California Golden Bears win debut against UC Davis

What the odds say about Cal Football’s chances

Per Vegas sports-books, Cal Football opened as 6.5-point underdogs. ESPN’s Football Power Index gave USC a 63.1-percent chance of winning, while numberFire’s Win Probability gave USC a 59.2-percent chance. Adding to that, USC is ranked fifth in Unafraidshow’s Pac-12 Power Rankings, while Cal is seventh. Almost everyone has USC claiming the victory.

Why USC Should Win

It’s for good reason, too. Don’t get me wrong. USC is a good team. They are 6-and-4, bowl eligible and have a breakout quarterback.

USC’s Offense

Currently, USC’s offense averages:

  • 30.5 points-per-game
  • 444 yards-per-game (311 passing, 133 rushing)
  • 45-percent success rate on third down (59 of 131)
  • 56-percent success rate on fourth down (5 of 9)

In nine games this season, Kedon Slovis looks like a future-star.

His 156.1 Passing Efficiency Rating and 20-9 touchdown-interception ratio are both good. In the seven games he’s started and finished, Slovis has four wins, three losses. His wins came against Stanford, Arizona, Colorado and Arizona State. When he started, USC lost to BYU, Notre Dame and Oregon. All in all, he’s played well for a rookie.

Star Wide Receivers

With all the praise given to Slovis, it’s important to remember that USC’s wide receivers are the stars of the show. In the Pac-12 conference, USC’s top-three wide outs are each top-ten in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

  • Michael Pittman Jr.
    • 71 (No. 1) receptions
    • 938 (No. 1) receiving yards
    • 8 (No. 3) receiving touchdowns
  • Tyler Vaughns
    • 62 (No. 3) receptions
    • 752 (No. 4) receiving yards
    • 5 (No. 8) receiving touchdowns
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown
    • 55 (No. 5) receptions
    • 666 (No. 7) receiving yards
    • 5 (No. 8) receiving touchdowns

USC’s Defense

On defense, they’re holding teams to 28.1 points-per-game and 418 yards-per-game. That’s not ideal, considering they’re only averaging 30.5 points-per-game. But, it highlights why they are 6-and-4 and not 8-2.

Why Cal Football will win

Injuries to USC

Unfortunately, USC’s recent health hasn’t been good. Running backs Stephen Carr, Merkese Stepp and Vavae Malepeai were all out. Hopefully Carr and Malepeai can play against Cal. But if not, USC plays without three, key running backs.

More importantly, USC’s Brett Neilon left last week’s game with a calf strain. That calf strain sidelines him for multiple weeks, while Justin Dedich takes over. Adding to that is the health of Kedon Slovis. Again, during the same game against WSU, Slovis dealt with cramps that briefly sidelined him. While he sat out two series, they had to use an IV pump.

After starting out the game 15 of 17 for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns (on the first four drives), USC slumped. They only scored three points the rest of the game. Following the four touchdowns, their drives ended:

  • 5 punts
  • One fumble
  • One interception
  • One turnover on downs
  • One field goal

If USC isn’t in better health, Cal football takes the W.

Cal Football’s Defensive Strength

While not elite anymore, the Cal football defense is still good. They rank 30th in DFEI, according to footballoutsiders. Their .38 DFEI best USC’s .25 DFEI. Additionally, the strength of Cal’s defense directly challenges the strength of USC’s offense. Cal’s secondary is their best feature, while USC’s talent is in their receiving corps. They’ll have their work cut out for them guarding Michael Pittman Jr., but if anyone can do it, Cal can.

Chase Garbers is back

Remember Chase Garbers?

Back when the Cal football program was winning and ranked, Garbers was their guy. Before his Week 5 injury, Garbers led Cal to four straight wins. In five games (one partial), Garbers showcased a 148.1 Passing Efficiency Rating, alongside an 8-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. After years of poor play, Cal actually had an offense. Following his injury, they lost four straight games.

But now, finally throwing without limitations, Chase Garbers is good to go. Even if Justin Wilcox won’t name him as the starter yet, he should be. Garbers played well enough at the start of the season to earn the job. Moreover, Garbers brings a running dimension. Oh, and let’s not forget that Garbers led Cal football to a victory last season against USC.

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