It was all high fives and smiles as USC opened the Lincoln Riley era with a blowout win last week. College football has returned to Hollywood, Riley is the star and his offense is primed to put on a show.
Believe the hype. With quarterback Caleb Williams, receiver Jordan Addison and a cast of playmakers, the Trojans have the potential to field the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense. USC fried Rice 66-14 in the opener as Williams connected with Addison for two touchdown passes.
Now, let’s look at why the Trojans still have plenty to prove. The lowly Owls totaled 218 yards, including 133 on the ground, in the first half and put together touchdown drives of 74 and 75 yards. USC’s defense actually turned the game into a joke by returning three interceptions for scores. Rice was picked to finish 10th in the 11-team Conference USA.
The Trojans open Pac-12 play Saturday at Stanford, the team most responsible for Riley being the coach at USC. After the Cardinal went to Los Angeles last year and embarrassed the Trojans 42-28 as a 17-point underdog, former coach Clay Helton was fired and the door eventually opened for Riley and a new era.
I have a bet on Stanford to go Over its season win total of four. It’s not going to be easy to win the bet. The Cardinal will play road games against Notre Dame, Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Utah and California. Good luck winning two of those six.
Still, Stanford could be significantly improved after finishing 3-9 last year. Seventeen starters returned, including 10 on offense, for coach David Shaw. Tanner McKee is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, and running back E.J. Smith (son of Emmitt Smith) appears to be the real deal. Smith ripped off an 87-yard touchdown run last week in a 41-10 victory over Colgate, a team that’s worse than Rice.
The Cardinal will try to play “Shaw Ball” and slow the tempo against the Trojans. McKee’s accurate passing and Smith’s physical running should help Stanford control the ball. USC would have a big advantage in a fast-paced shootout.
The Trojans opened -10.5 and the number has surprisingly dropped two points. I did not expect to have much company on the underdog side this week. USC’s defense is a weakness the Cardinal can exploit.
Pick: Stanford + 8.5
BRIGHAM YOUNG (-3) over Baylor
The Cougars are experienced and loaded, with 19 starters back from a 10-win team. BYU led 38-7 at halftime and scored 50 points at South Florida last week as quarterback Jaren Hall completed passes to 12 different receivers. The Bears are inexperienced, losing their top three rushers and top three receivers from a Big 12 title team. Baylor’s Dave Aranda does get the coaching edge in this matchup, but I rate BYU as the slightly better team and the home-field advantage in Provo is strong.
FRESNO STATE (+ 1) over Oregon State
Senior quarterback Jake Haener, the best in the Mountain West, tilts a coin-flip game in Fresno’s favor. Haener led the Bulldogs to a win at UCLA and a near-upset at Oregon last year. The Beavers are legit on defense, but their offense is questionable. Oregon State’s 34-17 win over Boise State in the opener had a lot to do with the Broncos’ poor quarterback play.
ARIZONA (+ 10.5) over Mississippi State
In coach Jedd Fisch’s second year, the Wildcats are a completely different team. Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura passed for four touchdowns in a 38-20 win at San Diego State, and it was no fluke that the Cougars rolled up a 461-232 advantage in total yards. The Aztecs have a pitiful passing offense, of course, and Mississippi State is all about its passing attack with Mike Leach calling plays and quarterback Will Rogers throwing darts. It’s tough to say for certain if the Arizona defense is up to the challenge. The Bulldogs might not be fully focused on this trip to Tucson with their SEC opener at LSU on deck.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread