Oregon is about to play as the underdog for the first time in 2019 in its most prominent game of the season: The Pac-12 Championship game.
Statistically, No. 5 Utah out-matches the No. 13 Ducks. The Utes have the Pac-12's best defense; a physical team that's allowing only 56 rushing yards a game. Plus, Utah is the conference's best rushing team, led by running back Zack Moss with a crazy efficient dual-threat quarterback at the helm in Tyler Huntley.
Also, the Utes are still College Football Playoff contenders looking to make a statement to the committee.
Alas, Oregon has something that Utah doesn't have: Senior quarterback Justin Herbert, a young man who is looking to bestow a lasting legacy in his swan song season. The Eugene-native has the chance to validate his stamp of greatness and accomplish the goals he returned for in his final Oregon football season.
No one shoulders it more than him. His passion is almost… (pause)… You can almost taste it. You feel it on him sometimes. He is really excited (to compete for the Pac-12 Title). The biggest part for him, is another chance to play with an "O" on his chest with his guys in his senior year in a place he wanted to play. That's really cool to see. -- Oregon offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo
Following Oregon's loss at Arizona State, which killed all hopes of a College Football Playoff berth, Herbert said "it means everything" to refocus and aim their ambitions at the Rose Bowl. The Ducks can guarantee a spot in the Rose Bowl with a Pac-12 title win.
Herbert's coaches and teammates are inspired by his desire and heart as Oregon prepares to play Utah.
He's the main leader on this team, so we follow what he does. Since Saturday's game, he's come out and been the focal point of the whole team. He's leading the right way, showing by example and telling people what to do. We all follow what number 10 does and we love what he does. -- Troy Dye
Herbert's message to Dye and the rest of the Ducks?
Compete, compete, compete. Leave it all out there. There are only two teams in the Pac-12 practicing this week.
The Ducks will need spectacular play from Herbert to take the title. A major key to victory will be finding success in the passing game, something that hasn't been roaring in the past two games (two interceptions at ASU and recording the lowest yardage total of the season vs. OSU).
This is where Herbert's undeniable talent, passion and love for Oregon come into play. Plus his arm, which compels NFL scouts to keep an analyzing eye on Herbert and project him as a first round selection in the 2020 NFL draft.
Herbert will set his single-season career high in passing (3,151 in 2018; currently 3,140) on Friday, but can he empty the tank and perform at his best against the best?
In the Herbert era, year-over-year the Ducks have shown progress, winning four games in 2016, seven games in 2017, nine games in 2018 and 10 currently in 2019, plus a chance at the Rose Bowl.
His chances to make an impact in an Oregon uniform are dwindling. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound quarterback with the powerful right arm and sneaky-fast wheels has an opportunity for the most substantial win of his Duck career on Friday in Levi's Stadium.
Rainy, windy conditions in a clash between the most physical teams in the conference vying for the crown… get your popcorn ready.
Justin Herbert's heart is Oregon's X-factor to win Pac-12 Title originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest