Below is a Strong Opinion on tonight’s Cal at USC game. The rest of tonight’s analysis will be posted in the Free Analysis section.
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Strong Opinion – USC (-16 ½) 50 California 28
This game is likely to be bad news Bears, as Cal’s defense figures to get torched by a very potent USC offense while their offense is slowed a good Trojans’ stop unit. It may seem risky to lay so many points against a Cal team that has scored 40 points or more in all but one game (oddly, a win over #17 Utah), but USC is the best defense that the Bears have faced this season. The Trojans have allowed just 24.0 points per game and only 5.3 yards per play to a schedule full of good offensive teams that would combine to average 32.7 points and 6.0 yppl against an average defensive team. Cal’s offense actually isn’t that great on a compensated yards per play basis, as the Bears 6.3 yppl have come against teams that would allow 5.8 yppl to an average attack. USC’s defense actually has an advantage in that matchup, although Cal’s fast tempo will likely still lead to a pretty good number of points.
Cal could score 35 points and still not cover the spread, as the USC offense should score on most of their possessions in this game. The Trojans attack was sluggish early in the season with Max Browne at quarterback (0.2 yards per pass play worse than average) but that unit has averaged 7.2 yards per play or more in all 4 of quarterback Sam Darnold’s starts, which includes games against Utah and Colorado, who is a very good defensive team. Cal actually has a pretty good pass defense (6.0 yards per pass play allowed to quarterbacks that would average 6.5 yppp against an average defense) but Darnold has averaged 8.7 yppp against defensive units that would allow just 6.1 yppp to an average QB. Darnold is projected to average 8.7 yppp in this game and the Trojans’ running backs are projected to gain close to 300 yards at 6.6 yards per rushing play even without top back Justin Davis, who is sidelined with an injury. USC ran for 323 yards at 7.9 yards per rushing play without Davis against Arizona and Cal’s weak defensive front has allowed 280 rushing yards per game at 6.1 yprp so far this season.
Basically, USC should be able to run and pass with great success and score points on the majority of their possessions while Cal’s offense should be neutralized by USC’s strong defense. There will be a lot of possessions in this game, as there always are when Cal plays, and that gives the superior Trojans more chances to extend the margin of victory. USC has a profitable 54.8% chance of covering based on the historical performance of my math model and that’s certainly good enough to make the Trojans a Strong Opinion at -17 points or less.