USC Trojans (1-1 SU, 1-1 ATS) vs. Stanford Cardinal (1-0 SU, 1-0 ATS)
College Football Week 3
Date/Time: Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 8PM EST
Where: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California
By Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USC +9/STAN -9
Over/Under Total: 53
The USC Trojans make the familiar journey up north to face the Stanford Cardinal in week three Pac-12 action. Both teams open their conference schedules against a familiar opponent. Stanford twice beat the Trojans last season, first in the regular conference schedule and then in the Pac-12 title game, as Stanford and Southern Cal won their respective divisions. To open the season, Stanford has a stutter-start to 2016. First came a week one win over Kansas State. They got a week off and enter this game rested against a USC team that got on the winning track last week with a 45-7 slaughtering of Utah State. It helped put some distance between the Trojans and their week one letdown against the defending champion Crimson Tide.
Week two was important to the Trojansí confidence. Utah State isnít that bad of a team and to annihilate them puts a little positivity into the program, something that was really needed after a 52-6 wipeout loss to Alabama in week one. Maybe beating the Tide was too much to ask, but to get blown out like that and never be in the game, while not scoring a TD for the first time in 20 years was an awful way to open the season. That made the USU win all the more important for their confidence.
Needing a real boost of optimism after the Trojansí week one hammering was USC quarterback Max Browne. He was 23-for-30 with a few TD passes last week. He was able to connect with the teamís best offensive weapon and the best receiver in the conference with Juju Smith-Schuster hauling in a pair of touchdown grabs. Speedy Darreus Rogers caught 7 passes and some different backs chimed in with production. The offense would really get a boost if their 1-2 RB punch of Justin Davis and Ronald Jones would begin to surface more. But Saturday was still good for the team, with key players popping their heads up and being accounted for. One such player was Adoree Jackson, the multi-way threat, as he returned a punt for TD. With him back there on returns, it gives the Trojans a real X-factor.
The Trojans defense also needed something in the way of a positive development after the ĎBama game and they got it on Saturday, They gave up nothing until late in the third quarter, allowing just 253 yards of total offense.
Utah State star back Devante Mays was kept in check, after the Trojans were exploited by the Crimson Tide run-game in week one. Giving up less than 50 rushing yards to the Aggies shows some improvement, though this week obviously represents much different challenges with a well-rested Christian McCaffrey. If any version of the ďDĒ we saw on the field in week one manifests here, theyíll be in big trouble.
McCaffrey is a Heisman frontrunner and was great in game one against KSU. He ran for 126 yards, while hauling in 7 receptions. A TD return for the ages on special teams was called back, but this is a guy who can hurt you in a variety of ways and itís a lot more than just hype with McCaffrey. With Ryan Burns taking over for Kevin Hogan, McCaffrey is the perfect pillar support upon which he can lean when the going gets tough. Burns also has some weapons through the air and his initial connection with leading receiver Michael Rector was promising in week one. And in his first go-around with the starting gig, Burns was a respectable 14-for-18 with a TD.
Even if their win over KSU was lukewarm in a sense, they covered the spread and still did a ton better than their start last season, when they dropped their opener to Northwestern. With a new QB and a lot of new pieces on different phases of the team, they might need time to hit the ground running. Against Kansas State, you could see signs of things going awry. A few bounces here and a few different calls from the officials there and it would have been a different result. The Stanford offense petered-out in the second half until McCaffrey came back to life. So to some extent, the jury is still out a bit with the defending Pac-12 champions.
Even so, the Stanford defense is still a good one and that helped in game one when the offense ground down to a halt. They sacked the QB 8 times, adding a safety and two turnovers. Theyíd like to see something similar this week. There are 7 starters from a group that took a step back last year from the previous stellar Stanford defenses. Itís just that we donít know for sure how improved theyíll be against some of the better Pac-12 offenses they see this season.
Again, these teams went at it twice last year, with the Trojans dropping a 41-31 result in LA, before losing the Pac-12 title game at Leviís Stadium, 41-22. That was with Cody Kessler behind center against a younger Stanford defense that was still working through issues. Itís not entirely clear on the surface why the Trojans would do appreciably better this season, with this one being on the road against an eager Stanford throng. Itís just that the Stanford offense may not be as equipped to put up the 41 points they scored in both games last season. I see Stanford getting the job done in the end, but with a little sweat. Iím taking the points.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Iím betting on the USC Trojans plus 9 points.
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