Stanford Cardinal (9-3 SU, 5-6-1 ATS) vs. USC Trojans (10-2 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)
College Football Week 14
Date/Time: Friday, December 1, 2017 at 8PM EST
Where: Levis Stadium, Santa Clara, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: STAN +3/USC -3
Over/Under Total: 58.5
In the Pac-12 Championship game, the USC Trojans and Stanford Cardinal meet at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara for all the marbles. Stanford had a good weekend, beating Notre Dame, 38-20, to give them some extra steam heading into this matchup, while also having Washington State lose to get them into this game, as they won the Pac-12 North. USC was off last week, following a 28-23 win over UCLA the previous week. It was their fourth win in a row and they look to have settled into a nice groove after struggling at points this season. They look to lock up the conference title against a team they already beat earlier in the year.
Granted, there is only so much you can take away from a week two matchup at this point, but for what its worth, Southern Cal was able to beat Stanford on September 9 by a 42-24 score. It was close for much of the game, with the Trojans pulling away some late. Stanford got a nice game that week from star back Bryce Love, who had 160 yards against USC the first time around. More of that could really help this week and truth be told, this is a different Stanford team than the group that struggled in a 1-2 start to the season. Defensively, they struggled against the Trojans, with USCs Sam Darnold over 300 yards passing, with two USC backs going over 100 on the day. Since that day, Stanford has won eight of nine games, the only loss coming by three points on the road to the Cougars. And with that first game against the Trojans coming at the Coliseum, USC was in their stomping grounds. The locale of this game favors Stanford.
Stanfords greater stature now, as opposed to early in the season, was demonstrated in their 18-point win over a good Fighting Irish team that was favored on Saturday. It was a close contest, with Stanford scoring three late touchdowns to turn a 20-17 deficit into a 38=20 win. Quarterback KJ Costello, who didnt start the first game against the Trojans, was effective on Saturday with a career-high four touchdown passes, two critical ones coming late to help seal the deal. They didnt need the win, as it wasnt a conference game, but it showed where the Cardinal stand heading down the seasons home-stretch.
The Stanford offense has been a lot better as the season has progressed. Getting Costello behind center has helped. He is making a nice connection with a really nice weapon in JJ Arcega Whiteside. Costello didnt play against the Trojans and could make a big difference in this title game spot. And despite fighting through ankle issues over the last month or so, Love has been huge, one of the best backs in the country with 1848 yards. He is a game-breaking threat who can spring forth at any time and has already shown he can thrive against this Trojans defense. On Saturday, Costello connected on TD scores to Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, TE Dalton Schultz, and Kaden Smith. Stanford needs all these guys to spring forth with nice games on Friday.
The Stanford defense has also come around as the season has progressed. It has been since September that they allowed more than 24 points, as they have yielded an average of just 17 points a game in their last 6 contests. The secondary has snapped into shape and they have gotten five picks from Justin Reid and good play from S Ben Edwards and Quenton Meeks. Against the Irish, Frank Buncom and Curtis Robinson each has interceptions. Harrison Smith is a difference-maker on the line, aided by the pass-rush skills of linebacker Bobby Okereke. They collapsed late against USC in week two. That might not happen again this time around with a Stanford defense that has grown to be more-clutch over the course of the season.
It hasnt been a dream-season for the Trojans this season. Injuries, inconsistent play, and a tough schedule resulted in something less than a lot of people were forecasting. Still, a 3-point loss to Washington State was their only setback in conference play. At the end of the day, they are a 10-win team, a repeat win over Stanford away from becoming Pac-12 champs. Against the Bruins, the offense under-performed with only 28 points, but this last month or so has seen a Trojans offense as crisp as it has been all season. Sam Darnold now has 3463 yards with 24 aerial touchdowns and five on the ground. RB Ronald Jones has put together some huge performances together down the stretch and now has 17 touchdowns on the season. They have also gotten support on the ground from guys like AcaCedrick Ware, Vavae Malepeai, and Stephen Carr, when he was healthy, in addition to Darnold. And aerially, they get big-time receiver play from Deontay Burnett, Tyler Petite, Steven Mitchell, Jr., and Tyler Vaughns. They might even be better now than the offense that stuck 42 points on Stanford the first time around. But Stanfords defense is playing better too, so well see how it shakes out on Friday.
The Trojans have faced some pretty tough offenses this season. In terms of being stout, the USC defense hasnt really been able to shine. They do get pretty solid playmaking from a number of sources, which has helped in some tight games. Their pass-rush has the capacity to be immense, with Rasheem Green, Christian Rector, Ucheena Nwosu, and Josh Fatu. The secondary is also packed with playmaking talent, with Jack Jones, Ajene Harris, and Marvell Tell making a lot of plays on the season. While porous on occasion, they can also play clutch D late and make big plays to tip things in the teams favor.
Again, the week two result between these teams might not be the most accurate barometer for what will occur on Friday. The playing field has changed considerably since that meeting. Its fair to say both teams have gotten better, but Stanford was pretty ragged to begin the season and that week-two team bears little resemblance to the team they are now. I picture a well-contested game in Santa Clara, but I see USC matching up well with the Cardinal and getting the cover in this title game.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the USC Trojans minus 3 points. Move the line on this game up to 20 points by inserting it into a 20 point football teaser at the web’s best sportsbook: 5dimes!