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. ASU game.
I fell for the trap.
This was supposed to be a different USC team. This was also supposed to be a different Stanford team. Even though Stanford was a double-digit point underdog at some books, I believed, despite a few red flags, that the Trojans could still cover this game.
Boy was I wrong.
But there is some good news for the Trojans: USC has been excellent recently coming off of a loss. In the past two seasons, the Trojans are 8-0 in the game after a loss. USC is 14-6 against the spread in the last five seasons after a loss, which is the fifth-best mark in college football.
However, only five of those 20 contests were true road games. And three of those five were against the likes of Hawaii, Colorado and Washington State. The two others were a loss at Stanford and last season’s heart attack-inducing win at Arizona.
So basically, two big reasons for USC’s success coming off a loss are most of those games have occurred at home and not facing as many tough road games in that situation. Which is why traveling to Arizona State this week will be a big challenge, despite how disappointing the Sun Devils have looked so far.
Let’s face it, many people are saying that USC has the desperation card this week, but so does Arizona State. Despite the Sun Devils still having a zero in the loss column in Pac-12 play, picking up a second loss before September ends in a brutal conference is essentially the nail in the coffin.
But maybe facing USC is what ASU needs. After all, according to ASU’s sports information department, the Sun Devils have averaged more points (38.6 per game) against the Trojans over the past five seasons than any other team.
That includes then-backup quarterback Mike Bercovici leading the way to a 38-34 Hail Mary win over the Trojans last season. Bercovici threw for a career-high 510 yards and five touchdowns. This season, he’s been solid. Bercovici has thrown for seven touchdowns and only one interception with a 61.9 percent completion rate. But he’s been sacked 11 times and is only averaging 7.1 yards per attempt.
Sep 12, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici (2) against the Cal Poly Mustangs at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, the Trojans didn’t blitz Bercovici often, which allowed him to pick apart USC’s defense with ample time in the pocket. After not dialing up enough pressure in last week’s loss to Stanford, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is feeling the heat from the fan base to call more blitzes.
While I don’t think their skill players are as talented as USC’s, the Sun Devils have some excellent weapons on offense. Everyone probably knows of D.J. Foster and Demario Richard. While Foster now mostly plays wide receiver, that doesn’t mean he won’t get a few carries as well. He wasn’t effective on the ground last season against USC, gaining only 13 yards on 10 carries, but had 73 yards and a touchdown through the air.
One player to keep an eye on is JUCO transfer wideout Tim White, who is a speedy deep threat. UCLA transfer Devin Lucien will play despite dealing with a hamstring injury, which will help free things up for White.
With the secondary’s focus on Foster, White is a guy who can have a breakout game. He’s had a touchdown in both games he’s played in this season. Also, linebacker turned running back Kalen Ballage returns for ASU after recovering from mono and will get a few carries, giving the Sun Devils another weapon.
On defense, at first glance, it appears that Arizona State’s run defense has been a problem, opening things up for Tre Madden, Justin Davis and the freshmen. The Sun Devils have allowed 215.3 yards per game, which is 106th in college football.
But, this is a defense that has faced two triple-option offenses in Cal Poly and New Mexico. And Arizona State’s defense has surrendered four yards a carry, which means the rushing attacks they’ve faced may have been more quantity over quality.
Madden, Davis and Ronald Jones II all have averages of at least 7.4 yards per carry. As a team, USC averages 6.4 yards per carry. Which made it all the more confusing that the Trojans practically abandoned its run game in the second half against Stanford. While I think USC’s ground game will be solid, it’s not as big a mismatch as people are making it out to be.
READ ALSO: Previewing ASU with a Q&A
One big key in this game will be turnovers. USC is just one of three teams in college football without a single giveaway this season. If the Trojans continue that same formula, it’s much harder to envision them losing in Tempe. In its last two contests at Tempe, USC has given the ball away a whopping eight times.
I’m sorry, but I just think this line having USC as a 5.5-point road favorite is just too high. After all, Steve Sarkisian is 0-4 in his career against ASU. Todd Graham will have a group motivated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sark saying Arizona State sucked is one of those tools.
These two teams also seem to score a lot of points when facing one another. The total has gone OVER in seven of the last nine games in Tempe between these two teams. Four of the last five USC-ASU games have gone OVER as well. Cody Kessler and Bercovici should have no problem continuing that trend.
In the end, I expect a similar game to Arizona last season. USC, desperate coming off a loss, strikes early and races out to a nice lead. But Pac-12 after dark in the desert strikes, along with a couple of questionable decisions from the sideline, and ASU gets back in the game. But USC will escape, barely, with its college football playoff dreams still alive.
Predicted USC vs. ASU Score: USC 35, Arizona State 31
Best Bet: OVER 62 points
Other Pac-12 Bets I Like:
- Arizona +3 vs. UCLA
- Cal-Washington OVER 60.5 points
Last Week’s Overall Record: 1-3 | Season Record 4-9 (Yikes) | Best Bets Record 0-2
CFB DFS Preview:
At least my DraftKings picks have been going well, including…
My night picks weren’t as great, but still solid. Those included my USC pick, Steven Mitchell Jr., who had two touchdowns last week. His receptions are still pretty low, as is his DraftKings price. Which is why I’m going back to the Mitchell Jr. well AGAIN this week. Seriously, he’s just been so underpriced each week.
Also, since I’m rolling with Travis Wilson as one of my quarterbacks against Oregon’s subpar secondary in my late lineup, that freed enough cash up for… Cody Kessler!
As always, I will be tweeting my final lineups before the games kick off, but the lineups above are what I have as of now. Good luck this weekend, I know my picks will need it!
USC vs. ASU Preview Podcast:
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