ASU vs. USC: Staff final score predictions

Easy there, Lane. - Stephen Dunn

The Sun Devils and the Trojans are just hours from kickoff and our staff lays down its final thoughts.

Arizona State and USC are set for a Pac-12 battle and the House of Sparky staff has final score predictions. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments section.

Kerry Crowley: Arizona State: 24, USC 14

The Sun Devils host the Trojans in what has suddenly become a must-win game for both teams if they want a legitimate shot at the Pac-12 South title. Both Arizona State and USC are 0-1 in Pac-12 play with USC's loss to Washington State looking a whole lot worse than the Sun Devils' loss to Stanford. Regardless of score and opponent, the losses count the same so both teams are looking to draw even in conference play.

I like the Sun Devils this week simply because I think their defense is stronger than any defense the Trojans have played against so far. USC has yet to find its rhythm on offense and unless the Sun Devils' defensive line really struggles in Jaxon Hood's absence, I don't see the Trojans finding it in Tempe.

Regaining confidence is essential for the Sun Devils this week because the rest of the schedule is shaping up tough. The Pac-12 is an improved conference this year and aside from Colorado, there aren't any easy wins on the docket. Look for Mike Norvell to emphasize the running game early and to incorporate Chris Coyle and D.J. Foster into the offense more this week. The Trojans' pass rush is sensational, so a West Coast-style passing attack that favors quick decisions from Taylor Kelly should be in order and should help lead the Sun Devils to victory.

Bold Prediction: USC scores a touchdown on its first drive of the game.

Ryan Bafaloukos: Arizona State 28, USC 14

I think this is a much tougher game for the Sun Devils than most people think. USC has a very strong defense, especially along the defensive line. The Arizona State offensive line has struggled the past two weeks and the Trojan defensive line has 21 tackles for loss and 10 sacks through four games. I do agree with Kerry that all of a sudden this game has a must-win feel. If Arizona State goes 0-2 in conference, if may be hard to win the South with games remaining against Washington, UCLA and Arizona.

I also think that USC running back Tre Madden is very underrated. He is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has rushed for over 100 yards in three games this season. It will be interesting to see how the Sun Devils try to handle Marqise Lee, who had more than 160 yards receiving in their last meeting.

What I believe separates these teams is penalties. USC has committed 30 penalties this season and they have committed eight penalties in three of their four games this season. When the talent level is close, football often times comes down to who commits the fewer mistakes. I think the game is close, but I think USC makes more mistakes than Arizona State and the Sun Devils will pull away late.

Bold prediction: D.J. Foster scores three touchdowns.

Ben Haber: Arizona State 31, USC 17

While comparing the Arizona State roster to the USC roster, I easily side with the Sun Devils. In addition, Taylor Kelly and his troops play significantly better at home. The Trojans' defense only allows 11 points per game, but I think the unit is more vulnerable than the statistics show. New USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast hasn't faced weapons even comparable to Marion Grice, D.J. Foster, Jaelen Strong, Chris Coyle and more. So before we all anoint the Trojans defense to be unstoppable, let's see how it performs against elite competition.

On the flip side, the ASU defensive line has been waiting to break out. The combination of the Trojans' vulnerable offensive line and below-average quarterback, Cody Kessler, can awaken the best Will Sutton and company. Slowing down Tre Madden will be defensive coordinator Paul Randolph's toughest obstacle. Despite USC's countless weapons at wide receiver, the offense is forced to be one dimensional because of Kessler. Because of USC's lack of creativity, the Sun Devils can key in on stopping the run. Kessler doesn't handle pressure well, therefore he will be rattled all night long.

The Sun Devils will get back to their explosive offensive ways and the Trojans defense will get exposed. Also, USC can't even surpass 20 points, which Kelly can do easily. The game won't even be that close, ASU wins by double digits and becomes UCLA's biggest competition in the Pac-12 South.

Bold prediction: ASU accumulates almost twice as many yards as USC.

Cody Ulm: ASU 31, USC 20

While the Trojans legitimately have a chance to win this game, a majority of the variables will have to go in USC's favor for that to happen. If Arizona State managed to play a tight 60 minutes of football against Stanford last weekend, I'd call this a trap game. But since the Sun Devils are sure to be angry, well-motivated and well aware of the consequences of a loss, I don't see that happening.

Just like Stanford, USC is on the opposite end of the tempo spectrum compared to how Arizona State prefers to play. But unlike Stanford, USC doesn't have the offense to sustain drives and give their defense a breather. The Trojans went 3-for-14 on third downs last Saturday against a Utah State defense that fields considerably less talent than even what a depleted Arizona State team has to offer.

In the early going, I see this being a tightly contested battle. There won't be much separation in the first half and I could even see USC scoring on their opening drive before ASU's defense gets settled in like Kerry predicted. But as this game wears on, there's no way the Trojans keep pace. Once the inevitable three-and-outs begin to pile up for USC's offense, Marion Grice will finally find some running lanes. And that's when the flood gates will break open for the play-action and intermediate passing games. My only concern at this point would be the offense line's play. As long as it gives Kelly enough time to get into his rhythm with some quick strikes, I don't see the line's flaws being an issue. Expect Arizona State to take the lead late in the second quarter and build on it from there.

Bold prediction: USC will not score a touchdown in the second half.

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