College Football Pac 12 Championship Preview: #20 USC Trojans vs #7 Stanford Cardinal

2015 Pac 12 Championship Game
#20 Southern California Trojans vs #7 Stanford Cardinal
Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara, California
Saturday, December 5, 2015, 7:45 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Opening Line: Stanford -3 1/2
Current Line: Stanford -4
Opening Total: 61
Current Total: 58 1/2
Opening Money Line: Stanford -200 / USC +170
Current Money Line: Stanford -175 / USC +155

Stanford takes on USC in the Pac 12 Championship game Saturday in Santa Clara.
Stanford takes on USC in the Pac 12 Championship game Saturday in Santa Clara.

The 10-2 Stanford Cardinal take on the 8-4 Southern California Trojans Saturday in the Pac 12 Championship game in Santa Clara. The Cardinal won the North Division with a 7-1 conference record. Southern Cal tied for first in the South Division at 6-3 with Utah. The winner between Stanford and USC will likely earn a trip to the Rose Bowl but Stanford has an outside shot of making the playoff with a win and some upsets on Championship Saturday.

Stanford looks for their 15th conference title including 3 in the Pac 12 Championship game era. Oregon or Stanford has won the first four Pac 12 Championship games. USC seeks their 39th conference title but first since 2009. USC has never played in the Pac 12 Championship Game before.

USC leads the series 60-30-3 against Stanford in a series that dates back to 1905. Stanford has won five of the last seven games in this series, including 41-31 earlier this season in Los Angeles in the Pac 12 opener for both teams. The Cardinal overcame an early 21-10 deficit in that game before finally putting the game away with a late field goal.

USC is coached by Clay Helton. He was named the permanent coach for the Trojans after his second stint as interim coach.  He took over in the middle of the season after Steve Sarkisian was fired partly for a mediocre start but more importantly because he needed help for an alcohol addiction problem. USC has home wins over Arkansas State 55-6, Idaho 59-9 Utah 42-24, Arizona 38-30 and UCLA 40-21 last week, along with road wins at Arizona State 42-14, California 27-21 and Colorado 27-24. USC has won five of the last six games.  The Trojans have home losses to Stanford 41-31 and Washington 17-12 along with road losses at Notre Dame 41-31 and Oregon 48-28.

USC was a 3 point favorite against UCLA and the total was 61. With the late season collapse of Utah, the game was for the South Division title. UCLA took a 21-20 lead early in the third, but USC scored the last 20 points of the game. USC had a punt return and a fumble return both for touchdowns. UCLA had 3 turnovers.  The Trojans are 6-6 ATS and the total is 5-6-1 this season.

Stanford is coached by David Shaw. The Cardinal have losses at Northwestern 16-6 and at home against Oregon 38-36. Stanford has home wins over UCF 31-7, Arizona 55-17, UCLA 56-35, Washington 31-14, California 35-22 and Notre Dame 38-36 last week,  along with road wins at USC 41-31, Oregon State 42-24, Washington State 30-28 and Colorado 42-10.

Stanford was a 4 point favorite against Notre Dame and the total was 57. Both teams entered the game ranked in the top ten of the playoff standings, so it was pretty much an elimination game. The game featured 11 ties or lead changes and neither team led by more than 7 points. Notre Dame scored with 30 seconds left to take a 36-35 lead, but Stanford would kick the game winning 45 yard field goal as time expired. Notre Dame kicked three field goals of 30 yards or less. Stanford is 8-4 ATS and the total is 6-6 this season.

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USC is outscoring teams 36-25 this season. The Trojans are #26 in scoring and #51 in points allowed nationally. USC averages 457 total yards on offense including 281 passing and 177 rushing yards. The Trojans are #33 or better in both passing and total offense. On defense, Southern Cal is allowing 400 total yards including 262 passing and 138 rushing yards. USC is #30 in rush defense but #106 in pass defense nationally out of 128 teams. The Trojans have forced 23 turnovers and have 10 of their own. USC averages 70 penalty yards per game and opponents average 45. The Trojans are 79/185 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 61/178. Southern Cal has forced 36 sacks and allowed 31 this season. The Trojans are 44/50 scoring in the red zone with 34 touchdowns and opponents are 37/42 with 27 touchdowns. USC has two punt returns for touchdowns and five defensive touchdowns this season.

Quarterback Cody Kessler has completed 68.4% of his passes for 3,128 yards with 27 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Max Browne has thrown for 113 yards.

Running back Ronald Jones II has 139 carries for 830 yards and 7 touchdowns, along with 6 catches and a touchdown. Justin Davis has 140 carries for 776 yards and 5 touchdowns, along with 16 catches for 169 yards. Tre Madden has 84 carries for 450 yards and 5 touchdowns, along with 16 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown.

Receiver Juju Smith-Schuster has 74 catches for 1,302 yards and 10 touchdowns. Adoree’ Jackson has 24 catches for 382 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 2 punt returns for touchdowns. Steven Mitchell, Jr. has 32 catches for 269 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Issac Whitney has 8 catches for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. Darreus Rogers has 22 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Jalen Greene will also get some targets. Receiver Isaac Whitney is out indefinitely with a broken collarbone. The Trojans have three offensive linemen and four defensive players listed on the injury report.

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Stanford is outscoring teams 37-23 this season. The Cardinal are #20 in scoring and #42 in points allowed. Stanford averages 437 yards per game on offense including 216 passing and 222 rushing yards. The Cardinal are #39 in total offense and #22 in rushing. On defense, Stanford is allowing 376 yards per game including 232 passing yards and 144 rushing yards. The Cardinal are in the top 50 in total and rush defense nationally. Stanford has forced 11 turnovers but has 12 of their own. The Cardinal average 43 penalty yards per game and opponents average 53. Stanford is 91/170 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 72/183. The Cardinal have forced 23 sacks and allowed 18 this season. Stanford is 47/53 scoring in the red zone with 37 touchdowns and opponents are 37/41 with 18 touchdowns. The Cardinal have a pick six and a kick return for a touchdown.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan has completed 68.3% of his passes for 2,500 yards with 23 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, along with 72 carries for 294 yards and four rushing touchdowns.

Running back Christian McCaffrey has 287 carries for 1,640 yards and 7 touchdowns, plus 37 catches for 435 yards and 3 touchdowns. Barry Sanders, Jr. has 48 carries for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns. Remound Wright has 69 carries for 185 yards and 13 touchdowns, along with 6 catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. Fullback Daniel Marx is out for the season.

Receiver Michael Rector has 30 catches for 474 yards and 3 touchdowns. Austin Hooper has 29 catches for 406 yards and 6 touchdowns. Bryce Love has 14 catches for 248 yards and a touchdown, plus 215 rushing yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns. Devon Cajuste has 25 catches for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Stanford is 6-0 ATS in December, 5-1 in neutral site games, 16-5 after failing to cover, 11-4 overall, 8-3 after a straight up win, 7-3 against teams with winning records, 48-21-1 after allowing 450 total yards or more, 35-16-1 in Pac 12 games, and 38-18-1 on grass. The over is 14-6 in this series recently.

USC is 8-23 ATS  after a straight up win, 2-6 after a cover, and 0-4 after rushing for more than 200 yards. The underdog has covered the last four games in this series.

USC has gone 5-2 under Helton and have been playing really inspired football. However, a couple of weeks ago they were beaten handily at Oregon. Stanford is simply more talented than USC and the Trojans are also banged up on defense. I think the Cardinal win by double digits.

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