Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:57 AM
Utah at USC
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Utah at USC
Venue/Location: L.A. Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA
Time/TV: Friday, Sept. 20, 9:00 p.m. ET, FS1
Line: Utah -4, Total 51.5
It's the second Friday in a row that a Pac-12 team gets the Friday night spotlight, and this week it's a conference tilt between the Utes and Trojans.
For all the talk the Pac-12 gets about struggling to represent itself as a “true” Power Five conference on the national stage given they've got no “elite” team in their ranks, the conference enters the week with six schools ranked in the Top 25, and that's after USC fell out of the rankings after last week's loss at BYU. That was a tough loss to say the least for this Trojans team trying to climb back towards respectability on the national stage, it was a tough spot for them in general, on the road with a freshman QB Kedon Slovis making his first career road start.
The three INT's Slovis threw really hurt as it's hard to win at any level of football when you lose the turnover battle 3-0, and while they didn't lose any of the three fumbles they had too, USC was just all around too loose with the ball in Provo. USC will need to clean that up against a much better Utah team if they want a shot at winning on Friday night, and get what would be their first win against a ranked foe this year.
It is hard to erase the memory of those INT's that Slovis threw a week ago and it's decent support for Utah backers out there. But as I mentioned earlier, first true road starts for freshmen tend to come with some severe growing pains and Slovis wasn't immune to those at all. Utah's defense will present a much stiffer test then the brand of defense that BYU played, and that's another piece of support for Utah backers this week.
Yet, this game is back at The Coliseum and Slovis has been tremendous overall in his action on the field. Home field can mean more in the college game in general, but that's especially true when you've got a young QB at the helm. Even with the three INT's last week, Slovis has shown he's more then a capable passer at this level – which you can credit high school QB coach Kurt Warner with – and the friendly surroundings he'll be in under the lights should help mitigate potential mistakes. But as I said before, Utah's defense will look to be in Slovis' face all afternoon and confuse him with their looks to bait him into errors, and given the veteran-laden roster Utah has, it will be interesting to see how that ends up playing out.
At the same time, Utah and their QB Tyler Huntley will look to do what they did to this USC team a year ago – beating them 41-28 - in a game that wasn't really as close as that final score suggests. The Utes put up 550 total yards on offense and gave up just 205, which is nothing but more support for Utah backers this week.
However, Utah has yet to be tested in any sense in 2019, and as I touched on in this piece regarding Michigan, there is something to be said for teams having already faced adversity and understanding how they'll react in that scenario. USC understands that they would have likely had that BYU game had they been more diligent in protecting the ball, and that in terms of talent on the field, they are right there with Utah. Had last week's game in Provo ended in victory, this would have been a huge battle between ranked foes, and even though the Trojans don't have a Top 25 number beside their name now, they'll be right back in that group with a win this week.
Utah's still got unanswered questions about how they'll react when facing adversity or potentially trailing against a quality foe, as they've trailed for all of about five minutes so far this year. And while they did put a decent beating on the Trojans a year ago, things change quite a bit from season to season, and being in hostile territory never helps either. They are still 0-2 ATS this year despite two relatively easy wins, and even with about 70% of the support in the betting market already, the point spread has stayed relatively static. That's not a good sign either, and with 0-5 ATS run against a winning foe and after allowing fewer then 20 points in their last outing both active here, in terms of handicapping the market, there are a lot of warning signs littered out there for Utes backers.
Furthermore, the Pac-12's reputation of not being a player on the national stage stems from the idea that teams in this conference tend to beat up on one another and those losses by the higher ranked Pac-12 schools in those spots devalue the conference as a whole. Big picture, that's not necessarily a bad thing given that it suggests the bulk of the teams in the conference are fairly deep and evenly matched, because as the great Bill Walton never fails to remind us during basketball season, the Pac-12 is “the Conference of Champions.”
It would fit right into the Pac-12's M.O to see USC rise up at home in this spot and knock off a team that's ranked 11th in the country like Utah is, as Slovis and the rest of the Trojans offense clean up the sloppiness that plagued them a week ago.
The home side has won each of the past six meetings straight up as it is, and are 7-1 against the number going back a bit further. Slovis should be able to use last week's struggles as a great teaching moment to move forward in his career the rest of the way, and Utah is probably a bit to overvalued as it is, just based on the veteran roster that they have.
The Utes could easily stumble in their first road game of the year in a similar fashion to what we saw from USC a week ago, and it's not like the Trojans are the disaster of a program they were in 2018. So unless Mike Leach's concerns from his viral press conference this week are indeed true, and the Ute has upgraded to a rifle, I believe Friday night's game ends up going to the sword-wielding Trojans.