There are certain games where one can break down film and stats to predict what is likely to happen. There are other games where it comes down to more of a feel than cold analysis. This is one of those games.
Anyone who knows recruiting knows that there is no team in the conference who gets higher rated recruits than USC. They get more 5-star recruits than the rest of the conference combined in many years. And while there is the issue of whether the ratings align to whether those kids are in fact the most talented players, one would have to take a very dim view of all of the rating services to believe that USC didn’t have a talent advantage. I think this is particularly true of the 5-stars. There are a number of 4-star players who get their rating from their in-game statistics and statistics can be misleading due to what team a player is on and the such. But 5-stars have to have the whole package: size, speed, physically dominating tape plus the in-game statistics. There are very few 5-stars who are not as talented as they appear.
All of that is a long way of saying that USC is more talented than any team in the conference.
But talent will only get a team so far. They have to be motivated. They have to be coached well in all aspects (technique, scheme, physical development). As a result, USC has been under-performing now for the better part of a decade because the coaching just hasn’t been there. In the most recent incident, it appears it has been because their head coach has been an alcoholic.
Now that Sarkesian has been fired, everything has changed.
And the worst part is that the way it has changed for USC is in a way that is deadly to Cal: the linemen. When I’ve seen USC play up until the Utah game, I saw a team that looked marginal on the line. They didn’t look bad, but they weren’t pushing anyone around. What I saw at the Utah game was a physically dominating line performance.
That’s the worst case scenario for Cal, as Utah and UCLA both proved. Both of those games were lost in the trenches. And if Cal lost a game in the trenches (albeit marginally) to a team that lost badly in the trenches to USC, we should turn on the red-alert alarm.
So I’ll be blunt: Unless Cal has a HUGE improvement in line play today (or for some reason USC massively under performs on the line), Cal loses this one big. And frankly I just don’t see that happening. I think you might be surprised to see me discounting this game when previewing future games, because I don’t think the teams after USC (Stanford aside) are going to physically dominate Cal the way USC is likely going to. I’ve got hope for the future against Oregon, OSU and ASU. But today is going to be a blood bath.
Cal 17, USC 42