LOS ANGELES – Following back-to-back road losses at Washington and Notre Dame, rumors continue about the long-term future of USC football coach Clay Helton. But the Trojans, who own glossy victories over Utah and Stanford, are still very much alive in the Pac-12 Conference race heading into Saturday night's homecoming battle with Arizona.
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: USC -9.5
The Trojans, Wildcats, Arizona State and Utah are all tied for first place in the South Division with 2-1 records and the Trojans own a potentially huge tiebreaker if its comes down to that by virtue of their 30-23 victory over the preseason-favorite Utes. Arizona, which ends the season with back-to-back games at home against Utah and at Arizona State, also holds it own destiny in its hands, especially if it can hand USC its third consecutive defeat. Helton, for his part, remains optimistic despite coming off a tough 30-27 loss at Notre Dame. "I think we're at least as good as each and every team that we've played," Helton told the Los Angeles Daily News. "We got a tremendous opportunity within the league to win six games and try to get back to Santa Clara (site of the Pac-12 Championship Game)."
ABOUT ARIZONA (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12 South)
The Wildcats are looking to bounce back from a 51-27 home loss to No. 23 Washington which snapped a four-game winning streak that included conference wins over UCLA (20-17) and Colorado (35-30). Oft-injured starting quarterback Khalil Tate completed 13-of-25 passes for 184 yards, one touchdown and one interception while rushing for minus-28 yards versus Washington before getting yanked for true freshman Grant Gunnell (3-of-8, 25 yards) while running back J.J. Taylor, sidelined for a month with an ankle injury, rushed for 89 yards and a TD on 18 carries. Linebackers Colin Schooler (45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) and Tony Fields II (47 tackles) and cornerback Jace Whittaker (three interceptions) lead a defense that ranks 119th nationally, allowing 473.2 yards per game, and is 128th in pass defense surrendering 320.7 yards.
ABOUT USC (3-3, 2-1 Pac-12 South)
True freshman Kedon Slovis returned from a concussion and started at Notre Dame, completing 24-of-35 passes for 255 yards and two TDs against an Irish secondary that had allowed just three passing scores all season. Redshirt freshman Markese Stepp rushed for a career-high 82 yards and a TD on 10 carries and figures to play a bigger role as junior starter Vavae Malepeai is sidelined indefinitely after undergoing surgery to clean out swelling in his knee Tuesday. The Trojans' defense, which allowed 473 yards including 308 rushing at Notre Dame, could be without four starters: cornerbacks Greg Johnson (shoulder), Olaijah Griffin (back) and Isaac Taylor-Stuart (ankle) and linebacker Palaie Gaoteote (ankle).
1. USC holds a 34-8 series lead over Arizona and has won the last six in a row including a 24-20 victory in Tucson last season.
2. Arizona ranks ninth in the nation in total offense with an average of 509.3 yards per game.
3. The Wildcats (78) and Trojans (79) have allowed the fewest sacks in the Pac-12 since the start of the 2016 season.
PREDICTION: USC 44, Arizona 31