After working their way into the polls, the no. 24 USC Trojans hit the road this weekend to take on the BYU Cougars. Game time is set for 3:30 EST on Saturday, September 14 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. The game can be seen nationally on ABC.
According to our Week 3 college football odds, the Trojans are being favored by 4.5 points on the road. The over/under for the game is listed at 55 points.
It’s been just two weeks, but already this season has been a whirlwind for Clay Helton and the Trojans. USC opened the season with a lackluster win over Fresno State. To make things worse, the Trojans lost starting quarterback JT Daniels to a season-ending injury in that game, forcing them to turn to true freshman Kedon Slovis last week against Stanford. However, Slovis ended up playing the role of hero for USC. After trailing 20-10 midway through the second quarter, Slovis led the comeback, as the Trojans scored the final 35 points of the game to win 45-20 and change the early-season narrative surrounding the team.
The first two weeks have also been a bit of a rollercoaster for BYU. The Cougars lost their season opener to rival Utah, starting out 0-1 with a brutal September schedule ahead of them. They also looked dead in the water last week against Tennessee. But one long pass play late in the fourth quarter set up the game-tying field goal and sent the game to overtime. The Cougars ended up winning 29-26 in double overtime to score their first win of the season. Even with three more ranked teams on their schedule, there is renewed hope for the Cougars after last week’s improbable win.
The history between USC and BYU is quite limited. The two schools have only met twice before, during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Trojans, who were coached by Pete Carroll at the time, won both games on their way to winning the national championship both years.
While I respect how hard BYU has played this season and their amazing comeback win over Tennessee last week, I think USC is a little out of their league. I think the Cougars will make the Trojans work for it, but I don’t think BYU can stay in the game for 60 minutes. Once the USC offense starts to click, the Cougars will struggle to keep up and USC will ultimately be able to cover the 4.5-point spread by a comfortable margin.
I see this game going a lot like BYU’s season opener against Utah. The Cougars only trailed 9-6 at halftime, using their defense and the energy from the home crowd to keep them in the game. But there was a clear talent difference between the two teams. I think we’ll see that between BYU and USC this week as well.
It’s on the offensive side of the ball that BYU simply doesn’t have the athletes to compete with top teams from power conferences. Sophomore Zach Wilson is a promising young quarterback who is an accurate passer and can make plays with his legs. But he’s not an elite talent when you put him up against quality opponents. In a close game, he’ll make enough plays to give you a chance, as we law last week against Tennessee. But he has just one touchdown pass and two interceptions over his first two games, which makes me think the talent on the USC defense will be too much for him.
It’s a similar situation with BYU running back Ty’Son Williams, who’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry on the season. He can grind out the tough yards and help keep the Cougars from becoming one-dimensional. But I don’t think he can carry the BYU offense against a team like USC. Keep in mind that the Trojans held Stanford, who traditionally dominates teams with their running game, to less than 100 yards on the ground.
The defensive side of the ball is BYU’s biggest strength and the reason why I wouldn’t count them out of this game. But they failed to hold up in the second half against Utah’s tandem of Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss. After the way Slovis shredded the Stanford defense last week, connecting on 28 of his 33 passes, it could be a similar situation this week. The Cougars may get some stops early in the game, but the Trojans have a good enough rushing attack and too many dynamic threats on the outside for the BYU defense to keep them contained for 60 minutes.
Admittedly, it’s possible I’m drinking the Kool-Aid on Slovis and USC after one good outing. But I would argue that the oddsmakers are doing the same for BYU after a fortunate win over a Tennessee team that lost to Georgia State the previous week. The Cougars are good defensively, but they won’t keep USC out of the end zone all game. More importantly, the BYU offense doesn’t have the explosiveness to match the Trojans. That’s why I think USC will cover and then some against BYU on Saturday.