Utah is off to a 3-0 start for the fifth time in six seasons. The Utes’ best start during that run was in 2015, when they started 6-0 and reached No. 3 in the polls, then fell in a blowout at unranked USC. Should we expect a similar outcome this year? Let’s break it down.
|Utah||-4 (-110)||-180||Over 52.5 (-110)|
|USC||+4 (-110)||+145||Under 52.5 (-110)|
Utah boasts a boatload of experience on offense. Quarterback Tyler Huntley is a senior and this game will represent his 23rd collegiate start. He is joined in the backfield by fellow senior Zack Moss, who is well on his way to his third consecutive thousand-yard rushing season, and the receiving corps features seven of last year’s eight leading pass catchers.
Defensively, Utah is lights out and has surrendered fewer than 10 points per game. The Utes defensive unit is constructed from the inside out, with behemoth defensive tackles like Leki Fotu (6-foot-5, 335 pounds), John Penisini (6-2, 333) and Viane Moala (6-6 315) gobbling up all the real estate on the interior.
Getting hit by Leki Fotu seems fun. pic.twitter.com/S1cbfq3gJb
— Bob Gaducci (@BobGaducci) August 23, 2019
Recent discussion of USC has centered around new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (air raid background) injecting life into the offense. When blue-chip quarterback JT Daniels went down, the Trojans arguably got better with true freshman Kedon Slovis. It helps to have one of the best receiving trios in the nation in Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. The USC offensive line is talented but continues to underachieve from a yards-per-carry perspective. With the scheme change it is at least limiting sacks.
The Trojans defense has not been up to the challenge so far this season and has allowed 5.6 yards per play. However, it may have a young star in the making in true freshman defensive end Drake Jackson. In his first three games (all against legitimate opponents), Drake has 4 1/2 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
— Scott Schrader (@Scott_Schrader) September 3, 2019
In last year’s 41-28 win, Utah outgained USC by 340 yards. Utah’s 545 yards was the most USC surrendered all year, and it was the most Utah gained in any game other than its season-opening victory over FCS program Weber State. Enough talent returns for Utah on both sides to suggest such a lopsided result will not violently swing the other way, even with the injection of Harrell and a change in venue.
These teams already share a common opponent this year. Be careful applying the transitive property in college football, but it is worth noting both teams traveled to BYU this year. Utah won 30-12 in Week 1, and USC lost 30-27 in overtime last week.
Pick: Utah -4
While the Utah-USC showdown is definitely the marquee game Friday night. There are two other matchups on the docket.
These two teams have represented the Mountain Division in the last five Mountain West title games, so the winner Friday night will have the conference race tilt in its favor. The Falcons are fresh off a nice upset win at Colorado, while the Broncos already took down Florida State in their season opener. In a battle of two sound teams, with a competitive series history (Boise State leads 4-3), I’ll take the points.
Pick: Air Force +7
Many saw Florida International as a Conference USA contender, with 50 lettermen returning from a 9-4 team that won the Bahamas Bowl last season. But with so few data points to go with, I’ll put my trust in Skip Holtz’s ever-steady Bulldogs, who have been the much better team on a YPP basis (even with Texas on the schedule).