It’s only the second week of the college football season and already there’s a massive game in the Pac-12 between the USC Trojans and the no. 23 Stanford Cardinal. Kickoff is set for 10:30 EST on Saturday, September 7 as Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Fans can find the game on ESPN.
According to the Week 2 betting odds, USC is favored by 2.5 points at home. The over/under for the game is listed at 45.5 points.
Stanford survived its season opener against Northwestern, winning 17-7. The Cardinal scored a defensive touchdown late in the fourth quarter to cover the spread but was close to only winning 10-7 despite dominating both the yardage and time of possession.
Obviously, the most important thing is that Stanford won the game, but it could have come at a cost. Quarterback K.J. Costello left the game after taking a hit to the helmet. He’s questionable to play on Saturday and Stanford may not know if he’s ready to play until close to game time. Meanwhile, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for Stanford either. They travel to Central Florida next week and then come home to play Oregon after that, so one loss could turn into more if the Cardinal can’t find a way to win beat USC this week.
Of course, the Trojans have problems of their own. USC fell short of covering the spread against Fresno State in their season opener. They allowed a 31-13 lead to disintegrate into a close 31-23 win. It wasn’t exactly the kind of performance the USC faithful were hoping to see one year after the Trojans failed to qualify for a bowl game.
But it gets worse, as starting quarterback J.T. Daniels left the game with an injury and has been lost for the season after tearing both his ACL and meniscus. Daniels finished the 2018 season strong, so big things were expected of him in 2019, making this a huge early-season setback for the Trojans.
Injured quarterbacks or not, the Stanford-USC rivalry will still be played. These two teams have played virtually every year for the last century, and this year will be no different. The Cardinal has taken four of the last six meetings, a stretch that includes two meetings in the Pac-12 Championship Game. A year ago, Stanford won a defensive struggle 17-3, and given the status of Costello and Daniels, this could be another low-scoring affair between the two teams.
To be honest, this is a tough game to pick, which is the way it should be with these two teams. But I like the Cardinal as road underdogs. There’s at least a chance Costello could play whereas Daniels is out. I also like the Stanford defense more than the USC defense. I think that could be the difference in a game like this. It’s more or less a tossup, but I’ll lean toward Stanford in this game.
Replacing Daniels at quarterback for USC will be true freshman Kedon Slovis. He completed six of his eight passes in relief of Daniels against Fresno State. But he also threw an interception late in the Fresno State game. To be fair, Slovis also beat out several notable candidates for the backup job, so with a full week of practice, he should be ready to play. The Trojans also have other options if Slovis struggles.
On the other hand, the Stanford defense had its way with a couple of inexperienced quarterbacks last week against Northwestern. TJ Green and Hunter Johnson, who both seemed to be viable options, combined to go 12 for 27 for just 117 yards with two interceptions. The Stanford defense also held Northwestern to under 100 yards rushing. Admittedly, the Trojans have better skill players than Northwestern. But it’s still hard not to be impressed with the Stanford defense. I think the Cardinal will be fine on that side of the ball, especially after holding USC to three points in last year’s meeting.
Meanwhile, the USC defense was good but not overly impressive against Fresno State last week. The Bulldogs lost a lot from last year’s team, including their starting quarterback. I like that the Trojans were able to force three turnovers, but they also gave up a lot of yards, both on the ground and through the air. The USC defense also struggled to close out the game when they led by 18 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Of course, Costello’s health is the great X-factor in this game. Backup David Mills was just seven of 14 for 81 yards after Costello’s injury. The Stanford running game was also underwhelming, albeit against a strong Northwestern defense. Without Costello, I’m not sure Stanford has the pieces to take advantage of some of the holes on the USC defense. That could make it a struggle for both teams offensively.
If Costello doesn’t play, taking the under on 45.5 points may be the best bet, especially after these teams combined for 20 points last year. However, against the spread, I’m going to lean toward Stanford with or without their starting quarterback. I think the Cardinal defense will feast on the young USC quarterback and be the catalyst in an ugly Stanford win.