No. 20 USC (6-3, 4-2 in Pac-12) at No. 4 Washington (9-0, 6-0 in Pac-12)
4:30 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
The line: Washington by 8.5
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First, Stanford was the big test, and the Huskies passed it. But then everyone realized the Cardinal actually aren’t that good.
Then, Utah was the big test, and the Huskies passed it. The Utes are still good. But two weeks have passed, and the stakes are higher, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that USC, despite its 1-3 start to this season, is still among the most talented teams in the Pac-12.
So here come the Trojans for Saturday’s primetime matchup at Husky Stadium, where a sellout crowd is expected to watch the Huskies attempt to extend their winning streak to 13 games and become just the second team in school history to begin a season 10-0.
USC has an athletic, talented quarterback (Sam Darnold), a deep crew of running backs (led by Ronald Jones II), a talented group of receivers (led by JuJu Smith-Schuster) and a defense that held Oregon to 288 yards of total offense last week. There might not be a more impressive collection of personnel on another roster in the Pac-12.
Except, perhaps, for Washington, which has won seven of its nine games this season by a margin of 24 or more points, and is fresh off a 66-27 pasting on the road against California. The Huskies and Trojans have played five common opponents: Stanford, Oregon, Utah, Arizona and California. Of the five, Arizona is the only to lose to USC by more than it lost to the Huskies, and the Trojans also lost to two of those teams (Stanford and Utah).
(In conference games only, USC ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in yards per play allowed; UW ranks third. USC ranks fourth in scoring defense; UW ranks second. USC ranks second in yards per play; UW ranks first. USC ranks fifth in scoring offense; UW ranks first.)
As UW coaches have said this week, USC is going to move the ball. The Trojans are going to hit some chunk plays. Darnold and USC’s receivers are too good not to. And the Trojans are going to test UW’s run defense like no other team has this season, with the possible exception of Utah.
But I think UW’s secondary, led by star cornerback Sidney Jones, is up for the challenge. And I think after watching the tape of how Oregon was able to confuse Darnold at times last week with different looks, UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski will come up with a scheme -- perhaps more blitzes? -- to put more pressure on Darnold and try to force some mistakes. Washington currently leads the nation in turnover margin. USC ranks 77th. That could be an important statistic in a game many expect to be close.
In the end, I think the home crowd and UW’s cache of offensive playmakers will win out against a USC team that is good, but still just shy of great.
The pick: Washington 35, USC 24.