USC Trojans vs. Cal Golden Bears Point Spread – Pick Against the Spread

USC Trojans (4-1 SU, 2-3 ATS) vs. California Golden Bears (3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS), 9:00 p.m. EST, College Football Week 7, Thursday, October 13, 2011, AT&T Park, San Francisco, California
by Scotty L, NCAA Football Handicapper,

Point Spread: USC -3.5/CAL +3.5
Over/Under: OFF

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The USC Trojans travel to the Bay Area to take on the Golden Bears of California in a Thursday night game. The Trojans were cruising-unbeaten until getting routed 2 games ago at Arizona State. They came back to beat Arizona the following week, though the 48-41 score speaks volumes. The Golden Bears, meanwhile, are trying to recover from a beating at the hands of Oregon last week.

Getting trounced by the Ducks is no disgrace, but the Golden Bears actually led at halftime, 15-14. To be disappointed that they didn’t win the game is one thing, but the fact that they couldn’t even cover a huge spread despite a halftime lead was truly awful. The Bears were doing well, until allowing Oregon to go on a 29-0 rampage-all in the first 16 minutes of the second half. At least they will not face a powerful running game this week, which was their undoing against the Ducks, who ran for 365 yards.

USC boasts a passing attack that will enable them to win most shootouts this season. QB Matt Barkley is completing passes at a 70% clip, averaging 300 yards per game, and has already thrown 14 touchdown passes. The offense receives nice balance from a running attack, which features the 1-2 punch of Marc Tyler (77-338-2) and Curtis McNeal (24-203), who has an 8.5 rushing average. But Robert Woods is the jewel of the crown; already catching 55 passes for 747 yards and 6 touchdowns in only 5 games. He has also been excellent in running back kicks. Even against an Arizona team last week that was keying in on Woods, the standout still managed 14 catches, 255 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.

However, a Trojans defense that bent without breaking in their first 3 games has not looked good against conference rivals, giving up 84 points in their past 2 games. Opposing players are putting up big numbers in the air and on the ground against this defense, including Arizona QB Nick Foles, who threw for 425 yards in Southern Cal’s last game 2 weeks ago.

Whether Cal can put up points like Arizona and Arizona State is another matter. Offensively, they are not bad-in the top 20% in the nation in total yards, passing yards, and points scored. QB Zach Maynard has 11 touchdowns against 3 picks. RB Isi Sofele (90-494-4) has embraced the starting role and is making strides. He ran for 119 yards on only 12 carries against Oregon last week. WR Keenan Allen is one of the breakout players in the conference, with 661 yards receiving in only 5 games. And WR Marvin Jones (29-441-3) rounds out a nice set of options for Maynard. And if the offense struggles, at least they have a great punter in Bryan Anger to help keep the field-position battle in check.

The problem for Cal is that they don’t have the kind of pass defense to realistically keep Barkley, Woods, and others from having big games. The Golden Bears “D” has already given up 474 yards in the air to Colorado QB Tyler Hansen and 292 to Washington QB Keith Price. And after giving up 363 on the ground, including 239 to LaMichael James last week, look for Tyler and McNeal to take their shots against a reeling Cal defense.

Scotty L’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: It’s reasonable to think that a Cal team that managed to lead Oregon at halftime on the road can give USC a tough game, especially at home. USC has been giving up a ton of points, only scored 22 at Arizona State, and is probably not capable of running over the Golden Bears offensively like the Ducks did.

But this is still a high-powered enough USC offense to get the job done. In the past two seasons, they have beaten Cal by a combined 61 points. Look for Cal to keep it tight, until the power of the Trojans’ offense begins to tell late, en route to a cover. Take USC minus the points.

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