Max Meyer’s betting previews are part of a weekly column on Reign of Troy to highlight the Las Vegas odds and daily fantasy picks around college football. This week’s edition previews Saturday’s USC vs. Stanford game.
Pac-12 play commences with an outstanding rivalry game: USC vs. Stanford. The last five games between these two teams have had a combined margin of 23 points. So, at first, seeing the line at USC -9.5 was a head-scratcher to say the least.
But despite a blowout win against UCF last weekend, it’s clear that this isn’t the same Cardinal team as in years past. The defense isn’t as dominant, and the offense hasn’t progressed as well, despite being led by redshirt senior quarterback Kevin Hogan.
Stanford’s bread and butter against USC over the past few seasons has been its rushing attack. From 2012-2014, Stanford had a combined 540 rushing yards in three contests against USC. This season, Stanford is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry.
If its running game led by Christian McCaffrey –and watch out for true freshman Bryce Love as wel– sputters, Stanford will need Hogan to step up.
In two games against the Trojans, Hogan hasn’t thrown a single touchdown pass. In last season’s game, Stanford drove inside the Trojans’ 35-yard line nine times. But the Cardinal only came away with 10 points in a 13-10 loss.
The fact that USC’s defense allowed Stanford to move the ball effortlessly in between the 20’s in that game was not a good sign, and the way the Cardinal finished those drives was historically fluky. A big difference in USC’s defense this season, however, is the amount of times the unit has been blitzing.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Trojans blitzed on only 13 percent of dropbacks last season. That number is already up to 28 percent through two games. With the way last season’s game ended –a JR Tavai strip sack–, expect Justin Wilcox to dial up the pressure again.
A huge key in this game for Stanford –as well as USC– is third down. The Cardinal have converted 30 percent of its third-down attempts, which ranks 107th in FBS. Meanwhile the Trojans are the seventh-worst in that metric, by only converting 25 percent of the time.
April 11, 2015; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) warms up on the sideline during the spring football game at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Stanford, though, has had almost twice the most of third down attempts (30) as USC (16), which speaks to the amount of success USC has had on first and second down compared to its opponent.
Cody Kessler only had 135 passing yards last season against Stanford, which started a trend last season of him not performing as well against tougher competition.
Stanford’s pass defense has been solid so far, but the Cardinal have faced three freshmen in their two games. Kessler is a redshirt senior, and a quarterback that a younger secondary may have problems with.
But Stanford’s defensive line is the real issue. The Cardinal only have three defensive linemen available that they use in their regular defensive rotation.
Against USC’s uptempo offense, this could be the biggest key of the game. Even though the unit has struggled, the Trojans’ offensive line needs to take advantage of this matchup, especially in the second half.
Stanford has two excellent senior linebackers in Blake Martinez and Kevin Anderson, but a depleted defensive line and rebuilding secondary means that this group isn’t as fearsome as in previous seasons.
Yes, Stanford has held its opponent to 20 or fewer points in 33 of the past 43 games, but I really think the Cardinal will struggle dealing with USC’s explosive skill position players. And I don’t think Stanford’s offense has the firepower to keep up either. In something I would have never thought I’d do before the season, I’m picking USC as a heavy favorite over its rival.
Predicted Score: USC 31, Stanford 17
Best Bet: UNDER 50.5 Points
Other Pac-12 Bets I Like:
- Cal/Texas OVER 58 Points
- Utah State +7.5 over Washington
Last Week’s Overall Record: 2-3 | Season Record: 3-6 |Best Bets Record 0-1
CFB DFS Preview:
To add insult to injury, my CFB DFS lineups were not as strong last week as the week before.At least two of my USC picks, Ronald Jones II and Isaac Whitney, both were strong plays for their prices. Steven Mitchell Jr., the third pick, not so much.
Yet, I’m back on the Steven Mitchell Jr. train for this week as well. I just think this guy is due to explode soon, he’s that talented. I also don’t think Kessler will be completing many throws down the field against Stanford, and that him throwing many short, quick passes will be a pattern.
I also think Justin Davis is a nice value. Stanford’s defense was gashed for more than 200 rushing yards against Northwestern. With Stanford’s defensive line depth in shambles, I think USC can wear them out in the second half by running the ball often. Davis looked sharp last week, and should receive a healthy amount of carries in this game.
Here are my lineups, for now, for the early slate and late slate on Saturday.
I will be tweeting my final lineups for each before the games start. Follow me on Twitter and good luck this weekend!
USC vs. Stanford Preview Podcast:
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