Start time: Saturday, October 28, 7:45 p.m. PST
Location: Sun Devils Stadium - Tempe, Arizona
Radio: Tune in
Live Streaming: Watch ESPN
Pac-12 South lead hangs in the balance:
USC heads to Tempe to take on a surging Arizona State team. Last week the rails where completely blown off of whatever was left of the Trojans’ College Football Playoff hype train. Arizona State is a 4-3 team that struggled to beat New Mexico State went 2-3 and then had two huge wins against two tough opponents. This game will go a long way towards determining who wins the Pac-12 South and eventually could end up as the de-facto Pac-12 South Championship game.
Both schools also find themselves at crossroads headed in very different directions. The Sun Devils have the opportunity to be a contender and not just a struggling team on a hot streak. The Trojans on the other hand can either get their season back on track or completely unravel.
Can the Trojans bounce back from devastation?
The Trojans were battered by Notre Dame a week ago ending their playoff chances with barely a fight. The Trojans had been teetering on the edge all season long with turnovers, bad play calling, inconsistent execution, and injuries. They managed to go 6-1 against a tough schedule and self-inflicted errors. Notre Dame, however, exposed all of their flaws for the entire world to see.
USC coaches and players have consistently reiterated all week that their Pac-12 goals are still in front of them and that they still control their own destiny. Unfortunately, it has been made clear both inside the program and out that the goal is a National Championship not another 10 win season, or a Pac-12 South Championship. After getting exposed in such a decisive, and demoralizing, blowout loss to a rival on national television.
The Trojans must now find a way to regroup mentally and physically and refocus their efforts on winning the Pac-12. It will not be easy for a Trojans team that has failed to correct the same problems we see every week and has failed to show consistent improvement from game to game. It will be even harder if anyone in the program feels as though the season is lost or that they are merely playing for a “consolation prize” to salvage the year.
Can ASU continue to prove they are a legit Pac-12 Championship contender?
The Sun Devils were picked to finish towards the bottom of the conference, their coach seemed to be all but fired, and divisional relevancy at this point in the season seemed unlikely. The Sun Devils started off rough at 2-3 with narrow wins over Oregon and New Mexico State. Their losses were not exactly ugly losing to Texas Tech and Stanford on the road by a touchdown and a 10-point loss to SDSU at home.
Head Coach Todd Graham had brought in new offensive and defensive coordinators but not much had seemed to change or improve. Many were openly wondering if the Sun Devils should just bite the bullet and fire Graham right away.
Many inside the ASU program actually felt that the 2-3 (at the time) Sun Devils were actually better than the 5-1 ASU team from a season ago. The offense in particular was showing signs of growth even in defeat. Then the Sun Devils had a seriously productive bye week and things began to change. First they upset playoff contender and top 5 team with a 13-7 win over the Washington Huskies. Then they went on the road to thump the Utah Utes by 20 whereas USC needed a bit of a break to survive the Utes at home.
The Sun Devils have an opportunity to go from hoping for bowl eligibility to having a clear path to the Pac-12 Championship game. They are no longer the scrappy underdog nor are they outside of the spotlight. Can the Sun Devils continue their winning ways, or will the stage be too big for them?
Injuries, odds, predictions and more
Probable but not 100%: QB Sam Darnold, OL Nico Falah, RB Ronald Jones II, OL Chuma Edoga, OL Toa Lobendahn DL Rasheem Green, TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe, WR Steven Mitchell, CB Isaiah Langley, Damon Johnson
Questionable: OLB Porter Gustin, DL Josh Fatu,
Out For Game: RB Stephen Carr, OLB Hunter Echols, OT Nathan Smith, TE Josh Falo, CB Iman Marshall, DL Christian Rector,
Out for season: LB Tayler Katoa, OL Viane Talamaivao, CB Jonathan Lockett, DL Marlon Tuipulotu, DL Kenny Bigelow, S Isaiah Pola-Mao, CB Greg Johnson, WR Keyshawn “Pie” Young, K Michael Brown
As you will notice there are a ton of names on this list. The defensive front was struggling already but things grew ever worse this week when it was announced that breakout stud Christian Rector has a broken hand and will miss several weeks. Rector came into the lineup off the bench after elite linebacker Porter Gustin went down with an injury.
Rector leads the Pac-12 in sacks and has been a serious force up front. Given how Manny Wilkins has struggled when pressured Rector could have been a huge help in passing situations. Now the Trojans The defense may actually use Jordan Iosefa on the edge to fill in for Rector, and it is possible his skill set is better suited for the ASU offense in other situations.
If Josh Fatu cannot go the Trojans will once again have to rely on former 4th-stringer Brandon Pili on the defensive line. Rasheem Green has been great this season and he will play but is likely not 100%. Iman Marshall is also out after suffering a knee injury against Notre Dame.
The decimated USC offense:
Take a look at the original USC depth chart from the opening game then compare it to the injury report for today’s game. It is a disaster. Several of their starters and key contributors throughout the season are either out or are attempting to play through less severe injuries and this situation is not isolated to just this week. Throughout the season the offense has dealt with a disturbing amount of injuries at each position.
Sam Darnold has been playing through an ankle injury since the WSU game. At running back Stephen Carr has been out for several weeks. Ronald Jones II missed the Cal game and has since returned despite not being 100% healthy since then. Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Steven Mitchell have missed time and played with injury. Deontay Burnett the biggest weapon in the passing game has been banged up as well. Half of the WR 3-deep was out for the Cal game. Then of course there is the offensive line that has been absolutely under siege all season long and the injuries have been extensive.
You can absolutely blame what passes for a game plan by Tee Martin, or Darnold’s turnovers, or the inconsistencies from the wide receivers, lack of physicality from the offensive line, or lack of execution in general for the offensive woes. All of those things are devastating and must be corrected but the reality is that few players have stayed consistently healthy on this offense and it shows.
Vegas Odds: USC -4, O/U 59
FPI Matchup Predictor: USC 60.8% chance to win
S&P+ Score Prediction: USC-34 Arizona State-26
Massey Prediction: USC-33 Arizona State-28. USC with an 65% chance to win.
CFP Predictions Composite: USC wins by 4
Take many of these computer numbers with a fairly sizable grain of salt. USC has begun to collapse in recent weeks whereas ASU has seen a major turnaround. The computer formulas look at the overall season to get an accurate sense of how good both teams are. The problem is that neither of these teams right now, the ones that will actually play the game tonight resemble what we saw from them earlier in the season. Therefore data from week one may not be terribly useful to use when predicting tonight’s game. It is also worth pointing out that Vegas has been very inaccurate in their lines for both USC and ASU.
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