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Stanford Cardinal vs. USC Trojans Point Spread - Pick

Stanford Cardinal (9-3 SU, 5-6-1 ATS) vs. USC Trojans (10-2 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)
Pac-12 Championship Game
Date/Time: Friday, December 1, 2017 at 8PM EST
Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
TV: ESPN

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: STAN +3/USC -3
Over/Under Total: 58.5

The Stanford Cardinal meet the USC Trojans in the Pac-12 Title Game on Friday at Levi's Stadium. Stanford needed Washington to beat Washington State last week to get into the title game and that happened. For good measure, Stanford scored a mild upset in beating Notre Dame, 38-20, giving them a little extra momentum heading into this game. The Trojans were off this past week, last playing on the 18th in a 28-23 win over the Bruins. That was their fourth straight win and though it was closer than some had suspected it would be, they are in better form over the last month or so than they have been in all season.

These teams already met in a week two matchup. A lot has changed since that September 9 matchup at the LA Coliseum. USC relied on a strong fourth quarter to pull away from the Cardinal, who were otherwise competitive. Stanford got a good game from Bryce Love, who ran for 160 yards, but the different aerial personnel they now have playing could end up making a difference. USC's Sam Darnold threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns. USC had a pair of 100-yard rushers, with Ronald Jones running for 116 yards and two scores. This game could have a different feel to it, with Stanford a more-formidable offensive team and closer to home with this coming in Santa Clara.

This season may not have gone according to plan for a Trojans team many projected to be squarely in the CFP discussion. A lot of different reasons can be mentioned, but injuries and inconsistent play from their heavy-hitters stands out as key causes. And yet, they are still a double-digit win team with one 3-point loss keeping them from an unbeaten conference mark. The offense has started to kick it into high gear with 163 combined points in their last 4 games. They didn't quite get off against UCLA. That was curious, especially with the prospects of a red-hot Ronald Jones taking on a comical Bruins' run-defense, but the offense didn't really shine against the Bruins for whatever reason. Be that as it may, the Trojans have hung in there well for a team that has been hit with a lot of adversity and for them to close the regular season as strongly as they have says a lot.

The offense wasn't as consistently-powerful as the Trojans had hoped this season, despite their big surge in the last handful of games. Sam Darnold was probably a tick or two below expectations this season. He does have a robust 3462 yards and 24 touchdowns with 5 more on the ground, but the 12 picks were a bit high, as were some fumbles along the way. Jones has been huge down the stretch and is now at 1346 yards with 17 touchdowns on the season. Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai, Aca'Cedrick Ware, and Darnold have also chipped in on the ground. Through the air, Deontay Burnett has been a consistent contributor, with big help from Steven Mitchell, Jr., Tyler Vaughns, and Tyler Petite.

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There isn't anything particularly special about the Southern Cal defense this season. In terms of overall stoutness, they have been average, albeit against some pretty strong offenses this season. They tend to make up for it at times with strong clutch play and a flair for big plays. The secondary, for example, isn't all that stout against opposing quarterbacks, but they make plays, with Ajene Harris and Marvell Tell each having three picks and Jack Jones with 4. Harris and Tell, along with safety Ykili Ross have all scored touchdowns. Christian Rector, Ucheena Nwosu, Josh Fatu, and Rasheem Green have combined for a robust 28 sacks.

Stanford didn't need the win against Notre Dame, but it speaks to their ambition as a team, with them carrying some good momentum into this game. For most of the contest, it was a back-and-forth battle, with Notre Dame carrying a 20-17 lead into the final quarter. Three Stanford touchdowns in the last quarter sewed up the win. Cardinal quarterback KJ Costello threw for a career-high four TD passes, with two of them coming late. Aided by some Notre Dame turnovers, the opportunistic Cardinal were able to capitalize and cruise home with an impressive and conclusive win.

The Stanford offense hasn't always fired this season, but they have been in better overall form heading down the stretch. They are a big part of how Stanford has won three straight and 8 of their last 9, the only loss by a field goal on the road to Washington State. Costello was efficient on Saturday, connecting with TE Dalton Schultz, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, and Kaden Smith on TD throws. Bryce Love was his customary dominant self, again playing through ankle issues that have been dogging him for weeks. He has 1848 yards on the ground. He is the X-factor in this offense who can really change a game.

After some early issues, the Stanford defense has snapped into shape in the second half of the season. They haven't given up more than 24 points since September and have given up an average of less than 17 points a game over their last 6 games. They had nice plays against Notre Dame with the defense tightening up late. Both Curtis Robinson and Frank Buncom had picks. Justin Reid has five picks on the season, as they also get good play from S Ben Edwards and CB Quenton Meeks. Harrison Smith up-front and LB Bobby Okereke apply a steady pass-rush. This unit is playing a lot better than the group USC faced back in week two.

Each team has gone through changes since the beginning of the season and when these teams first met in week two. In different ways, each team is better, with Stanford's overall rate of improvement perhaps a bit starker. The way things have gone this season have deposited these teams in a spot where I picture a competitive game ensuing for all the conference marbles. I just see the superior firepower of USC helping them get the win and cover this week. I'm taking SC.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the USC Trojans minus 3 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet on the Pac-12 Title Game from home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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