Pac-12 Championship Odds & Picks: Our Staff’s USC vs. Utah Best Bets
Jordon Kelly & John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured from left: USC Trojans linebacker Shane Lee (53) and Utah Utes quarterback Cam Rising (7).
Pac-12 Championship Odds
#4USC vs. #11Utah
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
There’s more than just a conference crown on the line in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship.
No. 4 USC has a chance to punch its ticket to the College Football Playoff for the first time as the Trojans take on Utah in Las Vegas.
USC’s de facto play-in game to the CFP comes in the form of a rematch with the Utes, the only team to beat the Trojans in Lincoln Riley’s first year at Southern Cal.
Utah topped USC back in October by a score of 43-42 — a barnburner that featured over 1,100 yards of combined offense.
In that game, USC’s Caleb Williams — the current Heisman frontrunner — threw for 381 yards and five touchdowns, only to be matched by Utah’s Cam Rising throwing for two scores and rushing for three more.
Since that mid-October meeting, the Trojans (11-1) have had the more straightforward path of the two teams leading to Friday’s rematch, having already locked up their place in the conference championship with a win over UCLA in the penultimate week of the regular season.
Utah (9-3), meanwhile, required outside help last week in order to play in its fourth Pac-12 Championship game in the last five seasons, needing an Oregon State upset over Oregon and a Washington win in the Apple Cup.
The game promises to be one of contrasting styles. Utah brings the Pac-12’s No. 1 total defense (317.5 yards/game), while USC possesses the top-scoring offense in the conference (42.5 points/game).
The Trojans, however, appear to be in better form as winners of five straight with Williams and the offense playing their best football. Meanwhile, Utah is 4-1 over its last five, including a struggle-filled win over Washington State and a loss to Oregon.
The stakes are undoubtedly higher for USC, but a win for Utah would give it its second Rose Bowl appearance in as many years. The Trojans are currently 2.5-point favorites with the game’s total set at 67.5.
Our staff breaks down its best bets for the conference championship below.
USC vs. Utah Point Spread
By Cody Goggin
Our staff just narrowly chose USC to cover against the Utes and punch its ticket to the College Football Playoff. If you’ve ever watched Caleb Williams play quarterback, it’s quite easy to see why.
Williams is currently the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy next week. A win this weekend would almost assuredly lock the award up for him.
This season, Williams has thrown for 3,712 yards, 34 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Due in part to his ability to take care of the ball, USC has a turnover margin of +1.8, which is the third-best FBS mark of the last decade.
This USC offense ranks second in the country, per SP+. It’s third in Rushing Success Rate and sixth in Passing Success Rate behind the arm of Williams.
When these two teams previously played this season, USC had a 94th percentile Offensive SuccessRrate, 92nd percentile yards per play and a 96th percentile EPA per Play. Utah’s talented defense was still no match for Williams and Company.
Utah’s offense ranks 25th by SP+, which is good against most teams but not quite on the same level as the Trojans. USC’s defense has given it trouble for much of the season, but this hasn’t mattered too much in its previous 12 games.
The case for USC is a pretty simple one: Caleb Williams. Williams will be the best player on the field this Friday, and it will be up to Utah to try to stop him.
Staff Pick: USC -3
USC vs. Utah Over/Under
By Dan Keegan
We have a true coin flip on our staff for the total.
On paper, this should be a high-scoring game. USC has one of the best offenses in the sport but a forgiving defense. Utah’s rushing attack is excellent as usual, and its defense is not as stout as recent vintage.
The total sat at 65.5 and the teams combined for 85 points when they met in October. USC is a profitable over team, going over the number nine out of 12 times this season, including six in a row as quarterback Caleb Williams has gone supernova.
Utah’s defense has really struggled to contain big plays this season, ranking 96th in explosives allowed. While USC’s offense is mostly middle-of-the-pack in that metric, it’s getting healthier at wide receiver and could create some quick strikes in this game.
And Utah’s rush offense should move the ball at will on the ground on a rush defense that’s 126th in Success Rate Allowed. It’s easy to see how both teams will find the end zone frequently on Friday night.
But that’s the question: Will it be frequently enough? Sixty-eight is a preposterous total — one that requires near-perfect football from both offenses.
USC’s defense is forgiving, but it does create turnovers. How good will you feel holding an over ticket when you see Cameron Rising get picked off in the red zone after a long drive? What if USC prefers to rely on Lincoln Riley’s bread-and-butter counter scheme and play ball control against a defense that’s only middle-of-the-pack defending the rush?
And what if Utah’s ground game isn’t up to its normal standard? Leading rusher Tavion Thomas will be sitting out this game and bowl season to focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.
Rising is the Utes’ second-leading rusher; his mobility is a key factor in the offense, but he has been playing through an injury in November.
This might be a live bet situation — if Rising looks sharp, Utah could go score-for-score with the Trojans as they did midseason. If he’s limited, USC could get out to an early lead and play keep-away for the duration to safely punch its playoff ticket.
But otherwise, there’s little value in this line pregame. The over is enticing and seems obvious, but the recipe for an under is all too clear as well.
Staff Pick: Coin-Flip
Other Ways to Bet USC vs. Utah
Dalton Kincaid Over 77.5 Receiving Yards
Dalton Kincaid doesn’t get much national love because he’s a tight end and he plays in Utah, but he’s quietly been having a monster season.
The senior is seventh in the Pac-12 in receiving with 850 yards, and he has more than twice as many yards as the next closest tight end (Arizona State’s Jalin Conyers has 422).
Kincaid topped this 77.5 number in each of the last two weeks, with 99 yards against Oregon and 101 against Colorado. He’s gone for more than 100 yards three times this season, including having an insane 16-catch, 234-yard performance against this very USC team in October.
I’m not saying he’ll repeat that performance Friday night, but he should be in for another whopper of a game.
USC’s passing defense is atrocious, having given up at least 300 yards passing in five of the last six games. In four of the last six games for USC, the opposition has had at least one player go over this receiving prop. And the other two games saw receivers go for 74 and 76, so pretty close.
Last week against Notre Dame — one of the worst passing teams in the nation — tight end Michael Mayer had 98 yards receiving. Both Notre Dame’s Drew Pyne and Utah’s Cam Rising use their star tight ends as safety blankets, turning to Mayer and Kincaid more than any other receiver.
The Trojans will probably win on the scoreboard, but the secondary continues to be an issue. Kincaid has been a stud this season, and the USC defense isn’t about to slow him down.
Pick: Dalton Kincaid Over 77.5 Receiving Yards (Play to 79.5)
USC ML & Both Teams to Score 20+ (+115)
This is my preferred bet for this game because:
- I’m a sucker for plus-money.
- We’re getting much more favorable total numbers.
Vegas is projecting a team total for USC and Utah of 34.5 and 32.5, respectively.
The total for this game has been a point of contention amongst the staff, and as you read in the aforementioned total section, we don’t have a clear consensus.
Buying a downward revision of 27 total points and marrying that with a moneyline bet hedges the total risk and allows us to solely focus on the winner.
I like USC in this revenge spot after dropping a very close game to Utah in Salt Lake City earlier in the season.
This is truly a new dawn in Los Angeles, and Lincoln Riley will have his team ready to advance to the College Football Playoff.
As it’s done all season, USC will brush off the weakness of its pass defense by simply outscoring the competition.
Look for quarterback Caleb Williams to be the man for the job. The last time out against the Utes, he diced them up for 381 yards and five touchdowns.
Conversely, if you’re a diehard Ute, I’d recommend grabbing Utah and “yes” at +140.
I think either of these win/total combinations provides awesome plus-money value with just a 20-point hurdle for both teams.