- After demoralizing defeats to Stanford and Texas, USC is only a 3.5-point favorite at home on Friday night against Washington State. Is this a good spot to buy low on the Trojans?
Washington State at USC (-3.5)
Fri. 9/21, 10:30 p.m. ET
Three things you need to know before betting on Washington State-USC:
1. USC's defense, to put it bluntly, is not good. There were early indications that this was the case. When a run defense that struggled in 2017 kicks off the new season by giving up over 300 rushing yards to UNLV in Week 1, it is not a good omen. The unit managed to hold it together in Week 2, surrendering only 17 points in a loss to Stanford. But at Texas last weekend, the wheels fell off. The Longhorns offense controlled the game, possessing the ball for nearly 35 minutes and racking up 25 first downs in a 37-14 win in Austin. Texas outscored USC 34-0 from the second quarter onwards.
Against Washington State, a weak defense can be a fatal flaw. The Cougars have averaged more than 420 yards of total offense per game and over 30 PPG since coach Mike Leach took the helm in 2012. So far this season, the Wazzu offense looks like it is going to continue that trend. New starting quarterback Gardner Minshew looks fully the part of a Leach signal-caller, ranking third in the nation with 1,203 passing yards through three games. The running game, however, has yet to really get going—the Cougars averaged 2.7 yards per carry en route to only 41 rushing yards against FCS Eastern Washington last week. USC's weakest point is its run D, but Leach's team may be ill-equipped to take advantage.
2. USC's offense hasn't looked so hot, either. After a strong debut against UNLV, 18-year-old quarterback JT Daniels is clearly still adjusting to the college game. USC's three points against Stanford were the fewest in a game for the program since 1997, and 14 points a week later wasn't much of an improvement. Having to play through a thumb injury on his throwing hand surely hasn't made things any easier for Daniels. The run game has been a bigger problem, though, and it doesn't get much worse than the negative-five rushing yards that the Trojans put up against Texas. Connecting these issues is an offensive line that has underperformed in all respects.
That said, playing at home against Washington State might be just the opportunity USC needs to bounce back. The Cougars defense has been solid thus far, but it's been gifted with matchups against Wyoming and San Jose State, two of the least inspiring offenses in FBS. There's not much to be learned from last weekend's 59-24 victory over Eastern Washington, either. With 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Hercules Mata'afa gone from last year's team, it's still unclear how good Cougars defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys's unit is.
3. Clay Helton might not be the most popular man in the greater Los Angeles area after USC's 1-2 start, but he'll certainly be happy to play at home this week after back-to-back road games. Helton has been favored in all 17 home games he's coached at USC, and he's delivered a win in every single one. His Trojans are 9-8 against the spread in those games, but that record improves to 4-1 ATS when USC is a home favorite of six points or fewer. The Trojans outscored opponents by an average of 13 points in those five contests. While it seems clear that this Trojans roster is Helton's worst, it remains in the upper echelon of the conference in terms of pure talent. Washington State is not, and three wins over weak competition hasn't proven that the Cougars are still Pac-12 contenders after losing the likes of Mata'afa and Luke Falk.
Pick: USC -3.5
Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)