Sports editor predictions ahead of USC-Arizona

Annenberg Media sports editors compare the Trojans and Wildcats.

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 Week 2 against Arizona.

This is Arizona’s first game. We saw how rusty USC and Arizona State were in the first half of last week’s game — expect the same from the Wildcats. However, USC’s offense and defense finally started clicking at the end of the game against the Sun Devils. Sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis made some NFL-caliber throws and USC’s defense made some critical plays late in the game to win it. Look for USC to control the line of scrimmage and take advantage of the Wildcats' lack of depth at linebacker and corner. If Slovis can make plays in the flat and the middle of the field, he should be able to pick Arizona apart.

USC hasn’t lost to the Wildcats since 2012, when former wide receiver Marqise Lee couldn’t hang on to a Hail Mary at the very end of the game and the Trojans lost by three. Arizona was predicted by many to finish last in the Pac-12 as the Kevin Sumlin experiment hasn’t gone as planned in Tucson. Sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell has a strong arm and should be able to throw it downfield, but he isn’t as mobile as ASU’s Jayden Daniels, who rushed for over 100 yards against USC. If sophomore linebacker Drake Jackson and company can get to Gunnell, then USC shouldn’t have a problem.

Prediction: USC 45, Arizona 21

— Jill Burke

The Trojans scored on their first drive in nine of 13 games in 2019, including eight touchdowns, so this is a team that has hit the ground running. They were also used to taking the field to start the game — the Trojans began on offense in all but their final three games — so it seemed to be a concerted effort to start the game hot with the team’s stronger unit.

In addition, you have to factor in that this is Arizona’s first game. Defense is always the unit that suffers in the early weeks and from reduced preparation time because units need to ramp back up to the level of physicality and get used to tackling in game action again. Arizona was actually one of the teams USC did not score against on its first drive last season, but now that the offense has its sea legs, it shouldn’t have any issues starting fast against the Wildcats.

NOTE: Also, as the only one who didn’t pick USC to cover the spread, I just want to clarify I do still expect the Trojans to win.

— Aidan Berg

USC’s opener against Arizona State was a game of turnovers. The Trojans fumbled three times and Slovis threw an interception in a close game where every possession carried game-changing potential. It was a rusty start to a wild comeback, to say the least. Don’t expect Arizona — in its season opener — to be any less rusty.

Slovis should have an easier time getting down the field against the Wildcats. The Trojan offense will face a shaky Arizona defense and have an easier go-around with more pass options, so they should easily cut their number of turnovers from the Arizona State game in half.

— Lauren Merola

Redshirt senior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns will definitely have the most reception yards against the Wildcats on Saturday. Vaughns had five of his seven receptions in the fourth quarter against Arizona State last week including a 13-yard reception on a big fourth-and-3. While Kedon Slovis favored junior Amon-Ra St. Brown and sophomore Drake London in Week 1, he found Vaughns during late drives. I would expect Vaughns to have a breakout game against a weaker Arizona secondary.

— Carlo Jiménez

The Trojans are a surefire bet to lead in possession time this Saturday. Last season, Arizona and USC nearly split the time of possession in half. The Wildcats held the ball for 30:02 and the Trojans 29:58. But this time around, USC’s team is stronger on both fronts and is looking at getting more first downs, staying on offense and making quick stops on defense.

The Trojans defensive line struggled in Week 1 — allowing ASU to rack up 258 rushing yards — and made improvements during practice this week. If the defensive line can break through the Arizona offensive line, it can create quick stops and force turnovers. USC’s offense will also take advantage of its talented wide receiver group and make long drives to increase its share of possession time.

— Liz Islas

Slovis will almost surely appear in the postgame press conference. He already seems more poised in answering questions this season, and his performance is typically a deciding factor in USC’s success. Even though I picked London to have the most yards this week, I think we’ll see St. Brown in the presser with Slovis. He’s made countless game-changing catches over his career, and it’s only a matter of time before he makes another this season.

Predicting the defensive standout is a little harder, but redshirt junior safety Isaiah Pola-Mao is a solid interviewee who came out big Saturday with seven tackles against Arizona State. If he’s able to be disruptive again against Arizona, I think we could be hearing from him postgame for the second straight week.

— Amanda Sturges