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 tonight’s Pac-12 Championship game between Utah and USC.
Utah vs USC Spread, current line:
Utah vs USC Best Bet Prediction:
If I were betting against the spread, I would lay the points and take USC 一 but my preferred play in this game is to take the over on USC’s team total at 34.5 points.
When Utah is on Offense
Utah wants to run the ball 一 they have a 55% rush rate in neutral game situations, per Campus2Canton 一 but they just don’t have the personnel to be a power-run offense this season.
The Utes run the ball into a stacked box on 65% of attempts, the 18th highest rate in the country per Sports Info Solutions.
Partially due to that scheme, Utah ranks 96th in opponent-adjusted rushing yards before contact.
6-foot-2, 238-pound starting running back Tavion Thomas was moderately successful running into a stacked box, but after injuring his toe in Utah’s last game, he has opted out of the remainder of the season and will enter the NFL draft.
Micah Bernard (6-foot-0, 202 pounds) takes Thomas’s place, and will likely not be as effective in Utah’s power-run scheme.
USC’s defense obviously has its issues, but the run defense has improved significantly after a brutal start.
Take a look at USC’s run defense with a stacked box this year:
- Weeks 1-3 (Rice, Stanford, Fresno State): 6.6 yards per attempt (ranked 106th)
- Since Week 4: 3.5 yards per attempt (ranked 19th)
For Utah to hang with USC, Cam Rising will need to replicate his downfield passing performance 一 but that’s not a strength of his game.
Against USC, Rising was 4-11 on throws 15 or more yards downfield, but connected on a few big plays to produce 125 yards on those four completions.
On the year, Rising is completing 34.8% of his passes at 15 or more yards downfield, ranked 96th, per Sports Info Solutions.
It’s also worth noting, USC has an impressive 26% ball-hawk rate (percentage of plays on which a defender makes a play on the ball) on throws 15 or more yards downfield.
You’ve probably heard about the Trojans’ “turnover luck” 一 and it’s true luck has likely been a factor in their +22 turnover differential 一 but ball-hawk rate is a repeatable skill which increases turnovers. So the turnover regression many have anticipated may never come for this group.
When USC is on Offense
Although Caleb Williams gets all the attention, USC runs a fairly balanced offense with a 52% pass rate in neutral game situations, per Campus2Canton.
Stanford transfer Austin Jones took over at running back for the injured Travis Dye two weeks ago, and the change has made no difference.
Jones was underwhelming at Stanford 一 but only 29% of his carries were into a light box due to David Shaw’s relic of an offense.
At USC, Jones has run into a light box on 70% of his carries, while averaging 6.4 yards per attempt, per Sports Info Solutions.
Utah’s preference is to stack the box on defense 一 they’ve done so over 75% of the time in four games this year, but USC spreads teams out. In their last meeting, USC ball carriers ran into a stacked box on 44% of attempts.
Based on these opponent-adjusted numbers from Sports Info Solutions, we should expect Jones to have success against the Utah run defense:
- USC ranks 19th in yards before contact per attempt
- Utah ranks 72nd in yards before contact per attempt allowed
Now take a look at Utah’s yards per attempt allowed to running backs based on stacked/light boxes:
- With a light box: 6.2 yards per attempt, ranked 113th
- With a stacked box: 5.0 yards per attempt, ranked 103rd
The area where Utah’s defense does have the potential to cause problems for USC is with its pass rush.
Based on opponent-adjusted pressure rate, Utah boasts the top pass-rush unit USC has faced this season, ranking 32nd by the metric, per Sports Info Solutions.
In their last meeting, Williams was pressured 14 times (a 29% pressure rate), generating a positive EPA on just four of those dropbacks (28.6%), per Sports Info Solutions.
Utah also sacked Williams a season-high four times 一 those four sacks occurred on two drives, both of which resulted in USC’s only punts of the contest.
It is worth noting, however, Utah may be without pass-rusher Jonah Ellis, who has missed the Utes’ last two games.
Ellis is not a particularly dangerous pass-rusher 一 his 9.0% pressure rate ranks 26th in the Pac-12, but he was second on the team in quarterback pressures at the time of his injury and their depth takes a hit without him.
If Utah’s pass rush doesn’t create consistent pressure, expect Williams to pick apart the Utes’ secondary.
Utah ranks 107th in completion percentage allowed on throws 15 or more yards downfield (46.1%) and ranks 130th with a 10.6% ball-hawk rate at that distance.
Final Thoughts on Utah vs USC Best Bets
I’ve repeated this for every Utah game we’ve covered: this is not Kyle Whittingham’s typical physical football squad.
Utah gets handled in the trenches on both sides of the ball and that will likely continue 一 especially given USC’s steady development on the defensive side of the ball.
Although I would be comfortable taking USC against the spread, my preferred action in this game is taking USC’s team total over 34.5 points 一 there’s just no statistical evidence of Utah having the tools to slow down this offense.
Below, you can find historical betting trends for USC & Utah player prop bets, plus team trends for ATS, moneyline & totals (over/under), provided by BetMGM — with unit profitability and ROI.
USC Player Prop Bets Tonight:
- Caleb Williams has hit the Rushing Yards Over in 10 of his last 14 games (+5.10 Units / 30% ROI)
- Tahj Washington has hit the Receiving Yards Under in his last 5 games (+5.00 Units / 82% ROI)
- Travis Dye has hit the Receiving Yards Under in 10 of his last 14 games (+4.80 Units / 28% ROI)
- Caleb Williams has hit the TD Passes Over in 8 of his last 13 games (+3.55 Units / 24% ROI)
- Mario Williams has hit the Receiving Yards Under in 6 of his last 8 games (+3.40 Units / 35% ROI)
- Travis Dye has hit the Rushing Yards Under in 6 of his last 8 games at home (+3.40 Units / 34% ROI)
- Jordan Addison has hit the Receiving Yards Under in his last 3 games at home (+3.00 Units / 82% ROI)
Utah Player Prop Bets Tonight:
- Cameron Rising has hit the Rushing Yards Over in 8 of his last 10 games (+5.60 Units / 48% ROI)
- Devaughn Vele has hit the Receiving Yards Under in his last 5 games (+5.00 Units / 81% ROI)
- Tavion Thomas has hit the Rushing Yards Under in 7 of his last 9 games (+4.60 Units / 42% ROI)
- Cameron Rising has hit the Passing Yards Over in 5 of his last 6 away games (+3.80 Units / 54% ROI)
USC Team Betting Trends for tonight:
- USC has hit the Game Total Over in 15 of their last 20 games (+9.50 Units / 43% ROI)
- USC has hit the 1Q Game Total Under in 15 of their last 22 games (+8.25 Units / 33% ROI)
- USC has hit the Moneyline in 7 of their last 8 games (+6.00 Units / 17% ROI)
- USC has hit the 1H Moneyline in their last 5 games at home (+5.00 Units / 15% ROI)
- USC has hit the 1H Game Total Under in their last 4 games at home (+4.00 Units / 91% ROI)
Utah Team Betting Trends for tonight:
- Utah has hit the 1H Moneyline in 16 of their last 21 games (+9.60 Units / 11% ROI)
- Utah has hit the Moneyline in 16 of their last 21 games (+9.60 Units / 7% ROI)
- Utah have covered the Spread in 14 of their last 22 games (+5.05 Units / 21% ROI)
- Utah has hit the 1H Game Total Over in 8 of their last 11 away games (+4.75 Units / 39% ROI)
- Utah has hit the Game Total Over in 8 of their last 11 away games (+4.70 Units / 39% ROI)