USC Trojans vs. California Golden Bears
Date and Time: Saturday, September 23, 2017, 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Opening College Football Odds: USC -15
USC vs. California TV Coverage: ABC
It's clear that these Golden Bears aren't anywhere near what the Sonny Dykes Bears were. Cal still runs up and down the field when it has to, but this offense plays at a much more sensible pace under Justin Wilcox.
California has now taken care of Ole Miss and North Carolina in non-conference play. Are there better out of conference wins across the Pac-12? Sure. But this is an awfully impressive display early on in the season for a team that most assumed would be a fringy bowl team and nothing more.
The duo to watch is running back Patrick Laird and receiver Vic Wharton III. Laird is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and has 278 yards and four scores on the season. Wharton has 259 yards on 15 receptions with two trips to the end zone. Both men are huge plays threats, and it's inevitable that, even against USC's talented defense, there will be opportunities for these two men to break free and put a stamp on this game.
The Trojans were certainly spooked last week by Texas, being forced to two overtimes against a team that, though talented, hasn't shown it in wins and losses over the course of the last several seasons.
Sam Darnold is still having problems throwing interceptions. He has six picks on just 108 attempts, far too high of a ratio to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. That said, he rallied the troops when he had to against Texas, leading the team back from down 17-14 late in the fourth quarter to tie things up and send it to overtime.
Still, the Trojans should be applauded considering how hard their schedule has been at this point in the year. Darnold is still averaging 9.28 yards per pass attempt. Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr have still combined to run the ball for 538 yards and seven touchdowns. Deontay Burnett is one of the leading receivers in the nation with 24 catches, 386 yards and four touchdowns.
The Golden Bears still have big problems in their secondary. Through the entire Dykes era, they had no luck grooming corners and safeties to try to protect over the top, and the end result was a pass defense that routinely ranked in the 110s and 120 nationally. This year isn't an exception.
Last year when these two teams played at the Coliseum, Darnold threw for 231 yards and five touchdowns, though it should be noted that the stars of the show were the offensive linemen. The Trojans rushed for 398 yards on just 48 carries, an average of 8.3 yards per rush. When you put up 629 yards in a game, you're not going to lose all that often.
USC vs. California Free Picks
Wilcox is an early candidate for Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors, but we suspect this game is going to be a bit over his head. You can't rely upon big plays to beat the Trojans, and we're not sure that quarterback Ross Bowers is truly capable of keeping up with a man who still figures to be playing on Sundays for a bad NFL team next season.
Cal will hang in there early, and we wouldn't be opposed to play it in the first half if your favorite college football sportsbook offers first half lines. But in the end, this is USC's game by double digits.
College Football ATS Pick: USC -15 at BookMaker.eu
College Football Score Prediction: USC 43, California 23