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Utah vs. USC prediction: Trojans will eke out a victory in Pac-12 title game

Caleb Williams and USC’s high-flying offense will do just enough to win rematch against Utes

Utah linebacker Mohamoud Diabate reaches up to tackle USC wide receiver Jordan Addison during an October game in Salt Lake City. The Utes and Trojans meet for the Pac-12 title on Friday night in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)
Utah linebacker Mohamoud Diabate reaches up to tackle USC wide receiver Jordan Addison during an October game in Salt Lake City. The Utes and Trojans meet for the Pac-12 title on Friday night in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)Read moreChris Gardner / Getty Images

It’s been 16 years since USC last played for a college football national championship. The Trojans have a chance to end that drought if they can win a rematch against Utah in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas.

After extending its winning streak to five games with last week’s 38-27 home win over Notre Dame, USC moved into the all-important fourth slot in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. So if the Trojans (11-1, 8-4 ATS) can knock off Utah, they will become just the second Pac-12 team to get an invite to the four-team tournament (the first being Oregon in 2014, the CFP’s inaugural year).

That will give USC the opportunity to play for the national title for the first time since its legendary game against Texas in the Rose Bowl during the 2006 season.

The good news for the Trojans is they have presumptive Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams on their side. But Williams was unstoppable during a mid-October game at Utah, and the Trojans still came up short.

Will we see a different result Friday? Here’s our Utah vs. USC prediction for the Pac-12 championship game.

Note: Odds updated as of 7:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 1.

Utah vs. USC prediction: Pick

  1. USC moneyline, -145 (at Caesars Sportsbook)

Utah vs. USC prediction: Analysis

It’s tempting — very tempting — to back Utah (9-3, 7-5 ATS) in this contest. Because the Utes do something very well that USC hardly does at all: They play defense.

Utah fields a stop unit that ranks in the top 20 nationally in total yards allowed (317.6 per game, 17th), rushing yards allowed (111.3, 17th) and points allowed (20.1, 19th). And the pass defense (206.3 yards per game, 36th) isn’t too shabby, either.

In contrast, the Trojans rank 91st in total defense (405.3 ypg), 110th in passing defense (262.8 ypg) and 63rd in scoring defense (26.3 ppg).

But here’s the thing: Williams and the Trojans’ offense completely carved apart the Utes’ stingy defense on Oct. 15. They piled up 556 total yards and six touchdowns (four in the first half), with Williams accounting for 438 of those yards and five of the touchdowns. And they did it in Salt Lake City.

» READ MORE: CFB championship week odds: USC, TCU barely favored

No, it wasn’t quite enough, because USC’s defense got burned for six more yards than its offense produced. And it surrendered the same six touchdowns — including one with 30 seconds left in the first half and one with 48 seconds left in the game.

The Trojans’ D also let Utah quarterback Cameron Rising score on a 2-point conversion run following the last touchdown, which gave the Utes a 43-42 victory.

From there, Utah won four of its last five games, the lone misstep being a 20-17 loss at Oregon as a 1-point underdog two weeks ago. Holding the Ducks to 20 points was impressive, to be sure. However, Oregon quarterback Bo Nix played with a foot injury and was far from 100%.

So we’re going to put that game to the side and focus on the only other three high-powered offensive teams Utah faced this year: Florida, UCLA and USC.

In the season opener in Gainesville, the Utes gave up 29 points and 452 yards in a three-point loss to the Gators. The week before facing USC, they went to UCLA and allowed 42 points and 502 yards in a 10-point defeat to the Bruins.

And, as already noted, the Trojans shredded Utah for 42 points and 556 yards.

The point: Utah’s defense is a force when facing average (or worse) offenses. Against prolific teams? Not so much.

Make no mistake, with head coach/offensive mastermind Lincoln Riley calling the shots — and Williams at the controls — USC is extremely prolific. The Trojans have put up 38 or more points in 10 of 12 games, including the last six in a row.

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We fully expect them to do it again Friday, as Williams — who has accounted for at least four touchdowns in eight of 12 games — has been completely unstoppable.

Rising, who has 22 passing and six rushing touchdowns himself this season, will surely lead Utah to its share of points against USC’s leaky defense. Just not enough of them this time around.

In what figures to be another high-scoring, highly entertaining nailbiter, look for USC to come out on top — somehow, someway.

Play the Trojans on the moneyline at Caesars Sportsbook.

Utah vs. USC Odds (via Caesars Sportsbook)

  1. Point spread: Utah (+2.5) @ USC (-2.5)

  2. Moneyline: Utah (+122) @ USC (-145)

  3. Total: 67 points

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