Why wouldn’t the Pac-12 finale be an instant classic?

Friday marked, as we know it, the final Pac-12 championship game, as 10 of the schools in the conference are defecting to either the Big Ten, SEC, or ACC next season – but No. 3 Washington and No. 5 Oregon weren’t departing without one final epic conference battle.

And it was a good one – after the Ducks erased a 17-point deficit, the Huskies made a comeback of their own to win the Pac-12 championship, 34-31, to all but cement their spot in the College Football Playoff.

Washington dominated the first 28 minutes of the game, forcing three Oregon punts and holding them to just 87 yards as they led 20-3 with 1:39 to go in the first half. But the Ducks were able to go 70 yards in just 90 seconds and find the end zone to make it a 10-point deficit heading into the locker room.

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Michael Penix celebrates touchdown

Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies celebrates after a touchdown by Germie Bernard #4 in the second quarter during the Pac-12 Championship game against the Oregon Ducks at Allegiant Stadium on December 1, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images)

The Ducks got the ball to start the second half and kept a drive alive after a 4th and 5 conversion. Ten plays later, they opted to go for it on 4th and goal, and the gutsy call worked, as Bo Nix found Terrance Ferguson in the end zone for a second drive in a row, making it a 20-17 game after a 15-play march down the field.

Both teams exchanged interceptions before Washington turned the ball over on downs at Oregon’s 28. It took the Ducks just four plays to take the lead, thanks to Nix running for 44 yards – Jordan James scored the touchdown that put Oregon up 24-20 with 1:51 left in the third.

The Huskies finally stopped the bleeding and answered back with Dillon Johnson’s second touchdown on the ground to regain a three-point lead early in the fourth, and they immediately forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with 9:04 to go. Washington went down the field and wasted plenty of clock, and with 2:44 left, Penix dumped one off to Quentin Moore for a two-yard touchdown, giving Washington a 34-24 lead.

But it wasn’t the icing on the cake that Washington thought it was – on the second play of their next drive, Traeshon Holden had an impressive 63-yard catch and run to score and cut Oregon’s deficit to three with 2:14 to go.

Jabbar Muhammad

Jabbar Muhammad #1 of the Washington Huskies reacts after breaking up a pass during the second quarter against the Oregon Ducks during the Pac-12 Championship at Allegiant Stadium on December 01, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Ian Maule/Getty Images)

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However, it wasn’t enough. The Ducks’ onside kick was unsuccessful, and after Washington got two first downs (the second being on a 15-yard rush on 3rd and 9), the Huskies were Pac-12 champions.

In a battle of Heisman hopefuls, Penix completed 27 of his 39 passes for 319 yards, but Johnson stole the show with his 152 rushing yards on 28 carries, two of which were scores.

In a losing effort, Nix threw for three touchdowns on 21-of-34 passing. The Husky defense held Bucky Irving to just 20 rushing yards on nine carries, and Troy Franklin to just four catches for 34 yards.

Dillon Johnson celebrates touchdown

Washington Huskies running back Dillon Johnson (7) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the Pac-12 Conference championship game between the Oregon Ducks and the Washington Huskies on December 1, 2023, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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The loss is likely the end of any College Football Playoff hopes for Oregon, who dropped to 11-2, with both losses coming to the Huskies – already ranked No. 5 in the country, it’s tough to imagine they’d get enough help from everyone else this weekend to sneak in.

As for Washington, it’s looking rather likely that they’ll face No. 2 Michigan in the semifinals, but that will be made official on Sunday. Assuming the Huskies are in (they are 13-0 and winners of the conference), it will be their first appearance in the CFP since 2016, and second overall.



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