It has been a disappointing first half of the season for Cameron Rising, who was outplayed by the opposing quarterback in each of Utah’s two losses. Now, in his third shot in a high-profile game, Rising can make up for a couple of missteps.
It’s a case of trading places as the Utes host USC on Saturday night in Salt Lake City. Utah, a preseason Top 10 team, has slipped to 20th in the rankings. The No. 7 Trojans (6-0) are the team on the rise.
Rising threw a last-minute interception in a season-opening loss at Florida, which followed Florida QB Anthony Richardson to a minor upset in “The Swamp.” Rising failed to pass for a touchdown last week in the Utes’ loss to UCLA, which got a five-touchdown performance from Dorian Thompson-Robinson at the Rose Bowl.
Rising’s showdown with USC quarterback Caleb Williams has Pac-12 title game implications. Rising has 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions for a Utah offense averaging 40.3 points. Williams, who has 14 touchdown passes and one interception, leads a Trojans offense averaging 40.2 points.
While each quarterback will make big plays through the air, the Utes’ decisive advantage should be their ground attack. Rising is an elusive runner, and Utah’s Tavion Thomas is a physical back who can punish a shaky USC run defense. Rising and Thomas have combined for 634 rushing yards in six games.
Utah has the stronger defense, and its home-field advantage will be another obvious edge. USC has won on the road at Oregon State and Stanford, but the Trojans are set up to take a fall in by far the most challenging situation they have faced.
I refuse to lay the hook on a 3.5-point favorite, so I’ll recommend Utah on the moneyline (-160) or at -3 by buying the hook.
Pick: Utah -3 (-130)
Seven more plays for Saturday (HOME team in CAPS):
TENNESSEE (+ 7.5) over Alabama: This is a high-pressure game, and the Crimson Tide defense will pressure the quarterback, but Hendon Hooker is a fifth-year senior who can handle it. Hooker has a total of 41 touchdown passes and three interceptions in his two seasons at Tennessee. The Vols also have a solid run defense, which will be a necessity in this matchup. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is expected to start, yet he’s not fully healthy. The Tide’s trend of narrow escapes on the road the past two seasons indicates this dog should be dangerous.
Penn State (+ 7) over MICHIGAN: The road-tested Nittany Lions, who pulled out a thriller at Purdue and put a beatdown on Auburn, have the running attack and defense to put the Wolverines on the ropes in Ann Arbor. Penn State’s veteran quarterback, Sean Clifford, has plenty of big-game experience. A Michigan defense that allowed 27 points to Maryland will be tested by Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, who have combined for 769 rushing yards during the Lions’ 5-0 start.
FLORIDA (-2.5) over Louisiana State: It’s not easy to bet on the inferior coach, and the Gators’ Billy Napier is a game-management mistake waiting to happen. LSU’s offense is out of sorts, however, and coach Brian Kelly is not pushing the right buttons with his quarterbacks. So I’ll side with Florida’s Richardson, who beat Utah with his running and nearly stunned Tennessee with his passing. Richardson runs hot and cold and his offensive line is banged up, so there are concerns with this short favorite.
INDIANA (+ 11.5) over Maryland:
The Hoosiers, who trailed Michigan 17-10 five minutes into the fourth quarter last week, are showing steady improvement. Indiana coach Tom Allen always has his team motivated. It’s a lot to ask of the Terrapins, off a 31-29 home loss to Purdue, to cover double digits on the road in what could be in a flat spot.
SYRACUSE (-3) over North Carolina State: A soft early schedule is about to get much harder for the 5-0 Orange. Syracuse does boast two offensive stars — dual-threat quarterback Garrett Shrader (71 percent completions, 15 total touchdowns) and running back Sean Tucker — and the Wolfpack will probably be without star quarterback Devin Leary because of a shoulder injury.
Nebraska (+ 14) over PURDUE: Beware of Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm in the dog role, but he’s not great as a favorite. Purdue, which returns home from successful trips to Minnesota and Maryland, is suddenly eyeing a realistic path to winning the Big Ten West. Expectations are high again, and this line looks too high. These teams tend to play close games. The Cornhuskers, gaining confidence after back-to-back wins, have the potential to trade scores with quarterback Casey Thompson and running back Anthony Grant.
HAWAII (+ 7, -130) over Nevada: The late-night kickoff in Honolulu is always worth a look, and the home dog is worth a shot. The Warriors showed more fight last week as 24-point dogs in a 16-14 loss at San Diego State. Hawaii has some scoring potential with quarterback Brayden Schager and running back Dedrick Parson. Nevada has dropped four in a row and is off a deflating loss to Colorado State in Reno.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread