It’s not the best Thursday night ESPN matchup of the season this week when two teams who may not even go bowling, USC and California, meet in a Pac-12 game. This one is at AT&T Park in San Francisco, home of the Giants (Cal’s stadium is undergoing renovations).
It’s a rare second straight Thursday game for the Bears, who were beaten 43-15 last week at Oregon to fall to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12—and one of those wins is over an FCS school. The Bears were playing the Ducks tough for a half, leading 15-14 at the intermission, before LaMichael James and Co. took over. Cal isn’t going to be a factor in the Pac-12 race but the Bears might have changed the course of the conference by dislocating James’ elbow in that game. It’s still not clear how long the Heisman Trophy candidate will be out.
The Trojans (4-1, 2-1), who are ineligible for any postseason play again this year, haven’t played since a 48-41 win over Arizona on Oct. 1. Matt Barkley blew up in that game, passing for a school-record 468 yards and four touchdowns. And Robert Woods, the best receiver in the country not named Justin Blackmon, had 14 catches for 255 yards and two scores. He’s got a ridiculous 55 catches already, which leads the nation, and is No. 2 in the country in averaging 149.4 yards per game. However, that Trojan defense has had some problems in the second half of games this season and Arizona scored 29 second-half points and put up 554 total yards.
USC at Cal Betting Storylines
The Bears suffered one key injury in last week’s loss, with top cornerback Marc Anthony leaving the game early with a shoulder injury. He’s not likely to play Thursday, meaning true freshman Stefan McClure gets the start. Think the Trojans may target him with Woods? The Cal pass defense has been ‘iffy’ as it is (the run defense has been solid other than vs. the Ducks).
Outside of allowing just 28 yards passing against Presbyterian, California has given up 964 passing yards to Colorado, Washington and Oregon, with nine touchdowns against one interception. Oregon’s Darron Thomas threw all three of his touchdown passes in the second half when the Ducks consistently beat the Bears in man coverage with Anthony out. McClure was the guy beaten at least a handful of times.
The Trojans have become a pass-happy team. USC has attempted 189 passes versus 158 rushes. The Trojans have scored 14 receiving touchdowns, compared with four running touchdowns. Coach Lane Kiffin says he wants more balance.
Cal QB Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, has thrown for 1,291 yards and an 11-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But his accuracy has been an issue, as he is completing only slightly more than 50 percent of his passes. On defense, the USC secondary might also be missing a key piece. USC's pass defense struggled against Arizona, yielding 425 yards and four touchdowns to Nick Foles and Co. The Trojans were without starting cornerback Torin Harris in that game, and he’s questionable for this one. Cal has a receiver almost as good as Woods in Keenan Allen, who has 39 catches for 668 yards and four scores. The Trojans have yielded 10 TD passes and grabbed just three interceptions. They rank ninth in the Pac-12 in pass-efficiency defense, with opponents completing 66 percent of their throws.
If the game is close at the end, that could benefit Cal. Giorgio Tavecchio is one of the top kickers in the conference and gives California a weapon from more than 50 yards away. This season he has connected on eight of nine attempts, with a long of 54 yards.
USC at Cal Betting Odds and Trends
USC is currently a three-point favorite, according to college football odds, with the total at 55.5 (USC is -160 on the moneyline). The lean is about 66 percent on the Trojans. They are 2-3 ATS this season and 0-1 ATS on the road. Cal is 2-3 ATS this season and 2-0 at home (but, again, those were neutral-site homes games in the Bay Area – one at Candlestick and one at AT&T Park).
Trojans are 5-2 ATS in their past seven on the road. Cal is 0-5 ATS in its past five conference games. The ‘under’ is 4-1 in Trojans’ past five following an ATS loss. The ‘under’ is 4-1 in Cal’s past five as a dog. The ‘under’ is 6-1 in the past seven meetings. USC is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings.
College Football Predictions: USC at Cal Betting Picks
USC owns a seven-game winning streak over the Golden Bears and Cal has averaged just 10 points in each of those losses. In the past three meetings, USC has won by a combined score of 95-20. Last year, the Trojans led 42-0 at halftime on the way to a 48-14 win. I simply don’t see either team stopping the other here and the weather report looks clear. Cal just doesn’t have the athletes that the Trojans do. Take USC and the ‘over’.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.