As always, the Saturday NCAAF slate provides us with a plethora of different opportunities for our handicapping and viewing pleasure. For us, the natural inclination is to be drawn to matchups of the close variety as opposed to ones with incredibly lopsided spreads.
This week, one of the most appealing contests in that category takes place in the late afternoon window on national television. The USC Trojans hit the road to take on the BYU Cougars with the visitors installed as slight favorites.
The Trojans were al but written off after starter JT Daniels went down to injury, but Kedon Slovis demonstrated that there remains plenty of reason for optimism. The freshman delivered one of the most impressive debuts for a freshman signal caller in recent memory last week, leading USC to a big win over Stanford.
The Cougars were also besieged with doubters after being pounded at home by Utah in the season opener. However, the team bounced right back and showed a ton of fight while doing so. Last week, the program went on the road and stunned Tennessee with an overtime victory of the come from behind variety.
This shapes up to be one of the better games of the day between two programs who still have plenty to prove. Let’s take a look at this contest in full detail, starting with the way the NCAAF betting sites see it.
USC vs. BYU, 3:30 PM EST, Sat. Sept.14, ABC
Betting odds provided by Sportsbetting.ag
WUSC vs. BYU Pick:
For last week’s home game with Stanford, USC was a 3.5-point favorite at kickoff. That number proved to be way off the mark. The Trojans controlled the game and cruised to a 45-20 win. Slovis was electric, completing 28 of 33 for 377 yards and three scores. The USC defense came to play as well, racking up three sacks and 10 tackles for loss while forcing a turnover.
BYU was a 3.5-point underdog at kickoff of last week’s road tilt with Tennessee. Once again, the oddsmakers were proven to be incorrect. Tennessee held a 13-3 lead at the half, but the Cougars stormed back and made a game of it. At the end of regulation, it was all tied up at 16 apiece. In the second OT, a 5-yd TD run from Ty’Son Williams sealed the deal as BYU pulled out the 29-26 upset.
The Trojans opened up the year at home by playing host to Fresno State. They picked up a 31-23 win as 14.5-point favorites, but the bigger news was the loss of Daniels. Heading into the year, there was a lot of optimism that Daniles would help lead USC back to relevancy. His injury let some air out of the balloon, but the performance of Slovis and last week’s big win have reinflated it.
The Cougars also opened up their season at home, welcoming Utah to town for a Thursday night affair. They were only 6-point underdogs at kickoff, but that number proved to be too optimistic as the Utes cruised to a 30-12 victory. This program has a good amount of talent, led by QB Zach Wilson, and is expected to reach bowl eligibility once again. Last week’s huge road win was a big step towards that.
Two stats that stick out from last year’s disappointing 5-7 campaign for USC are the turnover margin and penalty yards per game. Improvement in both areas combined with continued strong play should help lead to a return to bowl eligibility for the Trojans. Through two games in 2019, the team is averaging 38.0 points per game and allowing an average of 21.5.
BYU was bowl eligible in 2018. They were invited to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, hammering Western Michigan to the tune of 48-14. Wilson was outstanding in the victory, going 18 of 18 for 317 yards and four scores. The Cougars were a balanced club which was solid defensively a season ago. For this year, the club is averaging 20.5 points per game and allowing 28.0 per contest thus far.
These two programs hooked up in back-to-back years for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. USC won both of them by double digits, going 1-1 against the spread while doing so. For this season to date, both clubs are 1-1 ATS. USC is 2-0 on totals, while BYU checks in at 1-1.
Last season, the Trojans were 4-8 ATS and 6-6 on the Over/Under. The Cougars were 9-4 ATS and 4-9 on totals. As away favorites in 2018, USC was 2-1 both overall and ATS. BYU was not in a home underdog situation last year.
For this contest, the Trojans are currently 3.5-point road favorites with a projected game total of 56 points.
Once this game is in the books, USC has a daunting stretch on tap against three currently ranked teams. In successive weeks, the Trojans will be home to take on Utah, at Washington, and wrap things up with a road date at Notre Dame.
For the rest of the way, it’s six straight versus conference foes, several of which are looking tough in the early going. Add it all up, and a win or loss in this contest could have a huge bearing on the program’s bowl aspirations for 2019.
The Cougars will be facing two ranked opponents the rest of the way as of right now, including a home date next week with Washington. The front part of the schedule is toughest for BYU. If the team can exit Week 4 with a record of 2-2, it would have to be considered a success.
For this contest, USC is the more complete team. While there’s a possibility that Slovis comes back to earth this week, the rest of the team appears to have stepped it up in the absence of Daniels. We like the Trojans minus the points.