Football

Sports editor predictions ahead of USC-ASU season opener

Annenberg Media sports editors compare the Trojans and Sun Devils.

Before each game this USC football season, Annenberg Media’s sports staff will make prop predictions and pick a winner. Read on to see our editors' picks for the opener against Arizona State.

There is no chance this game does not hit the over on 58.5 points. Last time these two teams faced off they broke the 58.5 behind Arizona State backup quarterback Joe Yellen. What has been apparent throughout the opening weeks of college football is it takes defenses a while to catch up to offenses, and scores across the country have been through the roof.

USC is going against an offense led by a mobile quarterback, something it has struggled with in the past, and an offensive scheme it has no tape on. On the other side, the Trojans offense is one of the most talented in the nation and torched the ASU defense last year with 28 first quarter points.

Carlo Jiménez

There’s a reason this one’s unanimous. We saw what Kedon Slovis did in the first quarter at Sun Devil Stadium last November: 297 passing yards — a USC single-quarter record — and four passing touchdowns. Slovis also has a better set of weapons than Jayden Daniels this season with returning wideouts Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake London, as well as five-star redshirt freshman Bru McCoy. Slovis had 400-plus passing yards in his final three regular-season games in 2019, and most of the offense that made that happen is back this year.

We were robbed of a head-to-head battle between these two promising quarterbacks because Daniels was out with a knee injury when USC played ASU last season. The Sun Devils hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill to create more opportunities for Daniels, but without seeing this offense in action and given Daniels' limited playmakers, I have to favor Slovis in the opener.

Amanda Sturges

Neither of these teams could stay out of their own way last season; USC ranked No. 106 out of 130 FBS teams with 6.9 penalties per game while Arizona State ranked No. 97 with 6.8. Add the typical sloppiness that comes with a first game, an abbreviated offseason in terms of preparation and a long offseason in terms of anticipation, and you have what promises to be a flag-fest.

I particularly want to keep an eye on USC’s defense. Bad penalties have repeatedly hurt that unit in recent years, which was part of why former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was let go. New coordinator Todd Orlando prioritizes aggression, so it may be difficult for USC to completely iron out its bad habits.

Aidan Berg

Daniels threw just two interceptions last year, but ASU lost its top two skilled position players, Eno Benjamin and Brandon Aiyuk, to the NFL this year. Their loss could be felt on the Sun Devils' offense. ASU’s depth chart also shows a lot of young starters. Young is often synonymous with mistake-prone.

Slovis threw more interceptions, nine to be exact, but that was against a tougher 2019 schedule. He was only a freshman in 2019 but then again, so was Daniels. Although Michael Pittman Jr. left USC for the league, all Trojan running backs — Stephen Carr, Markese Stepp, Kenan Christon and Vavae Malepeai — are back and healthy, meaning USC should be able to establish a run game.

ASU has a new offensive coordinator in Zak Hill, and USC has a new defensive coordinator in Todd Orlando. The new hires on either side could be lopsided or could cancel each other out.

If it sounds like everything I just said contradicts itself, it’s because it does. There are a lot of factors that could go either way, and given that this is not only the first game of the season but the first game these two teams will play under very unusual circumstances, it’s a tough one to predict. Regardless, Slovis absolutely lit up ASU last year. He’s a Phoenix kid, a 3-star recruit, and ASU didn’t even offer him ... so he has quite a chip on his shoulder. That’s always fun to watch.

Jill Burke

The Trojans are the favorite to win in the matchup against Arizona State, from 7.5 points to as many as 10.5 points. I’m going with the odds for this one.

It’s likely the matchup that will decide the Pac-12 South winner, and USC has an especially huge opponent in the Sun Devils' 4-3 defensive scheme. But, the talented Trojans on offense — namely Slovis and the wide receivers — will apply pressure to and find gaps in the defense to put the ball in the end zone.

The Trojan defense isn’t going to give Daniels an easy time, either. Safeties junior Talanoa Hufanga and redshirt junior Isaiah Pola-Mao could prove to be tough opponents against the sophomore quarterback. Though the Sun Devils had more time to practice in larger cohorts, first-year defensive coordinator Todd Orlando prepared the defense well before it got on the field, so each player has his role down-pat.

Elizabeth Islas