Time for another pick, and this one involving what is the last visit by USC for maybe four years, depending on how the schedules shake out.
As has often been the case, USC comes in favored, this time by 12 (give or take a point or so, depending on which line you are using).
And almost every pundit out there also seems to be picking the Trojans, for what are all sorts of logical reasons — Matt Barkley, the WR tandem of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, a decent-enough running game (USC’s yards per carry average is 5.1, behind only Oregon and UCLA in the Pac-12, though its total per game lags a little) and a defense that statistically is pretty good and might even be a little better than its numbers (recall that 14 of Utah’s points were the result of early turnovers, etc.).
While form often does hold, such as the predicted UW losses at LSU and Oregon; it sometimes does not, such as UW’s win over Stanford.
As a few of you have reminded me this week, Sarkisian’s UW teams have won eight games as underdogs, and four times as double-digit underdogs, as they are again this week, those coming 2009 and 2010 against USC, the 2010 Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, and 2011 at Utah (when the Huskies were actually 10-point underdogs). (And as a reminder, UW was a seven-point underdog against Stanford two weeks ago).
UW also has something of a history of beating USC as an underdog going back to the mid-70s and what were some of the bigger wins of the Don James era.
Not that history will necessarily be relevant tomorrow other than as a reminder that anything can happen.
Ultimately, victory for the Huskies may rest on a few keys tomorrow:
— Getting a pass rush on Matt Barkley. As Steve Sarkisian noted today, that’s tended to be the one constant for teams that have beaten the Trojans of late, pressuring Barkley a bit and getting him out of his rhythm, as Stanford did. That’s not easy to do as USC has allowed just seven sacks. UW has managed just 12 sacks of its own, with Husky coaches saying it’s an area of the team that needs improvement. Justin Wilcox has shown a willingness to experiment to try to fix what ails the UW defense, such as last week pulling Cory Littleton out of a redshirt season and straight into the starting defense. UW, though, will also need some of its more traditional guys (Josh Shirley, Andrew Hudson) to come through tomorrow, as well.
— Being efficient on offense. Sarkisian said today on KJR that shortening the game will be a key. That means getting a running game going and being solid in the passing game to keep the clock going. Still, I also expect the Huskies to take some shots deep and force the issue in getting Keith Price going. Can the Huskies run the ball well enough to play keep away from USC? That may be as big a question about this game as any. Sarkisian seems a lot more confident it can happen with the way Bishop Sankey has played of late, including three straight 100-yard rushing games.
— Playing mistake-free. UW benefited greatly from USC errors in the 2009 and 2010 games (most notably, turnovers, missed field goals, blown red zone opportunities). UW blew its chance to make it a game last week at Oregon with three early turnovers and five overall. That obviously can’t happen again.
Can the Huskies do it? I sense the fan base doesn’t really know. The losses at LSU and Oregon, especially the manner in which they occurred, gives pause to wonder where the season is headed. The Stanford game, though, remains a ray of hope. This game looks as a real definer. Win this one, and seven or eight wins, if not more, seems possible. Lose it, and suddenly the Huskies could be riding a tight rope just to get to bowl eligibility.
UW’s teams under Sarkisian have usually been able to shake off tough losses — the win over USC in 2010 followed the disastrous home loss to Nebraska, for instance. So I don’t see any of that being an issue. This also should feature the most raucous crowd of the year, and what is usually seen as “Husky weather,” even if I’m not sure I’d put much stock in the value of rain.
On paper, this is a game USC wins. But then there’s also this — UW has won 10 of its last 11 home games. We’ll call for Washington heading into a momentary stop in the series with a little big of bragging rights — WASHINGTON 24, USC 21.