ESPN's SP+ predicts the score of massive Pac-12 clash between USC and Utah
It’s not overselling it to say Saturday’s result at Rice-Eccles Stadium will play a major role in determining who goes to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Championship Game this season.
No. 7 USC puts its unbeaten record on the line against No. 20 Utah in a game that has been penciled since Lincoln Riley took the head coaching job at USC. The Trojans face their stiffest test. Utah, with a loss last weekend to UCLA, needs a win to stay in the hunt for a spot in the league’s title game. USC misses Oregon this season and Notre Dame looks much worse than anyone expected heading into the year, so the road gets very complicated for the Utes if they can’t put a win over USC on the résumé.
But Bill Connelly’s SP+ model thinks they’ll be able to pull it out.
Connelly’s predictive SP+ is calling for a 35-28 Utah win over USC. It gives the Utes a 65% chance to win.
Here’s what Connelly had to say on the matchup:
Utah seems particularly well equipped to exploit what has been USC’s biggest weakness to date: run defense. The Trojans rank a dismal 108th in rushing success rate allowed, and while the Utes lack explosiveness — something that cost them in both road losses — they’re 18th in rushing success rate. Backs Tavion Thomas, Jaylon Glover and Micah Bernard keep quarterback Cam Rising on schedule.
It has the potential to be an offensive-leaning affair. A week ago, Utah struggled to slow down UCLA’s offense in a 42-32 loss. Now, the Utes put their 15th-ranked scoring offense (40.3) up against the Trojans’ 16th-ranked scoring offense (40.2).
“A lot of similarities offensively with us and them as far as production,” coach Kyle Whittingham said this week. “Very different styles of play, and very different philosophical approach, but we’re both getting within four or five yards of each other total offense, within a point in total points per game. So there’s a lot of common ground there. But they’re far more spread out/four-wide-receiver sets than we are.
“It’s going to be a big challenge. We have them at home in Rice-Eccles, which is a big plus. Our guys really enjoy playing at home and the home crowd gives us a big advantage. We find ourselves in a very similar situation as we did last year. Very similar, and we handled it well last year. We’ll see if we can handle it well this year. That’s where we’re at.”
Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. PT on FOX.