The USC Trojans came into this season with very high expectations, and that’s saying a lot considering their a historic program whose fans expect nothing short of a Pac-12 title and a top-10 postseason finish every year. The additions of head coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams had Southern California foaming at the mouth, anticipating a potential playoff appearance, which would be USC’s first ever and the Pac-12’s first since Washington in 2017.
The Trojans have gotten off to a hot start, going 6-0 to begin the year. However, their opponents haven’t exactly been world-beaters. In fact, Utah will be the first ranked opponent they’ve played this year. Despite that, the Trojans almost lost to Oregon State, the same Oregon State that could barely handle Fresno State on the road and promptly got stomped by Utah 42-16 a week after almost beating USC.
The Trojans are right to be scared. They were losing in that Oregon State game all the way up until the fourth quarter. The Beavers rank 54th in the country in yards allowed per game and are allowing 27.2 points per game this year. USC racked up a grand total of three points through three quarters!
Now, it’s not fair to judge USC off of just one game. Williams completed only 44.4 percent of his passes that game, but he’s been completing 64.5 percent of his passes on the season. Clearly, the entire Trojan offense was just in a funk that day. Well, Williams didn’t look too sharp last week at home against Washington State either. He completed 15-of-29 passes for 188 yards and two scores, but he was saved by an incredible second half defensive showing from his teammates and 28 carries for Travis Dye. I understand that Dye’s success enabled Williams to just sit back and enjoy the ride, but when he was forced to throw, he looked lackluster, and that won’t cut it against Utah.
It’s been a trend all season, AP voters’ hubris is blinding them from who the best teams actually are. I’m not saying Utah deserves to be top 10. Hell, they’ve lost two games already, but both were relatively close, both were on the road, and both were against Power 5 schools that are not ranked in the Top 20. USC has played one school, Washington State, that has received AP votes. Up until a few weeks ago, Pitt was still ranked above Kansas despite having a worse record against worse opponents.
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Much like Pitt, the Trojans have not earned the distinction that their top-10 ranking would indicate. They’ve cowered behind weak programs, hoping they could get ready for their matchup with the Utes. I don’t trust them. Utah is a better team. Up until a week ago, they’d held every one of their opponents under 30 (under 20 if you exclude Florida). They’ve scored 25 or more points in every game. Against better competition, the Utes have the edge over USC in completion percentage, opponent completion percentage, rushing yards per game, opponent rushing yards per game, and are very close behind in stats like yards per rush and total yards per play.
Arguably USC’s biggest strength defensively is their defensive line. The Trojans’ Tuli Tuipulotu is coming off a three-sack performance against Washington State. However, Utah’s offensive line is currently allowing less than a sack per game. Perhaps Utah transfer Carson Tabaracci could help the Trojans expose Utah’s offense, but I’d be willing to bet his knowledge of Utah’s system won’t be much help.
The Utes won’t just win this game. They will embarrass the Trojans’ offense. Williams only has one interception on the year. That changes tonight. Utah will win this game handedly, and they will leapfrog the Trojans in the AP poll.