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USC Trojans vs. Washington State Cougars Point Spread - Pick

USC Trojans (4-0 SU, 1-3 ATS) vs. Washington State Cougars (4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS)
College Football Week 5
Date/Time: Friday, September 29, 2017 at 10:30PM EST
Where: Martin Stadium, Pullman, Washington
TV: ESPN

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: USC -3.5/WSU +3.5
Over/Under Total: 65

The USC Trojans make the trip up to Pullman on Friday for a big Pac-12 matchup against the Washington State Cougars. The Trojans overcame a strong effort by Cal last Saturday to pull away late for the 30-20 win. They are 4-0 and a top-five team, but have covered just one spread this season, while being challenged in all of their games. They should get a good test from a tough home Washington St. team, a 4-0 squad that has overcome adversity this season in their own right, while also laying the hammer to some teams. One of those times was last Saturday, when the Cougars crushed Nevada, 45-7.

It seems like the Trojans are still waiting for their engine to really turn over this season. It's impressive that they can continue to win when not really playing at their best, but we still haven't seen the same team from last season that ended the year ablaze. The opener against Western Michigan was close until late, Stanford gave them a run for a while, they needed double-OT and a huge play on "D" to beat Texas, and entered the 4th quarter against Cal tied up at 13-13.

Still, the Southern Cal offense is going to be a real handful when it starts putting together a full four quarters of football. Sam Darnold has been a godsend for this team, taking a team that looked headed for a terrible season and completely turning it around last year and having them in prime position this season for big things. He has been a little reckless of late and his interception totals have been high this season with seven. But he was again good late and that seems to be a knack he is developing. That's a good pattern to develop.

The USC offense has gotten a big boost from a few different areas, in addition to the standout and clutch play of Darnold. WR Deontay Burnett has not missed a step in ascending to the role of the number-one target for Darnold. He has been big in all four games. They are also getting a boost from true freshman Stephen Carr, a talented running back that has given the offense a boost and some more explosive-potential. He also had a TD on Saturday along with 6 receptions. Ronald Jones, II. has also been big at points this season, but he missed the Cal game with an ankle and should be back for this one. Key receiver Steven Mitchell, Jr. was also out. For most of the game, the losses in personnel showed.

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The Southern Cal defense has been all over the place so far this season. At times, they have been porous and have allowed big plays. They haven't been clutch in some spots, while big plays have bailed out the team on occasion. They were pretty good against Cal, especially late, when they allowed allowed only a late garbage TD. Christian Rector, whose strip-fumble against Texas may have won them the game, had two sacks on Saturday. Line-mate Josh Fatu added a sack. Jack Jones was big in the secondary with two picks, while Marvell Tell made plays left and right all day. Ykili Ross and Chris Hawkins also had picks on the day. In the middle, John Houston, Jr, and Cameron Smith were big on the day. All told, it may have been their most impactful game of the season.

Washington State is dangerous. Senior Luke Falk has started to really get rolling and has a whopping 874 yards in his last two games with 11 touchdown passes. He has completed a sensational 76.9% of his throws on the season. And when he was knocked out of the Boise game, the rest of the squad banded for a stirring comeback win in triple-overtime. They hit week five a galvanized and tested bunch. Still, with wins over Montana State, Boise, Oregon State, and Nevada, the Cougars are really ratcheting up the level of opposition in this battle on Friday.

After losing their top two receivers from last season, the Cougars have seen Tavares Martin, Jr. move squarely into the role of number-one target and he has 308 yards in his last two games with five touchdowns. WR Isaiah Johnson-Mack has also taken on a bigger role this season and we're starting to see the people around Falk growing into their roles. Running backs Jamal Morrow and James Williams add some menace, with Williams also a valuable short-pass target. Making it come together is an experienced offensive line, though they haven't been that stout against the opposing pass-rush, having allowed 12 sacks in the last three games. Obviously, keeping Falk healthy is a pinnacle concern and we saw against Boise State that this group needs to tighten up a bit.

The Washington State defense has done well at points this season, albeit against offenses that bring just a small fraction of what USC brings to the table. And against Boise State, they allowed a bit of a feeding frenzy before tightening up late in time for the big comeback bid. Up-front, they get a big boost from Hercules Mata'afa and Nnamdi Oguayo, who combined for 4.5 sacks on Saturday. Jalen Thompson and Robert Taylor are playmakers in the secondary and both had picks against Nevada, while CB Darrien Molton was stout in coverage. Peyton Pelluer was a solid contributor at linebacker and losing him for the season was costly. They need youngsters like Jahad Woods and veterans like Isaac Dotson to step up and they did in week four.

While USC has started the season somewhat slowly, with one cover and games just being a lot more-competitive than one would think, they could suddenly spring into full-bloom. In other words, don't expect a subdued USC offense all season and if anything, they're due for a full 60 minutes of good play. But it's hard to imagine the Washington State team we've seen not be able to do what all of USC's opponents have been able to do this season, which is give the Trojans a run for their money. And the toughness they've shown could be just the thing they need to make it stick. I'm going out on a limb and taking the Cougars and the points.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Washington State Cougars plus 3.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the USC vs. Washington State 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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