NCAA Football: USC Trojans vs. Washington State Cougars Preview, Prediction & Odds - Sept. 18, 2021

by Chuck Sommers

Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET, Sept. 18, 2021
Venue: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Where to watch: FOX

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks

DraftKings: USC -8.5; O/U 62.5; USC -335, Washington State +260
BetMGM: USC -8.5; O/U 62; USC -333, Washington State +255
Caesars: USC -8.5; O/U 62.5; USC -330, Washington State +260

Season record
USC: 1-1 (0-1 Pac-12)
Washington State: 1-1

The opening of the 2021 football season marked Larry Ness’ 38th year as a professional handicapper. He's off to a solid start, going 15-9 with all CFB and NFL regular season releases. "The winning continues" on Saturday with Larry's 10* Group of 5 Game of the Month. Catch Larry’s and other plays available right now at the Shop Picks page, where you can find all of the Best Bets from our champion sports handicappers.

USC - Washington State preview and analysis

Recent form
USC: lost 42-28 vs. Stanford on Sept. 11
Washington State: won 44-24 vs. Portland State on Sept. 11

The USC Trojans chose now to rip the band-aid off instead of prolonging the inevitable.

And maybe it was the best decision USC could’ve made, deciding to fire head coach Clay Helton after two games -- specifically after an embarrassing loss to the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday -- and moving forward in a new direction with this program.

Donte Williams will be the interim coach, and the Trojans begin the post-Helton era Saturday when they make the trip to Pullman to face the Washington State Cougars.

"To our players, both past and present, I am forever indebted to you for what you have given me," Helton said in a statement from the university. "I am so appreciative for all of the hard work that our current staff and student-athletes have put into preparing for this season, and while it will be hard to not be in the fight with you, I am confident that great things lie ahead."

USC went into last Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum ranked No. 14 in the country and a two-touchdown favorite against Stanford. Once Nathaniel Peat took an 87-yard run to the house in the first quarter, the snowball rolled from there. Despite outgaining Stanford 408-375 and having more first downs (24-18) and a time of possession advantage by just over four minutes, the Trojans just fell apart.

They committed nine penalties for 109 yards, and top receiver Drake London had only four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.

It’s been a weird seven years under Helton that includes a win in the Rose Bowl, but USC aspires for national championships. That loss to Stanford knocked USC from No. 14 to out of the top-25 completely. Call it a rebuild, call it a reset, but fun times are not ahead in Southern California.

Yet even after firing their head coach, the Trojans find themselves nearly two-score favorites going into Pullman to face the Cougars. Washington State is coming off a 44-24 win over the Portland State Vikings in a rather unimpressive showing.

Washington State put up 462 total yards of offense with 303 and three touchdowns coming from quarterback Jayden de Laura. But the Wazzu defense gave up 293 yards through the air from PSU quarterback Davis Alexander; 152 of those came on 10 catches from Beau Kelly.

On the books, it’s been an awful start to the season for Washington State. Not just the fact they were 30.5-point favorites Saturday against the Vikings. The Cougars opened the season as 17-point home favorites against the Utah State Aggies, before the former Mountain West powerhouse pulled off the outright upset.

Given the fact there’s more talent on USC, especially on the defensive side of the ball, it makes sense why USC -- even after all that turmoil -- is coming into Saturday as comfortable favorites.


There’s no question that this matchup favors the team that is entering on an emotional high. Sure, losing your coach two games in doesn’t normally leave much to be desired in the long run, but you figure USC will have some aggression to take out on this not-great Washington State team. But rest assure that if USC somehow blows this, or doesn’t even cover, heads are going to continue to roll. USC wins by 14

Betting trends

The over is 8-1 when USC is a road favorite between 7.5 and 10 points in its last nine.

USC is 3-3 in its last six against the spread as a road favorite and 6-1 straight up.

Washington State is 2-6 ATS as an underdog in its last eight and 1-7 straight up.

Wazzu has lost six consecutive games ATS in September.

Players to watch

USC: Most receivers will take a 68-yard, 1-touchdown performance as a good outing, but not for Drake London. Seeing how Portland State’s top receiver got open plenty and torched that secondary, expect London to have a big afternoon.

Washington State: The Cougars have not been known as a running team for a long time, but they may have to in order to control the clock in their favor. Deon McIntosh is coming off a 64-yard game on eight carries and a touchdown against Portland State.

Statistical leaders

Passing: Kedon Slovis -- 479 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Vavae Malepeai -- 159 yards
Receiving: Drake London -- 205 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Greg Johnson -- 9 tackles, 1 INT

Washington State:
Passing: Jayden de Laura -- 458 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Max Borghi -- 145 yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Calvin Jackson Jr. -- 168 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Jahad Woods -- 18 tackles

Don't miss our champion handicappers' free picks and expert football picks today. And if you enjoyed this USC Trojans - Washington State Cougars prediction, be sure to drop by every day for our daily NCAA projections and previews.

Chuck Sommers

About the Author:

Chuck Sommers has camped outside of sportsbooks since he can remember, learning the tricks and nuances of the trade. He still has nightmares of betting $5,000 on the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game but has since turned that to 25 years of veteran handicapping greatness. You can find him mostly in the shadows at the Red Rock or Aliante casinos wondering if the over is cashing on any given Sunday.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2022 Al McMordie's All Rights Reserved.