LOS ANGELES - USC had its 19-game home winning streak snapped by Arizona State the last time the Trojans took the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum, a loss that appeared to end the Trojans' chances of repeating as Pac-12 champions. But USC, which will try and start a new home win streak when they host Cal for Homecoming on Saturday night, still has a realistic shot of returning to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN LINE: USC -5.5
The Trojans, who close out Pac-12 play against struggling crosstown rival UCLA (2-7) next weekend at the Rose Bowl, need Utah (6-3, 4-3), which still has games with Oregon (6-3) and at Colorado (5-4) and lost starting quarterback Tyler Huntley to a broken collarbone, and Arizona State (5-4, 3-3), which still has games with UCLA and at both Oregon and Arizona, to each lose once while also defeating the Bears and Bruins to represent the South in the title game. USC head coach Clay Helton, who took over play-calling duties after the 38-35 loss to visiting Arizona State on Oct. 27, will be matching wits against former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox in his second season as Bears' head coach. Cal comes in with the nation's 21st-ranked team defense and was impressive in a 12-10 upset of Washington two weeks ago and nearly pulled off another upset at No. 8 Washington State before losing, 19-13, last week. The Trojans, meanwhile, bounced back from back-to-back losses at Utah and to the Sun Devils in a 38-21 victory at Oregon State.
ABOUT CAL (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12 North)
The Bears have struggled offensively, averaging just 23.8 points which is tied for 108th in the nation and passing for only 205.7 yards per game which ranks 91st. Freshman Chase Garbers and sophomore Brandon McIlwain have rotated at quarterback and rank 12th and 13th in the Pac-12 in passing while senior running back Patrick Laird, who was held to just 40 yards on 18 carries at Washington State, ranks seventh in the conference in rushing with 700 yards on 160 carries and five touchdowns. The defense features a pair of all-Pac-12 linebacker candidates in senior Jordan Kunaszyk, who is second in the conference with an average of 11.4 tackles per game and has four sacks, and junior Evan Weaver, who is averaging 10.7 tackles per game and has two interceptions, including a pick-6 against Washington that proved to be the game-winning points.
ABOUT USC (5-4, 4-3 Pac-12 South)
Freshman quarterback JT Daniels returned after missing a game with a concussion and completed 14-of-26 passes for 177 yards and a TD in the win at Oregon State. Senior running back Aca'Cedric Ware rushed for a career-high 205 yards on 17 carries and scored three TDs against the Beavers as the Trojans concentrated on jump-starting a run game that ranks just 10th in the Pac-12 with an average of 144.3 yards per outing. The Trojan defense, led by senior linebacker Cameron Smith (332 career tackles) and senior safety Marvell Tell (40 tackles, one interception), ranks third in the nation in pass deflections (46) and has held five of its nine opponents to 21 points or fewer.
1. USC has won 13 in a row over Cal dating back to a 34-31 triple-overtime loss in 2003 in Berkeley when the Bears had a sophomore starting quarterback named Aaron Rodgers.
2. The Trojans are 20-3 in their last 23 games against Pac-12 opponents.
3. Ware leads the Pac-12 and ranks fifth nationally with 7.0 rushing yards per carry.
PREDICTION: USC 24, Cal 17
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