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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

USC-Stanford Week 2 Betting Preview

Max Meyer |
September 4, 2014 | 3:26 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

How will USC be able to handle Stanford's physicality? (Neon Tommy)
How will USC be able to handle Stanford's physicality? (Neon Tommy)
#14 USC at #13 Stanford

Saturday, September 6 at 12:30 p.m. PST on ABC

Latest Odds: USC +2.5 and Over/Under 54.5

Over the past seven years or so, have there been any rivalry games more interesting than USC-Stanford? In 2007, Stanford, a 41-point underdog, upset #2 USC 24-23 and snapped the Trojans' 35-game home winning streak. In 2009, Stanford ran up the score on USC by trouncing them 55-21, which led to the legendary "What's your deal?" exchange between then-coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh. 

The following year, Stanford won 37-35 after their kicker Nate Whitaker made a 30-yard field goal as time expired. Quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck headlined a triple-overtime classic in 2011, as the Cardinal prevailed 56-48 after a Curtis McNeal fumble into the end zone. That still remains the best college football game I've ever attended. 

The past two seasons, both teams have exchanged major upsets and their home crowds have gotten to storm the field in each, including USC's 20-17 win in 2013. Overall, the last four games between these Pac-12 squads have been decided by one possession. So it's not a surprise at all to see a 2.5-point line by Vegas in this year's game. 

USC coach Steve Sarkisian's new offense created a lot of buzz across the country, as the Trojans racked up more than 700 yards and ran 105 plays, a record for the Pac-12. Sarkisian's Washington team last season accumulated 489 yards and 30 first downs in their game against Stanford. While the Huskies lost 31-28, Stanford revamped their defense afterwards against opponents that ran similar uptempo offensive schemes. As Scout.com's David Lombardi noted, the Cardinal brought their two great cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons closer to the line of scrimmage and pressed outside receivers hard.

Fresno State a lot of the time played off on USC's wide receivers last weekend, allowing USC to capitalize on short to intermediate routes. Quarterback Cody Kessler is going to have to attack Stanford over the middle for USC's passing offense to succeed. But for the overall offense to succeed, USC's running game is going to need a great performance. 

USC's passing game will open up if they establish a rushing attack. In their past two games against Stanford, USC has combined for 49 rushing yards on 55 carries. Averaging less than one yard per carry over that span is outstanding, even if Stanford's defensive line was extremely talented and physical. 

Stanford's defense has stopped uptempo offenses before, just look at their games against Oregon the past two years. The Cardinal like to dominate the time of possession in those contests, keeping the opposing offense off the field for as long as possible. To understand Stanford's plan, ironically, here's a quote from Coach Sarkisian after the Fresno State game. 

"When you can convert third downs and extend drives, you can start to accumulate plays. By accumulating plays, you can start to wear down your opponent a little bit," said Sarkisian. 

Stanford's main goals on offense in this game are to be successful on third-down conversions and to have extensive drives. Not only would they be wearing down USC's defense, but they'd limit USC's plays on offense as well. Stanford converted only four of their 12 third-down attempts last year against USC, so they'll need to improve on that number.

MORE: Behind Enemy Lines: Stanford Seeking Revenge In Pac-12 Showdown Against USC

Another area that Stanford will need to improve upon this time around is their red zone offense. In last year's game, Stanford only scored 10 points on four red zone trips. In fact, last season Stanford only scored a touchdown in 30 of their 52 red zone trips. That 57.7 percent red zone touchdown percentage was their lowest in six years. 

Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery is the most explosive player on the Cardinal offense. Montgomery burned Sarkisian's Washington team last year with 290 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Thanks to his two monster kick returns, it's doubtful that Sarkisian will let USC kick it to the elite receiver. Also expect USC to help CB Kevon Seymour (who will definitely be covering Montgomery) by putting a safety over the top. 

Stanford's secondary weapons will most likely need to be the ones to make impact plays to beat the Trojan defense. Stanford has a lot more threats in the passing game this year. Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector are both fast, and viable deep threats. Stanford's tight end trio of Austin Hooper, Eric Cotton and Greg Taboada had a combined six catches and 90 receiving yards against UC Davis in Week 1. Compare that to a Stanford tight end group that had only had 10 receptions and 69 yards all of last season, and it's clear that the position is an upgrade.

Both of these teams have defenses that rank among the best in the country. The UNDER has come out on top in six of USC's last nine games. Yet, with only one of these teams trying to speed up on offense, the tempo will be extremely important this game. Stanford has a big advantage playing at home, as their 17-game home winning streak is tops in college football. 

USC has won four connective road games, but are 3-10 against the spread in their last 13 road contests. Home-field advantages play a much larger role in college football than the NFL, and Stanford looked like a shell of their team in road losses last season against USC and Utah. USC's team is more talented and better-coached than the one that upset Stanford in 2013. This is a Stanford team, however, with many more weapons, which will be a tough challenge for a Trojan secondary without a lot of depth. Stanford is thirsty for revenge, and in a close game, the Cardinal will once again deliver at home.

Final Score Prediction: Stanford 27, USC 24

My Best Bet: UNDER 54.5 Points

Reach Senior Sports Editor Max Meyer by email.

Follow @TheMaxMeyer



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