The Road Back - California at USC
Posted Sep 19, 2012

Week 4 CFN Fearless Prediction – California at USC

California (1-2) at USC (2-1) Sept. 22, 6:00, Pac-12 Networks

Here’s The Deal: USC is probably not going to win a national championship in 2012. But a Pac-12 remains at the top of the to-do list. The 13th-ranked Trojans fell unexpectedly to Stanford in primetime last Saturday night, resetting the clock their expectations for this season. While it was a humbling weekend on many levels, the program and head coach Lane Kiffin recognize that it’s a long season, with a lot that can still be accomplished. For starters, they’ll need to avoid a second straight conference loss, especially with the South Division suddenly being thornier than anyone anticipated. Cal is coming off its best game of the month, yet still fell short to Ohio State in Columbus, 35-28. Valiant as the effort may have been, the Bears are already fallen a game below .500, and could slip further into a ditch with upcoming dates against USC, Arizona State and UCLA.

Why Cal Might Win: If the Stanford game proved anything, it’s that USC can be shoved around at the line of scrimmage. The Bears will try to do so when it has the ball Saturday afternoon. Cal sports a collection of big and physical bodies in the trenches who’ll attempt to open holes for backs Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson. And for a little more flash, the staff will sprinkle in a little Brendan Bigelow, the speedy sophomore who turned four carries into 160 yards and two touchdowns at the Horseshoe. Zach Maynard has steady, if unspectacular, under center, but still needs to make better use of athletic receivers Keenan Allen, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs.

Why USC Might Win: It was a strange occurrence seeing QB Matt Barkley struggle mightily the way he did on the Farm last week. A second straight clunker might be a sign of the apocalypse. Cal will naturally try to pressure No. 7 into poor decisions, but the Bears don’t have quite the same amount of front seven talent as Stanford does. Nor are they nearly as capable in the secondary, especially after yielding four touchdown passes in back-to-back games. The Trojans passing game will look more like the unit that produced 10 scoring strikes in the first two games, unleashing the one-two knockout punch of receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

What To Watch Out For: After allowing more than 200 yards on the ground to Stanford, mostly to RB Stepfan Taylor, USC needs to start plugging its holes in run defense. If the Trojans fail to do so, Cal is sure to exploit the openings. There’s an abundance of talent on the Trojans second level, like FS T.J. McDonald and linebackers Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson. However, they have to do a better job this weekend of filling lanes, or else Sofele, Anderson and Bigelow are going to play keep-away with Barkley.

What Will Happen: USC is angry. Cal is ill-equipped to beat this kind of an opponent on the road. And just because the Trojans were proven to be beatable does not mean that the wheels are about to come off. Barkley, among others, will make sure of it. The senior will play with an additional sense of purpose, carving up the Bears defensive backfield for four more touchdown passes. His arm coupled with the running of Silas Redd will be too much for a defense that has yet to hold an opponent below 31 points this season. For the first time since the opener, USC will be able to exhale at the start of the final quarter.

CFN Prediction: USC 40 … Cal 20
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) USC -16 O/U: 58.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Ray Lewis: A Football Life, 1 – Frankenweenie): 3