Pac-12 Championship Preview
November 30, 2017
By Brian Edwards
Editor's Note: Brian Edwards owns a 56-45 record (55.4%, +6.81 units) in college football this season. Don't miss out on any of his pay-if-they-win-only selections for Week 14, or just go ahead and get signed up for his bowl package!
Southern California (10-2 straight up, 3-8-1 against the spread) trounced Stanford by a 42-24 count as a 3.5-point home favorite to snap a three-year losing streak to the Cardinal. However, that was back on Sept. 9 in Week 2 of the 2017 campaign.
The rematch will be Friday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on ESPN at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Santa Clara is in the San Francisco Bay Area, so the Trojans will have to travel all the way up to the California coast. Meanwhile, David Shaw’s team will simply have a short drive to the home of the 49ers. To be clear, though, we only point that out for the travel factor. Bettors shouldn’t expect Stanford to have an advantage in terms of crowd numbers and support.
As of Thursday afternoon, most books had USC installed as a 3.5-point favorite with a total of 58.5 for ‘over/under’ wagers. The Cardinal was +165 on the money line (risk $100 to win $165). For first-half wagers, the Trojans were favored by three points (with a reduced -105 price tag) with a total of 30 (‘under’ -115).
Stanford (9-3 SU, 5-6-1 ATS) has won three consecutive games and eight of its last nine, including last week’s 38-20 win over Notre Dame as a three-point home underdog. The Cardinal has now won outright in all four home underdog situations since David Shaw took over for Jim Harbaugh.
The 58 combined points fell ‘under’ the 58.5 points. The ‘under’ is on a 7-1 run for the Cardinal.
K.J. Costello threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to help turn a 20-17 deficit into a convincing victory. First, Costello found his roommate, redshirt freshman tight end Kaden Smith, for a 19-yard scoring strike to give Stanford the lead for good. Next, the RS freshman QB found another TE, Dalton Schultz, on a 12-yard TD pass. Cameron Scarlett rounded out the scoring with a three-yard TD dash with 10:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Costello completed 14-of-22 passes for 176 yards and four TDs without an interception. Bryce Love rushed 20 times for 125 yards, while Smith brought down three receptions for 65 yards and the aforementioned TD grab.
Love has enjoyed a sensational season as a junior, filling the shoes of the departed Christian McCaffrey without missing a beat. Love has rushed for 1,848 yards and 16 TDs with an incredible 8.6 yards-per-carry average. He produced those numbers despite missing a 15-14 win at Oregon State due to an ankle injury that had him playing at less than 100 percent for most of November.
Costello became the full-time starter in October and appears to be improving each week. The Santa Margarita Catholic HS product has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,194 yards with a 9/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. With Love doing his thing, taking care of the ball is the priority for Costello and he’s only been picked twice on 162 pass attempts. He has also rushed for 99 yards and three scores with a 4.7 YPC average.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside has a team-best 41 receptions for 633 yards and six TDs, while Trenton Irwin has 39 catches for 436 yards and two TDs. Smith has 19 receptions for 334 yards and three TDs. The former five-star recruit out of the Dallas area who spurned Alabama for Tight End U has been more of a factor in recent weeks, catching eight balls for 145 yards and two TDs in the past three games.
Stanford is ranked 25th in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 20.7 points per game. As for the offense, it ranks 36th nationally with a 32.3 PPG scoring average.
The defense is led by junior safety Justin Reid, who has a team-best 88 tackles, five interceptions, one sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, four passes broken up and two QB hurries. Junior DT Harrison Phillips has recorded 86 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL’s, two forced fumbles and six QB hurries.
Unlike Stanford, USC has had two weeks to prepare for this game. However, it didn’t know its opponent until Washington thumped Washington St. by a 41-14 count this past Saturday night. The Trojans have won four in a row since getting clobbered 49-14 at Notre Dame on Oct. 21.
Clay Helton’s team is off a 28-23 non-covering win over UCLA as a 14.5-point home ‘chalk.’ USC never trailed but it never got ahead of the number, either. In fact, the Bruins had a 501-417 advantage in total offense. The 51 combined points fell ‘under’ the 70.5-point total to end a stretch of five consecutive ‘overs’ in USC games.
Sam Darnold completed 17-of-28 passes for 264 yards, but he was intercepted once and didn’t have a TD pass. Darnold did have a rushing score, however. Ronald Jones found paydirt on the ground twice, finishing with 122 rushing yards on 28 attempts. Steven Mitchell had four receptions for 56 yards, while Deontay Burnett brought down four catches for 55 yards.
For the season, Darnold has connected on 63.3 percent of his throws for 3,462 yards with a 24/12 TD-INT ratio. However, Darnold has trimmed down the turnovers since September. He has a 15/4 TD-INT ratio in his team’s past seven games.
Jones has rushed for 1,346 yards and 16 TDs with a 6.3 YPC average. He has 12 catches for 159 yards and one TD. Jones, the junior RB from McKinney, TX, has produced 122 yards or more on the ground in four consecutive games.
Burnett is Darnold’s favorite target, hauling in 73 receptions for 966 yards and nine TDs. Tyler Vaughns has 48 receptions for 664 yards and four TDs, while Mitchell has 39 grabs for 578 yards and four TDs.
USC is ranked 13th in the country in total offense, 18th in passing yards, 36th in rushing yards and 26nd in scoring with a 34.8 points-per-game average. On the flip side, the Trojans are No. 80 in the nation in total defense, No. 104 versus the pass and 60th in scoring ‘D’ (26.2 PPG).
The defense has been without one of its best players, junior DE Porter Gustin, for most of the season and he remains ‘out.’ This unit is led by junior LB Cameron Smith, who has recorded 95 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, one interception, one QB hurry and one pass broken up. Sophomore CB Jack Jones has 38 tackles, four interceptions, seven PBU, one forced fumble and one blocked kick.
Stanford will be without starting senior DE Eric Cotton, who has 30 tackles, three sacks, 1.5 TFL’s and two QB hurries. Cotton is dealing with a foot injury. Junior LB Joey Alferi (shoulder) is listed as ‘questionable,’ while sophomore LB Curtis Robinson (undisclosed) is ‘doubtful.’ Alferi has 34 tackles, two sacks, 1.5 TFL’s and a pair of QB hurries. Robinson has produced 23 tackles, one interception, one PBU and 1.5 TFL’s.
USC has been a single-digit favorite four times this year, compiling a 3-1 record both SU and ATS. Meanwhile, Stanford has been an underdog three times, going 2-1 both SU and ATS.
The ‘under’ is 8-4 overall for Stanford, with its games averaging combined scores of 53.0 PPG.
The ‘over’ is 7-5 overall for the Trojans, going 5-1 in their last six outings. They’ve watched their games average combined scores of 61.0 PPG.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- ESPN reported Thursday that Ole Miss will receive its punishment from the NCAA’s Committee of Infractions on Friday morning. The Rebels are facing 15 Level-1 violations.
-- North Texas star RB Jeffrey Wilson is ‘out’ at FAU due to an ankle injury. Wilson had rushed for 1,215 yards and 16 TDs with a 6.5 YPC average in the Mean Green’s first 11 games.
-- J.T. Barrett is ‘probable’ and expected to start vs. Wisconsin at the Big Ten Championship Game, but reports on Thursday revealed that the QB had his knee scoped this past Sunday.
-- ULM has covered the spread in five straight games as a double-digit underdog. The Warhawks are 27-point ‘dogs Saturday at Florida State.
-- I’ll be providing my opinions on Tennessee’s absolutely incompetent AD John Currie in my nuggets at the end of my SEC Championship Game preview.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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