Now that their NCAA sanctions are over USC can finally play for a national title again. We take a look at their opening matchup with Sun Belt contender Arkansas State and make a college football pick.
I’m wondering if I was chosen to cover this game because like USC head football coach, Steve Sarkisian, I’ve had a few drunken sloppy moments at a party or two (or twenty). One thing is for sure, Sarkisian and the eighth ranked Trojans will be glad to get the media’s focus back to where they want it, on the play of their football team.
The standout player for USC this year is fifth-year senior quarterback, Cody Kessler. Kessler put up ridiculous numbers last year and really took a step forward from 2013 as he posted a completion percentage of 70.7%, a 39/5 TD/INT ratio, 8.5 Y/A and 168.8 QB Rating. That impressive completion percentage and TD/INT were USC records. With most of his offensive line back in 2015, he could be in the discussion for the Heisman by the time the season is finished. Helping Kessler’s chances of having another breakout year is the fact that Sarkisian has given offensive play calling duties to coordinator, Clay Helton, who recruited Kessler and supposedly shares a special bond with the QB.
The USC defense in 2015 is defined, at the start of the season anyway, by what they don’t have. And that is 6th overall NFL draft pick, Leonard Williams. To fill this void, USC will be leaning on fifth-year senior defensive lineman, Greg Townsend Jr., who has yet to fill his potential due to injuries. I mean, last year Townsend lost time due to the chicken pox! The rest of last year’s defensive line is back as well, so expect this to be a strong unit for the Trojans this year. The defensive secondary has some elite young talent coming in with top recruits Iman Marshall and Marvell Tell III, which should help third year starting cornerback Kevon Seymour. This unit was a weakness last year but should take a step forward in 2015.
The Arkansas State offense revolves around quarterback Fredi Knighten. Knighten is what I would call a rushing QB, and was second on the team with 779 yards last season. That works for games against lower conferences, but for a game against USC, it might get you killed. Luckily, all three of his of his top WR’s are back in 2015 so he might not have to run for his life as much in this game. While position players are experienced and lethal, the offensive line is not as experienced this year. That could hamper their ability to put up the average of scoring in the 40’s that the Red Wolves put up last year.
It’s a good thing that the Arkansas State offense had success last year because their defense was porous, especially the defensive line. JuCo tranfers Jake Swalley and Waylon Roberson are expected to bolster this unit and bring some size to the table. They have a long way to go, as the GoDaddy Bowl to end last year highlighted the deficiencies when they allowed Toledo sophomore, Kareem Hunt, to rush for 271 yards and 5 TD’s.
Trends & Stuff
- The Over was 4-2 last year for USC at home.
- Arkansas State hasn’t won on the road against a non-conference opponent since 2008.
- The last 8 games for Arkansas State have gone over the posted total.
There are two off-field factors at play for USC in this game that should keep them motivated against an inferior opponent. The first is the distraction that Sarkisian caused by being a blabbering drunk. A convincing win under his belt will put a lot of that out of sight and out of mind. The second is that the NCAA sanctions against USC are now over, and the Trojans have a chance at a national title for the first time in many years. They won’t want to spoil that chance with anything close to a competitive game in this one. With that, I’m calling a blowout, and I'm taking both USC at -27.5 college football odds and the Over of 67 as this week’s college football pick.
College Football Pick: USC -27.5 & Over 67 at Pinnacle