September 23, 2011

PAC-12 Preview: USC at Arizona State Pick

Because of probation USC cannot win the PAC-12 championship this season. But the Trojans will certainly have something to say about who does.

Arizona State is a prime candidate to take advantage of the Trojans’ ineligibility. Playing in the PAC-12′s South Division the Sun Devils are shooting for a berth in the first PAC-12 championship game.

So it’s one team playing to be a spoiler against another with great expectations as USC visits Arizona State Saturday night (10:15 pm Eastern, ESPN).

Southern Cal returned 13 starters this year, seven on defense, from a team that went 5-4 in the PAC-10 last year, its first under HC Lane Kiffin. The Trojans opened this season with a lackluster 19-17 victory over Minnesota, then opened PAC-12 play with a 23-14 victory over Utah, blocking a potential game-tying field goal attempt in the waning seconds and returning it for a score. And last week USC beat Syracuse 38-17, racking up 501 yards of offense.

So the Trojans are off to a 3-0 start, and are ranked No. 23 in the latest AP poll.

Arizona State returned 15 starters this season, including the entire offensive line, from a team that went 4-5 in the PAC-10 last year. ASU started off this season with a 48-14 win over UC-Davis, then beat Missouri 37-30 in overtime, getting 353 passing yards from QB Brock Osweiler. Last week the Sun Devils traveled to Big 10 country and lost a tough one at Illinois 17-14. ASU outgained the Illini 362-240, but turned the ball over three times and allowed six sacks.

Looking at the quarterbacks in Saturday’s matchup Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley, who’s started 27 games for the Trojans, has completed 69% of his passes this season, throwing for nine touchdowns and just one interception. On the other side of the field Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler, with five career starts, has completed 66% of his throws this season, with six TDs and three INTs.

Last year USC extended its winning streak over ASU to 11 games with a crazy 34-33 victory. The Trojans built a 29-14 third-quarter lead, before Arizona State used a kickoff return TD and an INT return for a score to go ahead 33-29. But USC blocked an extra-point attempt and took it back for two points, then kicked a game-winning field goal with three minutes to go and held on from there.

The Trojans outrushed ASU that day 187-116 and held a 37-23 time-of-possession advantage.

On the injury front the Sun Devils will be without DE Junior Onyeali, who hurt his knee last week and will miss at least the next several games.

BoDog opened USC as a three-point favorite for Saturday’s game, with an over/under of 54.5. As of Friday morning the line is the same, while the total has been dropped a half-point, to 54.

USC at Arizona State Pick: The Sun Devils enter the PAC-12 season with a bit of pressure on them. USC can’t play in the conference championship game, so ASU is the default favorite in the South Division. The Trojans, on the other hand, can play happy angry, with a chip on their shoulder. And you know they’d love nothing more than to show they’re really the best team in the South. So we’ll give the points and take Southern Cal Saturday.

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