The college football weekend comes to a close with a late-night Pac-12 showdown between the USC Trojans and California Golden Bears. This game will kick off at 11:00 EST on Saturday, November 16 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. Fans can catch all of the action on FS1.
Current odds list USC as 6.5-point road favorites with an over/under of 48.5 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s college football odds.
Cal’s season has new life after the Golden Bears beat Washington State last week. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for Cal and makes a bowl game a more realistic option for Justin Wilcox and company. In addition to last week’s win, quarterback Chase Garbers has finally been cleared to play after missing the last five games due to injury. He might be able to give the Bears another boost down the stretch to help get them to a bowl game in back-to-back years for the first time in a decade.
Of course, it’s not a done deal just yet. California is 5-4 and still needs one more win in their final three games to secure a bowl bid. The Golden Bears will finish their season with road games against Stanford and UCLA. This week’s game is Cal’s last home game of the season, and after the confidence gained from last week’s win, it could be their best chance to get win no. 6.
Meanwhile, in the southern part of the Golden State, the Trojans are breathing a sigh of relief after surviving a 31-26 game against Arizona State last week. It was USC’s sixth win of the season, meaning that after missing out on a bowl spot last year, the Trojans will play a postseason game in 2019.
USC is also holding out hope that if they can win their final two games of the season and Utah loses a second Pac-12 game, the Trojans will leap ahead of the Utes and win the Pac-12 South. Winning these last two games against Cal and UCLA and perhaps playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game might also be necessary for head coach Clay Helton to keep his job after the season.
The Trojans might also have a little bit of revenge on their minds after losing to Cal 15-14 on their home field last season. That loss snapped a 14-game winning streak USC had going against the Golden Bears. For the record, these two teams have faced one another 105 times and not since 1958 has Cal beaten USC in back-to-back seasons.
I don’t want to overreact too much to Cal’s win last week after the Golden Bears lost four in a row. However, it was a good reminder of what a nuisance the Golden Bears can be, especially defensively. On top of that, USC has struggled on the road this year, going 2-3 with both wins coming by five points or less. They couldn’t even close out a win last week while facing a freshman quarterback making his first career start. USC is the more talented team, but they’ll be lucky to survive another tough road game this week. I like my chances with Cal beating the 6.5-point spread at home.
Even during their four-game losing streak, it was hard not to be impressed by Cal’s defense. To date, only a top-10 Utah team has managed to score more than 24 points against the Golden Bears. Not even Oregon’s high-powered offense did it. A week ago, they held Washington State to a mere 20 points, which is nearly half their season average. Plus, the Wazzou defense being responsible for two of the 20 points. It was just the latest example of how the Cal defense almost always gives the Bears a chance.
As impressive as the USC offense has been this season, the Cal defense is good enough to give them trouble. The Trojans are still struggling with injuries to their backfield and only managed 70 rushing yards against Arizona State last week. That could be a problem against this week, as the Golden Bears have managed to stuff the run against almost all of their opponents this season. That figures to put all of the pressure on USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. While he’s been impressive this year, he’s also taken a lot of hits and been turnover-prone at times, especially against quality defensive teams.
On the other side of the ball, the Cal offense will get a shot in the arm with Garbers coming back this week. It’s worth noting that Garbers will compete with backup Devon Modster in practice this week, so it’s not a lock Garbers gets the start. In fact, Modster is coming off a great performance against Washington State, completing 16 of his 24 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Cal also had success running the ball against WSU with both Modster and Christopher Brown. Of course, even if Garbers doesn’t start, the Golden Bears will feel better knowing they can go to him if Modster struggles.
Given Cal’s defensive prowess and the promise of their offense with last week’s performance and the return of Garbers, I like the Golden Bears to win this game. The Trojans may have plenty of talent, but they have a few flaws and have struggled to win games on the road this year. I’d be more than a little surprised if USC won this game by a comfortable margin, so I feel good about taking Cal as a home underdog.