Stanford Cardinal (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. USC Trojans (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS)
College Football Week 14
Date/Time: Saturday, December 5, 2015 at 7:45PM EST
Where: Levis Stadium, Santa Clara, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: STAN -4.5/USC +4.5
Over/Under Total: 60
The Stanford Cardinal face the USC Trojans for the Pac-12 Championship on Saturday at Levis Stadium. The venue is less than a half hour from Stanford, but USC should get some support too. USC was able to gain entrance into this game on the strength of their 40-21 win over rival UCLA on Saturday. Meanwhile, Stanford is coming off a wild 38-36 win over Notre Dame, relying on last-second theatrics and a 45-yard field goal to seal the big win.
Earlier this season, these two teams played each other when the roles were reversed. It was this win that increased Stanfords profile and got them in the rankings, with their 41-31 win coming against what was then a 6th-ranked Trojans bunch. It was considered an upset at the time, but now the reverse would be the case. In that game, in week three, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was excellent with a deathly-efficient passing performance, while RB Christian McCaffrey also came through big. The USC offense played well too, but a slightly-better defensive performance from the Cardinal helped them get the big win. USC will be looking for revenge on Saturday in what would be a great win for a program that appeared to be in some trouble earlier this season and has done a great job in righting the ship.
The players and coaches deserve some credit for keeping the Trojans team on the straight-and-narrow, getting them to the Pac-12 Championshipsomething that seemed improbable not too long ago. They had dropped 3 of 4 games. Their coach was canned amidst troubling circumstances. But interim coach Clay Helton remained steadfast, as it was contagious to the whole team. As a reward for salvaging the season, Helton was named the head coach on Monday, with the interim tag being removed. The Trojans have won 5 of 6 in the Pac-12 since that rough patch. Their only loss was to Oregon, who also beat Stanford, so theres not much shame in that. They were the first team to defeat the third-ranked Utah Utes and scored some nice wins en route to this spot, including a dominant win over ranked UCLA last Saturday.
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One should consider the journey of the Trojans before writing them off. It takes a lot of inner-resource to soldier on when the season has gotten sideways and turn something bad into something good. A lot of teams that reach the depths the Trojans sunk to this season stay down. So this is a gritty team, with their only recent setback coming to an Oregon team that would be a handful for any team in the nation right now.
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler was not great on Saturday against UCLA, but he kept the offense moving and relied on the burgeoning Trojans run-game to get over the hump. RB Justin Davis has heated up coming down the stretch, with 130 yards on Saturday. But Ronald Jones,II and Tre Madden will also come through with some good production on the ground. And through the air, the Trojans have a fine group of playmakers, led by JuJu Smith Schuster, Darreus Rogers, and Taylor McNamara, among others. They can also produce with special teams, as Adoree Jackson is a dynamic return man who ran back a kick for a TD on Saturday.
The Trojans defense was tough again on Saturday, stifling a potentially-explosive UCLA offense for most of the afternoon. Their pass-defense, a main sticking point for the Trojans, was better on Saturday. This is a Trojans team that isnt particularly great in any one area, but they are good at almost everything. The defense has been dicey in spots during the season. But steady improvement has been seen across most areas of the team, even on defense. Theyre getting turnovers and making plays. Theyve come a long way since their swoon earlier in the season.
Stanford showed a ton of grit in overcoming Notre Dame on Saturday. It looked like the Fighting Irish had gone ahead for good late with a TD. But Kevin Hogan, whose will and self-belief is contagious, rallied this group back from the fringe of defeat, spoiling Notre Dames CFP hopes in the process. Its been a great season for Stanford, with that nagging game one loss to Northwestern keeping them out of the CFP. They very nearly managed to navigate the crazy and dangerous waters of the Pac-12 this season unbeaten, before falling to Oregon. But they came close and in this conference this season, that counts for a lot. Ask USC how hard it is to get through a tough conference schedule with just one losswhich came by a 38-36 score, by the way.
Kevin Hogan is a real fighter and his willpower resonates with this team. He was big on Saturday against the Irish, going 17-for-21 with 269 yards, as well as 4 touchdown passes. WR Devon Cajuste has overcome an inconsistent and injury-plagued season to make some big plays as of late, including on Saturday where his contributions were key. The ground game wasnt at its best, with McCaffrey having an off-game, but they are a full package on the ground, with Barry Sanders, Jr. and Remound Wright adding a lot. And Austin Hopper and Michael Rector continue to produce in the passing-game, each catching a TD pass on Saturday.
Stanford is not an easy team to derail. They beat Notre Dame and Notre Dame beat the Trojans this year, but its never that easy. At this point in the season, the Trojans might be a bit fresher and are better than the team that faced Stanford the first time around. At the end, its a game that has a toss-up vibe to it. Im taking the points.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the USC Trojans plus 4.5 points.
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