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SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 19: Jayden de Laura #4 of the Washington State Cougars scrambles away from Maxs Tupai #92 of the Utah Utes during their game on December 19, 2020 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. Chris Gardner/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by CHRIS GARDNER / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

The Pac-12 has been as intriguing as always. The conference hasn’t had a team make the College Football Playoff since Washington in the 2016 season, and they haven’t been close in recent years. With weak schedules, someone almost has to go undefeated to earn a spot in the CFP.

That rarely happens because upsets are so likely. The Pac-12 is as even of a conference as you could ask for, and almost any team can win almost any game. USC witnessed that firsthand last Saturday when they lost to Stanford by two touchdowns.

Let's see what the college football odds have in store for their matchup against Washington State.

USC Trojans vs. Washington State Cougars

Saturday, September 18, 2021 - 03:30 PM EDT at Martin Stadium

USC had hopes of making it to the CFP, but those are likely crushed with this loss to Stanford. Still, they have plenty to play for. They’ll try to get things back on track against the Washington State Cougars.

USC plays on the road, but they remain favorites against Washington State. NCAAF odds favor them by 8 points. Can they cover the spread? Here are keys for each team to win the game and a prediction for this matchup.

Keys for USC to Cover the Spread

The USC Trojans lost to Stanford at home despite gaining more yards. They lost the turnover battle, but there was only one total turnover in the game. So, how did they lose this one?

On offense, USC failed to convert on third downs. They lacked efficiency, and that hurt them as the game progressed.

Going 6-14 on third-down conversions is never a pathway to success.

The Trojans also lacked discipline, allowing 111 penalty yards. That cannot continue if you want to even win your next game. If you want to cover the spread, it is completely out of the question.

Kedon Slovis needs to take more shots, but it’s hard to do so with his lack of accuracy. If he can accurately push the ball downfield, the rest of the offense will come easier. If not, the Cougars could win this game by stacking the box.

Above all, USC has to figure out how to win with an interim coach. They announced the firing of Clay Helton, leaving them coachless after two weeks of the season. Can they turn things around without a stable answer at head coach? We’ll see on Saturday.

Keaontay Ingram #28 of the USC Trojans runs after a catch against Stanford on September 11, 2021. Washington State has to limit those YAC's. Harry How/Getty Images/AFP

Keys for Washington State to Cover the Spread

Washington State can no longer rely on a potent offense to cover up for its miserable defense. That was a Mike Leach strategy, and it left with him. While losing the offense, they haven’t made up for it on defense. To cover the spread against USC, they will have to clamp down on defense.

To put it simply, they need to keep everything in front of them. The number of plays doesn’t matter. They just need to limit the explosive plays. Against USC, that may be enough to force the opponent to make their own mistakes. If you can capitalize on those errors, you’re in a position to win the game outright.

The Pick

While playing smothering defense is a good strategy, it may be hard for the Cougars to execute. Because of this, they also have to take risks on offense. If they’re in the red zone, they need to score touchdowns. They can’t settle for field goals or quality punts. They have to put points on the board consistently because they can’t trust their defense to stop the Trojans.

With these keys, we are set for a heck of a matchup. Who should you pick?

This is a pivotal game for the USC Trojans. They still have plenty to play for, but will they have that motivation after a devastating loss against Stanford? This is a big question, and it’s too much for me to trust the Trojans.

They could rally around an interim head coach, but it is more likely that they struggle once again. This will cause issues with communication, and I don’t trust USC to handle the outside distractions.

I’m not picking the Cougars to cover. I’m picking the Trojans to fail for my NCAAF pick. There’s a big difference between those two things despite them leading to the same wager.

NCAAF Pick: (visit our Sportsbook Review)

*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.