This season I’ll be breaking down a few of college football’s biggest games each week and giving out at least one bet I like from each matchup.
Let’s take a look at a classic rivalry game between USC and UCLA.
USC vs UCLA Spread, current line:
USC vs UCLA Best Bet Prediction:
If I had to bet this game against the spread, I would take the points, but my preferred angle is to bet the over on UCLA’s team total at 37.5 points.
When USC is on Offense
USC runs a fairly balanced offense, but it remains to be seen how Lincoln Riley adjusts after the injury to running back Travis Dye.
Prior to last week, Dye had 87 carries when USC was in a one-score game, while Austin Jones had 17 and Raleek Brown had 15.
Jones does have starting experience from his time at Stanford, however, and has comparable explosive ability to Dye. He’s also experienced in the passing game, having seen 81 targets over the last three seasons (12 receptions on 15 targets this year).
Jones’s numbers at Stanford were unimpressive, but David Shaw’s archaic offense forced him to run into a stacked box at an extreme rate. Take a look at these numbers from Sports Info Solutions:
- 2020-21 at Stanford: 29% of carries into a light box
- 2022 at USC: 75% of carries into a light box
Over the last three years, Jones is averaging 5.8 yards per attempt into a light box (7.3 this year) and should be a capable replacement for Dye.
Here’s a look at some key numbers for UCLA’s run defense, via Sports Info Solutions:
- 41 yards per attempt allowed, excluding sacks (ranked 30th)
- Ranked 28th in opponent-adjusted yards before contact allowed
In the passing game, Caleb Williams should have his full arsenal of receivers, with both Jordan Addison and Mario Williams expected to suit up.
USC’s Air Raid offense presents a unique challenge for UCLA defensive coordinator Bill McGovern, who has mostly been in the NFL over the last decade (this is his first year at UCLA).
Expect Williams to be aggressive throwing downfield against a UCLA defense ranked 64th in completion rate allowed at 15 or more yards downfield (41.4%), per Sports Info Solutions.
If UCLA is able to slow down Williams and the Trojans’ passing game, the blitz may be the key to doing so.
Consider Williams’s rate of producing -1 EPA or worse, based on data from Sports Info Solutions:
- without blitz: 10.6%
- versus blitz: 23.1%
Here’s a look at some key numbers for UCLA’s blitz:
- 28% blitz rate, ranked 48th
- 33% pressure rate with blitz, ranked 88th
Those aren’t impressive numbers, but it is one area where UCLA could potentially adjust the game plan in an effort to find an edge.
When UCLA is on Offense
Chip Kelly still relies on his fast-paced spread offense, and UCLA ranks 11th in the nation in pace of play.
The Bruins spread offense allows its ball carriers to run into a light box on 66% of their carries, the 28th highest rate in the nation, per Sports Info Solutions, which creates an extreme mismatch in the run game:
- UCLA averages 7.4 yards per attempt versus a light box (ranked third)
- USC allows 6.1 yards per attempt with a light box (ranked 108th)
We should expect to see UCLA running into a light box at an elevated rate in this game, as it’s USC’s preferred approach on defense. USC uses a stacked box at a rate 14% below expected.
Those numbers do not include quarterback rushing production, but it is also worth noting USC ranks 87th in yards per attempt allowed to quarterbacks (6.2, excluding sacks), per Sports Info Solutions.
Excluding sacks, Dorian Thompson-Robinson averaged 7.8 carries per game at 7.7 yards per attempt.
In the passing game, UCLA is extremely conservative, preferring to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers and expecting them to do damage after the catch.
UCLA throws 15 or more yards downfield on just 13.1% of attempts, the lowest rate in the nation.
Here’s how the teams stack up on throws within five yards of the line of scrimmage, based on data from Sports Info Solutions:
- UCLA averages 9.1 YAC per reception, ranked second
- USC allows 8.7 YAC per reception, ranked 120th
One area where USC excels on defense has been with its pass rush. The Trojans rank 36th in opponent-adjusted pressure rate generated.
However, the Bruins can probably negate USC’s pass rush with its ability to get the ball out quickly.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Thompson-Robinson uses a zero/one-step drop on 39% of his dropbacks 一 and against zero/one-step dropbacks, USC ranks 104th in pressure rate generated (13%).
Final Thoughts on USC vs UCLA Best Bets
Early in the week, I bet the over on this game at 73.5 points, but that number has jumped to 76.5. At this point, my preferred approach is to take the over on UCLA’s team total at 37.5 points 一 there’s just no evidence USC’s defense can stop the Bruins.
The one concern in betting the over is the potential for UCLA to bleed the clock with the run game in an effort to keep the ball out of Caleb Williams’s hands.
However, both offenses have elite explosive ability: UCLA has 19 touchdown drives lasting two minutes or less, while USC has 13. Even if there are some prolonged drives, expect some big plays to help keep up the scoring pace.
Other College Football Betting Predictions for Week 12: