It just doesn’t seem possible that a college football team could be making its season debut on November 21st. And yet, here we find the Utah Utes doing just that, and doing so in something of a baptism by fire with a visit from the No. 20 USC Trojans.
USC Trojans vs. Utah Utes
Saturday, November 21, 2020 – 10:30 PM EST at Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kyle Whittingham’s crew finally gets to lace ‘em up and hit the gridiron in one of the last matchups on the Week 12 betting card, ESPN providing the pictures from Salt Lake City. There has been very little, if any, movement on the wagering particulars, BetOnline listing USC as a 3-point favorite with 57½ for the total.
Men of Troy Banged Up on Defense
While the Utes sat idle the first two weeks of the Pac-12 schedule, the Trojans were busy putting together two exciting wins over the conference’s Grand Canyon State entries. Clay Helton’s gang first hosted Arizona State and rallied for a 28-27 decision with a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes of the game.
Southern Cal followed that with a 34-30 triumph last week in Tucson against Arizona, again scoring twice in the final 3:30 to escape. In both cases, the college football odds pegged the Trojans as double-digit chalk, and sophomore Kedon Slovis never wilted under the pressure in leading USC on the late, game-winning drives.
Four turnovers put Slovis and the Trojans in the position of having to overcome the deficit in the win over Arizona State. The offense was mistake-free against Arizona, but the defense faltered at times against the Wildcats to make victory more difficult than it should have been. That stop unit could be missing a few key contributors this time around, starting on the line where tackle Caleb Tremblay is questionable with a stinger. His potential replacement, Brandon Pili (finger), is also questionable while linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV (concussion) has been ruled out.
Who Gets Starting QB Nod for Utes?
Utah was to have opened the season at home against Arizona before coming up short of players due to a dang ol’ virus outbreak. The team never could clear all of the protocols from that to put 53 players on the turf a week later when a trip to UCLA was on the schedule, leaving Whittingham and the Utes still both undefeated and winless in this crazy campaign.
After being ranked No. 22 way back in the preseason polls, Utah dropped out of the top 25 before its matchups with the Wildcats and Bruins were canceled. Still, the best sportsbooks had the Utes chalked for both contests, first giving up 14 at home to Arizona and then giving up 2½ points as road favorites a week ago at UCLA.
Adding even more to this whole mess is we don’t know yet who will be under center for the Utes before this game begins. Drew Lisk appeared to be the frontrunner when last season ended after the redshirt senior backed up Tyler Huntley in 2019. Reports from October practices, however, believed it would be either South Carolina grad transfer Jake Bentley or sophomore Cam Rising, who transferred in from Texas.
Home Teams Have Dominated in Recent Years
Southern Cal has doubled-up on Utah with a 12-6 lead in the all-time series, half of those 18 matches taking place as Pac-12 foes. The two have split the last six encounters, however, the home side coming out on top each time.
In keeping with the whole 4th-quarter Trojans rally theme we had going earlier, USC came from behind to win last year’s game in LA by a 30-23 count. Utah was favored by 3½ on the road in that one, ending a string of 3-straight covers for Utes backers. That final also ended a run of 4-straight ‘over’ winners in the rivalry, coming up a half-point shy of the closing scoreboard target. Three of the last four in Salt Lake City have skipped past the totals.
There won’t be any fans in attendance, but if there were, they’d need to bundle up. The weatherman is calling for the upper-30s at kickoff, with starry skies above and a brisk little 5-8 mph breeze out of the northwest. Will the Utes come out too revved up about finally getting to play, giving USC a chance to take an early lead? That’s entirely possible, but maybe letting the Trojans go out front would take away the rally mystique they’ve been blessed with. I’ll ride the home team trend with my college football pick, and take the points on Utah.