The Pac-12 begins this weekend and the first game oddly comes at 9 a.m. local time between USC and Arizona State. With only six games on the schedule, every contest is almost a must-win if these teams hope to make the conference championship game. The Trojans opened as -10.5 point favorites with an over/under of 59.5 points at MyBookie.
The first game is always hard to project, even more so when you combine that with COVID-19 and this being a Pac-12 game, as opposed to a non-conference game like most seasons.
USC Won 31-26 in 2019
It was a weird result when these teams met almost exactly a year ago. USC won the first quarter 28-7 and then struggled to close the game, taking it 31-26 only because ASU’s backup quarterback threw a late-game interception.
USC is favored in this meeting because of who they are. These teams weren’t much different last year and even finished with the same 8-5 record. USC had the better offense, but ASU had the better defense.
The biggest name in this matchup is Kedon Slovis, who would be a Heisman candidate in a normal season. Slovis has been hyped all offseason by his coaches and he was the main reason the Trojans won this game last season, throwing for 432 yards and four touchdowns.
As a freshman, he did everything he could, completing 71.9% of his passes for 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions. While he lost his top target, he still has plenty to work with, as Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake London are all back and could be set for even better numbers.
USC struggled to run the ball last season, but Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai are senior running backs behind what is expected to be a better offensive line.
AZ ST Held USC To 70 Rushing Yards
Arizona State will try and match what it did last year defensively, allowing 22.4 points per game and seven returning starters will help.
More importantly, they held USC to just 70 rushing yards on 2.5 yards per rush in last year’s game and will likely try and lean on that to keep things close again.
The other side of the ball will be just as intriguing because while Jayden Daniels doesn’t have the same kind of hype as Slovis, he is just as important to his team.
As a true freshman, he completed 60.7% of his passes on 8.7 yards per attempt for 17 touchdowns and two interceptions. He played things fairly safe and that let ASU’s defense lead the way most of the season.
The problem is that Daniels lost all of his top skill players and they already struggled to run the ball, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. A trio of backs will try and replace Eno Benjamin’s production, while Frank Darby steps into the top receiving role.
USC Defense Struggled in 2019
The main reason the Sun Devils kept things competitive last year was because of USC’s poor defense. Even though the Trojans return the majority of their starters, it’s been a while since USC’s defense has been one of the better units in the Pac-12. They gave up close to 30 points per game last year and it’ll be hard to trust them in the opener.
USC is getting respect in the spread mainly because of its name, but these teams weren’t much different last season. If Daniels shows improvement in his second year to go with a stout defense, that could be enough to keep this game close, unless Slovis, also in his second season, really goes off.
Our Pick – AZ State +11.5