- After losing twice to USC in 2017—including a hard-fought Pac-12 Championship Game—Stanford is favored by 5.5 over the Trojans at home on Saturday.
USC at Stanford (-5.5)
Sat. 9/8, 8:30 p.m. ET
Three things you need to know before betting on USC-Stanford:
1. USC's JT Daniels is one of the most heralded freshman quarterbacks in recent memory, and he showed why last weekend in his debut. In a 43-21 win at the L.A. Coliseum over UNLV, Daniels completed 22 of 35 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown without turning the ball over. As impressive as that was, it should be easy for the Trojans offense to get even better. The final margin against UNLV would've been significantly larger if USC hadn't stalled out on several first-half drives and settled for field goals. Daniels is in as ideal a situation as a young QB can be, with veteran wideouts like Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns at his disposal. The most impressive receiver in the opener, however, was Daniels's fellow freshman (and high school teammate) Amon-Ra St. Brown, who caught seven balls for 98 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But in his second career start, Daniels will get his first real test: a night game on the road in Palo Alto. David Shaw's Cardinal squad has long fielded one of the nation's most intimidating defenses. While that unit lost significant talent from last season, the Cardinal looked as stifling as ever holding a very good San Diego State team to 263 total yards in a 31-10 victory last Friday night. Daniels famously faced little adversity in his high school career—his team literally never trailed at any point last season—so if he's asked to engineer a come-from-behind drive late in the game, he'll be in unfamiliar territory.
2. Stanford running back Bryce Love was one of college football's brightest stars last season, racking up a stunning 2,118 yards on the ground. Even when playing through fairly substantial injuries over the second part of the season, he never averaged fewer than 4.3 yards per carry in a game. Thus, it was bewildering to see him manage a meager 29 yards on 18 carries against SDSU.
What happened? The Aztecs completely sold out to stop the run, regularly bringing eight men into the box to completely shut down the Heisman hopeful. But they paid for it: Stanford QB KJ Costello threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns. Costello's previous high for passing yards had been 212, so by Cardinal standards this was an all-out aerial assault. Love is fully healthy by all accounts and Stanford has a fantastic offensive line. Consider Love's lackluster rushing performance as a one-time deal.
USC knows all too well how difficult it is to stop Love. He rushed for 285 total yards in two games against the Trojans last season. The USC run defense did little to shut down opposing backs over the course of 2017. The Trojans' stuff rate (percentage of RB carries stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage) of 15.3% ranked ninth in the Pac-12. If last week was any indication, there wasn't much improvement over the summer. USC allowed an ugly 308 rushing yards to UNLV. It will be difficult for them to make enough adjustments in time to contain Love.
3. Over the last few years, USC has been one of the worst teams in the country against the spread, while Stanford has been one of the best. Since the beginning of the 2015 season, the Trojans are 17-24-1 ATS (41.5%), while the Cardinal is 25-16-1 (61.0%).
These two teams have played five times over that time frame, including two Pac-12 Championship Games, and Stanford covered the spread in four of those contests. Only one of those five matchups was a home game for Stanford, when it won 27-10 as a 7.5-point favorite in September 2016. USC's offense should be able to do better than that this time around against a Stanford D that's still working in some new pieces, but expect the Cardinal to control the ball and win by at least a touchdown.
Pick: Stanford -5.5
Confidence Level: Moderate (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)