Sports editor predictions ahead of Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon

Annenberg Media sports editors compare the Trojans and Ducks.

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 conference championship against Oregon.

This year’s Pac-12 Championship Game features two teams trending in opposite directions. The Trojans come into Friday night on a five-game winning streak with a No. 13 CFP ranking, while the Ducks enter the Coliseum having dropped their last two games. For more comparison, Kedon Slovis has thrown for 10 touchdowns in his last two games, while Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough has struggled in his last two, carrying a 3:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and not eclipsing 285 yards in either game.

The Trojans also have more to play for, as an undefeated season and inevitable Fiesta Bowl berth over recruiting rival Oregon would go a long way in restoring USC’s national presence. USC did lose to Oregon last year in the Coliseum, but that was at the hands of NFL Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Herbert. If USC continues to spread the ball around and win the turnover battle, they should be able to overthrow the reigning Pac-12 champs.

— Jill Burke

Three of USC’s five regular-season games were one-score victories, including the games against their best two opponents in Arizona State and UCLA. Oregon is probably the best team the Trojans will face this season but is most certainly the most talented.

That’s not to mention that Oregon’s offensive scheme proved most effective in a 56-24 drubbing of the Trojans at the Coliseum in 2019. That was with star quarterback Justin Herbert at the helm, but sophomore Tyler Shough has proven capable of running the Ducks offense. Oregon should have plenty to make it another heart-stopper for the Trojans.

— Aidan Berg

USC will have under 109.2 rushing yards against Oregon because of the lack of recent production at the running back position and the absence of redshirt senior Vavae Malepeai. Last week against a good run defense in UCLA, Malepeai had the most yards of any Trojan running back this season, finishing with an even 100 yards. USC has gotten very limited production from senior Stephen Carr and redshirt sophomore Markese Stepp in the past couple of weeks and goes against an athletic and ultra-fast Oregon defense.

With so many opt-outs among Oregon’s defensive backs before the season, the Trojans will look to exploit the Ducks’ defense through the air. Without Malepeai, the Trojans will probably rush less than they have in any other game this season.

— Carlo Jiménez

This game will see four interceptions overall.

USC leads the conference in interceptions and will put the pressure on Tyler Shough, who is in his first year as the Ducks’ starter. Shough threw two interceptions against Oregon State on Nov. 27, and I see the Trojans’ defense putting enough pressure to force two interceptions.

Kedon Slovis, while he has a 70% completion rate, can get caught making mistakes. In last week’s matchup against UCLA, Slovis threw two interceptions. While Oregon’s defense isn’t as good as the Bruins, the pressure of Slovis’ first Pac-12 championship game might come with some growing pains.

— Liz Islas

USC has only led after three quarters in two out of its five wins this season, and it took until last weekend against UCLA for the team to finally score its first third-quarter touchdown. So why did I pick the Trojans to lead after three frames against the Ducks?

USC has a lot to prove in this game. They lost 56-24 to Oregon last year at the Coliseum. Despite a perfect regular-season record, they sit at only No. 13 in the College Football Playoff ranking because they’ve had sloppy wins against mediocre teams. If the Trojans step on the field determined to show that they’re better than the product we’ve seen so far this season, I think they could lead the Ducks throughout and avoid a fourth-quarter comeback.

— Amanda Sturges

The committee’s rank of SC the past few weeks shows it doesn’t see the Trojans as a legitimate threat or College Football Playoff contender. Even with a Pac-12 championship under its belt, USC won’t be given the ranking it deserves — which is more near a No. 8 — and they’ll probably barely scrape the top 10. The committee is unconvinced by who the Trojans have defeated and how they’ve defeated them, citing the lack of Top-25 opponents and narrow wins.

I don’t expect that to change with a Pac-12 title under the Trojans’ belt. Take Week 15, for example — Florida lost to a 4-5 LSU and only dropped one spot to No. 7 in the CFP rankings. Ohio State has won the same number of games as USC against a worse strength of schedule. Simply put, the committee doesn’t apply wins and losses the same to SC. Four two-loss teams are ahead of the No. 13 Trojans. Knowing this, canceled Georgia, Coastal Carolina and Indiana games in Week 16 will likely work against SC, keeping the Trojans behind all three.

If the Trojans win, a conference championship and 6-0 schedule will play into 2021 preseason and weekly rankings. USC just may need to wait longer than deserved to see the impact of this season in its rank.

— Lauren Merola