COUGAR TRACKS

BYU Vs. USC: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction

Nov 27, 2021, 1:52 AM
BYU Football - Kalani Sitake...
STATESBORO, GA - NOVEMBER 20: Head coach Kalani Sitake of the Brigham Young Cougars reacts to an official's call during the second quarter at Allen E. Paulson Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Statesboro, Georgia. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – The fourth meeting for BYU vs USC is a setup that no one saw coming.

Before the 2021 college football season, no one saw BYU entering L.A. with the nationally-ranked team that has New Year’s Six aspirations. Instead, everyone assumed coming into this season that the star-power of USC would be the one at the end of the regular season would be playing for something more.

That’s not the case as the Trojans crawl into this Senior Day at 4-6, needing two wins in their final two games to qualify for a bowl game.

BYU is 9-2, ranked No. 13 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, and hopes to secure a Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl birth.

This is the second game of a three-game series between the two programs. BYU won the first series meeting two years ago in an overtime thriller in Provo that saw Cougar fans storm the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium. It was BYU’s first win ever against USC. The Trojans lead the all-time series between the two schools at 2-1.

There is still one game remaining in the series, which will take place in the 2023 season. But the game is in limbo due to BYU transitioning into the Big 12 Conference beginning that season. So this could be the last BYU vs. USC game for the foreseeable future.

No. 13 BYU at USC

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. (MT)

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Now it’s time for the 3-2-1 Game Day preview for today’s matchup between BYU and USC.

Three Gameday Thoughts

1. If BYU plays at their best, they should beat USC by a wide margin

USC has great individual talent, but they aren’t a good team right now. They’ve gone through a lot of adversity with the firing of Clay Helton, injuries to key personnel, and the uncertainty of who will be the next head coach. So when you factor in all of that, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise that they are 4-6 entering their final home game at the Coliseum.

BYU is the better football team. But will BYU play at their best? This season, BYU has played down to its opposition, whether it was the second half against Arizona, the first against Georgia Southern last week, or the entire game in one of their two losses to Boise State.

In September, the dominance BYU displayed in the trenches during wins against Utah and Arizona State has to be on display again today against the Trojans. However, if BYU does dominate in the trenches, the 13th ranked Cougars should run away to a large victory.

2. Sea of royal blue

USC fans are down and out with the USC Football program right now. It’s not because of the players on the field, but the administrators who let USC Football get as bad as it has become. It’s left Los Angeles residents not showing up at the Coliseum.

This season, only one game at the LA Memorial Coliseum has been above 60,000 fans in the 78,647-seat venue. That was last week in a blowout loss to crosstown rival UCLA, where 68,152 fans showed up to see the Bruins put up 62 points on USC.

The last time BYU traveled to USC was in 2003, and nearly 20,000 fans showed up at the Coliseum. BYU AD Tom Holmoe told a story this past June at BYU’s Football Media Day from that game, then USC AD Mike Garrett asked where all the BYU fans came from. Holmoe responded, “They are here in your backyard.”

BYU has a strong following of fans and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in west coast states, including California.

West coast BYU fans won’t have as many opportunities in the future to see their beloved Cougs up close and in person with the upcoming move to the Big 12 Conference. So the chance to take over the Coliseum is a rare opportunity for BYU, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a sea of royal blue in L.A. for the late-night showdown.

3. Ten regular-season wins would be an impressive accomplishment

If BYU comes away victorious against the Trojans tonight, it will give the Cougars a second-consecutive 10-win season. I had BYU going 9-3 entering this season, and many felt I was too optimistic on BYU’s outlook after losing five NFL draft picks, including No. 2 pick Zach Wilson.

They’ve hit the nine-win threshold; now they’ve got a shot at ten wins. To hit the double-digit win mark before the postseason could put this Kalani Sitake squad among some of the great BYU teams all-time. It’s there for the taking.

Two BYU vs. USC Questions

1. Does Kalani Sitake leave an impression on the USC Coaching Search?

Nearly three months into USC head coaching search, it’s still anyone’s guess who ends up the next headman of the Trojan Football program. Baylor’s Dave Aranda has been tossed around quite a bit as of late. The same goes for Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.

Kalani Sitake has been tossed around as a potential candidate for USC and Washington by national reporters such as Bruce Feldman and ESPN’s Adam Rittenburg. Still, there hasn’t been much smoke to Sitake’s candidacy with the Trojans.

USCFootball.com Publisher Ryan Abraham, in an interview with KSL Sports this week, felt Sitake’s name wouldn’t be big enough to win over the Trojan fans and get them to invest in USC Football again with ticket sales and excitement.

Sitake deflected a few weeks ago when asked specifically about his interest in the USC and Washington coaching vacancies. The Coaching Carousel is in full swing right now with some big jobs needing coaches, and there aren’t many proven commodity coaches that are ready to bounce from their current gigs.

If BYU blows out USC, does that elevate Sitake up the Trojans big board? BYU would cap off a 5-0 season against Pac-12 teams this year and be knocking on the door of a potential New Year’s Six bowl game.

2. Will BYU’s Drop 8 succeed against USC’s offense again?

Fans don’t love it, but the results of BYU’s drop eight defense produced an upset win over nationally-ranked USC two years ago at LES. The Trojans have the 14th ranked passing offense nationally with their Air Raid attack. Former Corner Canyon star Jaxson Dart is preparing for his second start in his young Trojan career.

If BYU were at full strength with their defensive personnel, I’d call for BYU to have a lot of success against the Trojans’ offense. But the loss of Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili are being felt on the defense, and you know BYU’s defense is bound to give up a dozen-play drive or two the opposition.

This game could have the makings of the shootout if they can’t make USC the one-dimensional team they were in Provo two years ago.

One Score Prediction

BYU wins this football game because USC won’t slow down the Cougar offense. The Trojans have talented secondary, many of whom were offered scholarships by BYU coming out of high school. Still, they haven’t faced the quality of receivers that BYU has in Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney.

Nacua was once a former USC commit, he loves the big stage games, and few venues in college football provide as grand of a stage as the LA Memorial Coliseum.

Expect to see both teams put some big numbers offensively, but BYU ultimately comes away victorious because they are more motivated, disciplined, and make fewer mistakes than USC.

USC will keep it close for three quarters, then BYU pulls away in the fourth.

BYU 41, USC 28

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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