USC vs. Cal Odds, Picks, Predictions: Where Does Value Lie in Final Regular Season College Football Game?

USC vs. Cal Odds, Picks, Predictions: Where Does Value Lie in Final Regular Season College Football Game? article feature image

Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images. Pictured: Calen Bullock.

  • USC faces Cal in the final college football regular season game.
  • The Trojans have lost three straight games coming into this one.
  • Roberto Arguello previews this duel and offers up his best bet.

USC vs. Cal Odds

Saturday, Dec. 4
11 p.m. ET
USC Odds
-110o / -110u
Cal Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

The USC Trojans head to Berkeley to face the California Golden Bears in the final Power Five college football game before bowl season and, sadly, the final edition of #Pac12AfterDark.

This game was originally scheduled to take place on Nov. 13, but a COVID-19 outbreak in the Cal program postponed the game until this week. Both USC and Cal enter at 4-7 on the season and 3-5 in conference play, so this is each team’s final game of the season as neither will reach bowl eligibility with a win.

The Trojans have lost three straight games but showed some fight in last Saturday’s 35-31 home loss against BYU as they surprisingly out-rushed the Cougars, 210-189.

USC made headlines as it hired Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley to be its next coach, so the USC players will be auditioning for starting time next season with their play on Saturday at Cal.

The Golden Bears followed up their dominant Big Game win over Stanford with a disappointing 42-14 loss at the Rose Bowl to UCLA last week.

While the Bears are also eliminated from the postseason, they will still be celebrating their senior night on Saturday for many players, including senior quarterback Chase Garbers (who has a choice whether to return for another season or not).

USC Trojans

When USC Has the Ball

The USC offense under offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has been considered an Air Raid attack, but last week, they flipped the switch completely and went run-heavy.

The Trojans ran the ball more times (44) than they passed (36 times) for just the third time this season while setting a season-high for rushing attempts.

Running back Vavae Malepeai led the Trojans on the ground while true freshman Jaxson Dart got the start at quarterback.

While the Trojans remain without Drake London — who I believe was the best receiver in the country this season — due to injury, true freshman tight end Lake McRee stepped up to lead the Trojans with four receptions and 63 yards last week.

McRee and Dart clearly have established some chemistry as they connected over the middle for some tough conversions in the second half. They will face a challenge against the Cal defense that ranks 31st in PFF coverage grade and has relatively average advanced stats against the pass.

USC should rely more heavily on the ground game again this week as the Cal defense has struggled to stop the run all season. The Bears rank just 94th in Rush Success Rate Allowed and 100th in Line Yards.

The Trojans, who rank 69th in Rush Success Rate and 42nd in Line Yards, should generate a push up front again this week after establishing the run against a physical BYU front last week.

Dart, who rushed four times for 28 yards last week, will also have opportunities to pick up cheap yards on the ground with his legs against a Cal defense that has struggled to corral running quarterbacks. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson broke free for a season-high 102 rushing yards last week against this same Cal defense.

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California Golden Bears

When Cal Has the Ball

If Cal wins and covers against USC, it will be because the Golden Bears finish drives in USC territory with touchdowns.

The Cal offense should have success running and passing the ball between the 20-yard lines, but they need to improve on Finishing Drives to win on Saturday night against a USC team that should have advantages with its offense over the Cal defense.

Cal should move the ball consistently, starting with its running game. The Bears lead the country in Line Yards and rank 34th in Rushing Success Rate, and they have the edge on the ground against the Trojans’ defense that ranks 78th in Line Yards and 89th in Rushing Success Rate.

The USC defense has struggled so far this season, and the only advanced statistic where it ranks as average is in Pass Rush — a still-mediocre 64th nationally.

The Trojans have allowed teams to consistently move the ball through the air as they rank a horrific 126th in Passing Success Rate Allowed and have allowed too many chunk yardage plays as they rank 114th in Big Plays allowed.

Cal’s passing offense led by Garbers is by no means elite, but the Golden Bears should have success against a USC defense that lacks playmakers and ranks 109th in Havoc created, 113th in PFF coverage grade, and 125th in PFF tackling. Cal’s offense is 60th in pass blocking and 92nd in Passing Success Rate.

The Bears rank just 83rd nationally in Finishing Drives while the Trojans’ defense ranks 125th in Finishing Drives. The winner of this weakness-on-weakness matchup likely gets the cover.

USC vs. Cal Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how USC and Cal match up statistically:

USC Offense vs. Cal Defense
Rush Success6994
Line Yards42100
Pass Success5768
Pass Blocking**1262
Big Play3462
Finishing Drives3533
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Cal Offense vs. USC Defense
Rush Success3489
Line Yards178
Pass Success92126
Pass Blocking**6064
Big Play88114
Finishing Drives83125
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling12593
Middle 8125109
SP+ Special Teams4228
Plays per Minute2592
Rush Rate43.9% (123)50.7% (91)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.

USC vs. Cal Betting Pick

While both offenses should have success, especially on the ground, I don’t trust the quarterbacks to get enough touchdowns to push the final score over the total.

Both running games should have an edge on the opposing defenses, but the Cal offense ranks 66th in rushing explosiveness while the USC offense ranks just 89th in the same area.

The Cal offense ranks 81st in passing play explosiveness, and the USC offense ranks just 125th in passing play explosiveness (and that includes games with London available). Each team will need to sustain methodical drives to win this game as neither will create many explosive plays for long scores.

The USC offense’s recent resurgent rushing attack will help to slow the pace down while the Cal offense will also pound the rock on the ground behind their offensive line that leads the country in Line Yards.

The USC offense will still throw the ball frequently, but this plays into the strength of the Cal defense, the secondary.

Now that USC has more film with Dart under center and them running the ball more frequently than earlier this season, I give the advantage to Cal coach Justin Wilcox to have his team more ready to stop USC’s offense than BYU was last week.

Garbers doesn’t inspire much confidence as he continues to have accuracy issues, and if he makes enough plays through the air, I will gladly tip my hat in defeat, but I’ll take my chances.

Take under 58 with value down to 56.

Pick: Under 58 (Play to 56)

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