San Jose State vs. USC College Football Odds & Pick: Trojans Face Live Underdog in Week 1 (Saturday, Sept. 4)

San Jose State vs. USC College Football Odds & Pick: Trojans Face Live Underdog in Week 1 (Saturday, Sept. 4) article feature image
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Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel.

  • The USC Trojans begins their season against the 1-0 San Jose State Spartans.
  • The Spartans looked impressive in their Week 0 blowout win and should be able to put up points against the Trojans defense.
  • Check out Thomas Schlarp's full betting guide with odds, picks, and predictions for the game.

San Jose State vs. USC Odds

Saturday, Sept. 4
5 p.m. ET
Pac-12 Network

San Jose State Odds

Spread
Total
Moneyline
+14
-110
59.5
-110o / -110u
+570

USC Odds

Spread
Total
Moneyline
-14
-110
59.5
-110o / -110u
-630
Odds via DraftKings. Last updated: Thursday.

It’s a new year, but the story remains much the same for a USC program that is expected to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship.

The school continues to land some of the top West Coast talent but fails to convert recruiting stars into on-field success. That has led Clay Helton to be perpetually a loss away from being canned on the tarmac.

The Trojans went 5-1 last season, losing out in the Pac-12 Championship Game and squashing whatever diminutive playoff hopes were on life support. Their first game of 2021 is no breeze, as San Jose State — the reigning Mountain West Conference Champion — makes the trip to Los Angeles a week removed from a 45-14 win over Southern Utah.


San Jose State Spartans

Following a 7-1 season and conference title, the Spartans don’t appear to be slowing down with six-year veteran quarterback Nick Starkel back to lead the way.

San Jose State returns plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, with Offensive and Defensive TARP levels at 89% and 88%, respectively.

The Spartans ran roughshod through their conference before losing in their bowl game to Ball State with a COVID-19 depleted roster.


Spartans Offense

Take all stats from Week 0 with a grain of salt, but Starkel & Co. looked really good against Southern Utah. The former Texas A&M and Arkansas quarterback passed for 394 yards and four touchdowns, making quite a statement there wouldn’t be much, if any, regression despite some of the weapons missing from the year prior.

The biggest question on the offensive side is how well will the passing game can minimize the loss of last year’s two leading receivers — Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker — on an offense that ranked 22nd in Passing Success.

The answer seemed to be spreading distribution, as 12 different players were targeted with a pass in Week 0, and Derrick Deese Jr. looked every bit of worthy of being billed as the MWC’s top tight end.

San Jose State allowed just eight total sacks last season for a sack rate of sixth in the country, and all five of the starters are back from that line to help keep the most important part of the offense clean.

The strong line also bodes well for running back Tyler Nevens, who averaged 7.8 yards a carry on 66 attempts, going up against a USC defensive line that’s far from exceptional.


Spartans Defense

The San Jose defense is back for an encore after an impressive 2020 season, as 10 starters and all but one player who recorded a tackle last year return.

The defensive line will be an area of strength on this 3-4 defense, as all three starters return on a group that finished 11th nationally in stopping the run (3.2 yards per carry). Cade Hall, the reigning MWC defensive player of the year, racked up 10 sacks in eight games at the end position.

Really, the only hole on defense comes from the recent transfer of safety Tre Webb. He’s the lone starter not returning, but his replacement Jay Leonard had 30 starts of experience already before this season began.

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USC Trojans

Championships are the USC standard, but it’s been 17 years since 2004 when the Men of Troy last claimed a title.

Helton and Graham Harrell’s offense were supposed to take a step forward last season with Kedon Slovis, but the Trojans ultimately came up short again in the Pac-12 championship game, dropping Helton to 1-2 in such games.

Slovis has the full attention of NFL scouts in his third year of action, and USC is among a crowded tier of teams with fringe playoff hopes.


Trojans Offense

Slovis might have earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, but the Trojans’ offense ultimately disappointed in 2020 as he struggled with mechanics and confidence at times, despite leading the league in nearly every major passing category.

USC returns 71% of Offensive TARP this year, including the usual abundance of talent at the skill positions. However, the Trojans might be thin on experience entering Week 1 at the receiver position.

Drake London, who is a 6-foot-5 physical freak and expected to be one of the best at the position, is a full go against San Jose State. However, Bru McCoy and Gary Bryant Jr., who were prized, blue-chip recruits and expected to be the No. 2 and 3 receivers this year, will both miss Week 1. McCoy is still removed from team activities stemming from a felony arrest, and Bryant Jr. was recently placed in COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

That leaves the Trojans with only one receiver who caught more than one pass in 2020: London. That’s kind of a big deal in an Air Raid offense that ranked 124th in Rush Rate.

The Trojans should improve upon their 79th-ranked Rushing Success this season, welcoming Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram, who rushed for 1,811 yards and 11 touchdowns in three years in Austin. Ingram is the likely Week 1 starter over 2018 and ’19 leading rusher Vavae Malepeai, but expect a fairly active rotation.

The offensive line, which ranked 109th in Line Yards, remains an area of concern, particularly after losing first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker at the left tackle position. Experience and depth is an issue.


Trojans Defense

Todd Orlando is now in his second season as defensive coordinator for the Trojans, with his defense returning 69% of Defensive TARP.

USC should improve upon last year’s Sack Rate of 43rd, as both starting defensive ends return and outside linebacker Drake Jackson could be the conference’s most dangerous sack-artist outside of Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.

The interior of the line could regress early in the season due to some injuries over the summer and the transfer of Jay Toia, but the Spartans aren’t a huge threat on the ground.

USC’s pass defense is also likely to regress after losing Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Talanoa Hufanga at the safety position. Hufanga was kind of a “do-everything” man for Orlando last season.


San Jose State vs. USC Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how San Jose State and USC match up statistically:

San Jose State Offense vs. USC Defense

Offense

Defense

Edge

Rushing Success
109
49
Passing Success
22
75
Havoc
23
28
Line Yards
100
46
Sack Rate
6
43
Finishing Drives
109
74

USC Offense vs. San Jose State Defense

Offense

Defense

Edge

Rushing Success
79
39
Passing Success
27
38
Havoc
89
71
Line Yards
109
43
Sack Rate
30
19
Finishing Drives
40
3

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling
15
78
Coverage
23
17
Rush Rate
45.% (118)
41.% (124)
Seconds per Play
85
31

Data via College Football Data (CFBD) and FootballOutsiders; SP+ projection per ESPN.


San Jose State vs. USC Betting Pick

USC is the far more talented team and the “disappointment factor” is usually cooked into USC lines, but a 14-point spread isn’t giving San Jose State enough credit.

The Spartans are the far better-coached team, and our Action Network power ratings project this closer to a 5.5-point spread.

Starkel and San Jose State’s offense showed no dropoff against Southern Utah. They can put up points, and USC’s Air Raid is going to be handicapped with only one active receiver that caught multiple passes in 2020.

I think San Jose State will keep this close all game, but the Spartans’ defense is too much of liability to quite pull off the upset. The Trojans win but fail to cover.

Pick: San Jose State +14 (Play to +12)

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