Ducks 34, Huskies 28.


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Author: Jon Wilner

EastBayTimes