California Golden Bears (4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS) vs. USC Trojans (4-3 SU, 3-4 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date/Time: Thursday, October 27, 2016 at 10:30PM EST
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CAL +16/USC -16
Over/Under Total: 75.5
The California Golden Bears come down south to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to face the USC Trojans in key Pac-12 action on Thursday. The Trojans have won three in a row after a disconcerting 1-3 start, with three straight conference wins. They look to kick it up another notch this week against the high-flying Cal Bears. Cal beat Oregon late on Saturday in overtime, 52-49. Cal has alternated wins and losses since opening the season with a win over Hawaii in Australia.
Cal is a pretty fun team to watch, with their high-flying offense guaranteeing a lot of points and their ramshackle defense all but ensuring the opponents will do the same. After a slow start for both the Cal and Oregon offenses on Saturday, it became an offensive firefight, with Cal pulling it out at the end against a defense that is as bad as theirs is. Some of the results of these games look like basketball scores. They’re giving up over 41 points a game and scoring 44 a game, which equals a lot of high-scoring shootouts.
The Cal offense is run by QB Davis Webb, who already has 2581 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. The receiver package is pretty deep, led by Chad Hansen and his 770 yards and 8 TDs. Demetris Robertson has 6 TD catches, with Melquise Stovall, Vic Wharton, III., Bug Rivera, and others adding a lot of production. And while the run game lags behind the aerial theatrics, Tre Watson, Vic Enwere (out), and Khalfani Muhammad have already combined for over 1300 yards on the ground, giving opposing defenses something else to think about.
Granted, Cal is not a complete team. With a defense like theirs, you can only achieve so much success. All told, Cal looks destined for a low-end bowl game, as their “D” will not be able to withstand the more-complete offenses in the conference. But the most dangerous teams are the ones with a very compelling trait, even if it’s just one aspect of the game. And with Cal able to put up points the way they do, they’re really a dangerous opponent for any team. They’ve beaten Texas, Utah, and Oregon, so while their defense can be laughable, their results are anything but.
By the same token, there are some disturbing things to take into consideration for the purposes of this game. After being run ragged in an overtime shootout win over Oregon in a game that went deep into Saturday night, the Bears get a really quick turnaround having to go to the Coliseum to face a hot Trojans bunch that is rested. And with a defense that can’t stop the run, you have to wonder what we’ll see when these teams hit the field on Thursday.
The Trojans are coming off consecutive wins over Arizona State, Colorado, and Arizona. They won those three games with a combined score 110-51. This is a part of the season where the Trojans were supposed to damage, with five conference games in a row with four coming at the Coliseum. They look to keep it rolling against the Bears this week. The offense should have success, but how will the Trojans defense fare against the electric Bears offense?
The Southern Cal defense has been pretty decent, allowing 24 points a game, with a defense that does pretty well against the pass, giving up just over 200 yards per game. The last three games have seen this “D” in good form, allowing a combined 51 points, which is a normal one-game allowance for their opponent this week. This is a Trojans’ team that has quietly turned things around in the past month. With playmakers like Adoree Jackson, it’s a dangerous defense that can make an impact.
Putting in youngster quarterback Sam Darnold has done wonders for this USC team. Darnold lost his first start, but has this offense moving nicely in the past three games. In that span, Darnold has 11 TDs throws against just one pick. Southern Cal may have found their QB of the future. And he certainly has the tools to make it work. RB Justin Davis (questionable) has given the Trojans a nice run-attack with a midseason spurt, with Ronald Jones and Aca’Cedric Ware adding production of the ground. Darnold has also shown a nice ability to scoot, with a few TD runs of his own. Through the air is where a lot of the damage is created. JuJu Smith-Schuster has 8 TD grabs and is rounding into top form. Add in ball-catching talent like Darreus Rogers, Deontay Burnett, Steven Mitchell, and others, this is a balanced offense that appears to be on the rise. Earlier this season with Max Browne behind center, the offense looked flat and Darnold has it heading the right way.
These Trojans are a weird bunch and were written off by many. And a lot of eyes were diverted in the past several weeks, as they’ve quietly resurrected their season. With impotent showings against Alabama and Stanford, a lot of people relegated the Trojans to the scrap heap. But those watching the past several weeks have seen a different team and they might surprise some people for the rest of the season as they’ve hit their stride some in past month.
USC had last week off, last playing Arizona on the 15th. Compare that to a Cal team that played into the morning hours on Saturday in a draining overtime win. That creates a somewhat-obvious portrayal that we don’t want to overblow. At the same time, USC’s improvement seems very real indeed, as they are looking like the team some expected to see earlier in the season. I see a more energetic home Trojans team in a better position to thrive in late-game scenarios, as they keep the Cal aerial attack in check at least minimally. I’ll take Southern Cal, who should pull away late.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the USC Trojans minus 16 points.
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