The underachievers against the wanna-be title contenders. That's what's coming up at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when the California Golden Bears visit the University of Southern California Trojans.
Look to rebound from close losses on road
Both teams are coming off close losses on the road to ranked teams. Cal (1-2) lost a nip-and-tuck battle to Big Ten power Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, 35-28. USC (2-1) lost a Pac-12 Conference opener in Palo Alto to the Stanford Cardinal, 21-14 (see related articles below for brief comments).
The Bears thought they had a bowl team and potentially a giant killer type of team … and on paper they do. But the label that Cal just can't get rid of is underachievers. And so far in 2012, they've found no way to rid themselves of this stigma. To some extent, USC could be considered underachievers but on the whole, this team - on paper - should be unbeatable and contending for a championship … but they already have a loss in the loser's column after only three games. Are the men of Troy contenders or pretenders?
USC D stop Cal?
The Bears offense had been solid if unspectacular. Zach Maynard has been efficient with his main targets being his brother and star wideout Keenan Allen plus Chris Harper who has caught two touchdown passes so far this season. Isi Sofele is an excellent tailback but Cal may have found a star in sophomore Brendan Bigelow who had four carries for 160 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State.
The Trojan defense has been maligned, especially up front, but the down linemen played fairly competently against a Stanford offense that just kept coming at them. Versus the Bears, USC will likely see a smaller, faster and quicker team in Cal. The Trojan secondary broke down at times in the Stanford game and will have to play better against the Bears.
Can Bear D stop once vaunted Trojan offense?
Cal's defense has shown to be solid but their pass defense will have to be better than they've been in the past against the vaunted USC offense (at least they used to be vaunted).
On the other hand, the Trojan running game has been poor. But the big area of concern for USC must be their offensive line who missed their injured all-star center Khaled Holmes but also missed way too many assignments against Stanford. Quarterback Matt Barkley will play better versus the Bears. How do I know? He just played his worst game since maybe when he was a freshman.
And, just how will this shake out? Will Cal recover after a shot at an upset in Columbus last week? Can the Trojans rebound after their hopes of an undefeated season were knocked out? By the way, this is the Bears first Pac-12 game of the year.
Either the Cal Bears have found the perfect time to play a confused, inexperienced USC squad ... or this is the absolute worst time to play an angry, vengeful Trojan team.
How it will end
USC still has some inexperience including on the offensive line so being home will help. Truly, contests like this are extremely hard to gauge but I'd expect a very determined effort from the Trojans with the game close for the most part. Final predicted score: USC 37 - California 24.
This September 22nd gridiron battle will be at 3:00PM Pacific Time and broadcast on the Pac-12 Network which is not available in a lot of households throughout the west and nation. The conference has a problem and needs to fix it soon.
After this game, the California Golden Bears will come back home to play the Arizona State Sun Devils while the USC Trojans get the next weekend off before they go on the road to play Utah for a nationally televised big South Division game on Thursday night.
Sources - University of California, University of Southern California
Daryle lived in Los Angeles Ca. most of his life and has been a longtime fan of USC and the Pac-12, having closely followed the Trojans since he was just a youngster. Fight On!