No. 4 USC Trojans vs. No. 11 Utah Utes
Line: USC -2.5
Where: Allegiant Stadium, Paradise, Nevada
When: Friday, 12/2 at 8:00 p.m. ET
No. 4 USC will be looking to book its place in the College Football Playoff when it faces No. 11 Utah in the Pac-12 title game on Friday night.
It is a fitting matchup, as the Utes dealt the Trojans their lone loss earlier this season. Utah was a 3.5-point home favorite in that 43-42 thriller on Oct. 15, which came one week after the Utes were virtually eliminated from the CFP discussion in a loss to UCLA.
The Trojans opened as 1-point favorites in this neutral-site contest, but the early betting action quickly pushed the line up to USC -3 as of Wednesday afternoon. Friday night’s total has seen some movement as well, climbing to 69 after opening at 65.5. These teams have gone ‘over’ at a 6-1-1 clip in their last eight meetings.
USC completed its best regular season since 2008 with its 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, as quarterback Caleb Williams rushed for three touchdowns and threw for another. He enters championship week with 3,712 passing yards and a 34-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Williams was viewed as a longshot Heisman Trophy candidate behind Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker several weeks ago, but a season-ending injury to Hooker and a disastrous performance from Stroud have completely changed that betting market. The USC signal caller is now a -2500 favorite to win the award, making him a virtual lock heading into this weekend.
“We have bigger goals in mind that I’m a part of,” Williams said on Tuesday. “I do get a little bit more texts and phone calls…but like I said, trying to block out all the noise.”
Williams threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns in the loss to Utah earlier this season. His efforts came up just short, as Utah quarterback Cam Rising had a successful two-point conversion carry in the final moments. Rising and Utah’s offense had a rare off day in a 20-17 loss to Oregon two weeks ago, but they bounced back with a 63-21 win over Colorado last week.
Rising completed 17 of 19 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Ja’Quinden Jackson had 117 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries. USC’s defense had no answers for Rising in October, as he threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns—he also rushed for 60 yards and three scores in that game.
“As we all know, very difficult to beat a really good team twice, but that’s what our challenge is,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “SC is ultra-talented, very efficient on offense. I know they’re not No. 1 in total offense, but they’re No. 1 in yards per play, which to me, is more important.”
USC ranks fifth nationally in yards per game (506.6), and its 7.27 yards per play ranks third behind Tennessee and Ohio State. Running back Travis Dye, who racked up 76 yards and a touchdown against Utah in October, is sidelined due to an injury, but backup Austin Jones had 154 yards against Notre Dame last week.
Utah has gone ‘under’ the total in four of its last five games, and it has won 13 of its last 15 conference games. USC has covered in five of its last seven contests and has gone ‘over’ the total in six straight games.
The pick: Utah +3 (DraftKings)
USC’s resurgence has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, stories in college football this season. The Trojans went 4-8 last year, but they have completely turned things around under head coach Lincoln Riley. There is a lot of new pressure on them heading into this game, though. They have been outside the CFP picture all year, and now they are suddenly expected to take care of business to clinch a berth in the field. Utah is not the type of team that you want to face in this scenario, as the Utes are good on both sides of the ball and are led by a veteran head coach. They picked up a win as 3.5-point home favorites earlier this season, so I think this line should be closer to a pick’em, which leads me to believe there is value on the underdogs.