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ASU vs. USC: Staff Gameday Roundtable

Our gameday staff sits and answers some key questions ahead of Arizona State's contest with the Trojans.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils will take on the USC Trojans tonight at 5:45 p.m. in Los Angeles. Below, our gameday staff answers a few key questions ahead of the tilt.

Our Panel

Connor Pelton - Co-Managing Editor (@ConnorPelton28)

Kaelen Jones - Co-Managing Editor (@kaelenjones)

Zac Pacleb - Football Writer/Multimedia Reporter (@ZacPacleb)

Miles Todd - Football Writer/Multimedia Reporter (@5280ft_s)

Shane Theodore - Staff Writer (@shane_writes)

Max Madden - Staff Writer (@max_madden)

Q: Believe it or not, we are a third of the way through the season already. In one sentence, what's shocked you most about this team so far?

Pelton: Arizona State's ability to sleepwalk through the first half before finding a new gear for the final 30 minutes.

Pacleb: This team’s demeanor has really surprised me so far. It has yet to show a hint of panic in its play, even when the team is down by several possessions. Considering how young ASU is at several key positions, the poise and calmness the players have shown in key moments should be encouraging.

Theodore: Is Cal the toughest competition he'll face all year? Absolutely not, but I was really looking at last week's game as a strong indicator of Manny Wilkins' makeup as a quarterback. And by god, he sparkled. I think back to spring practice, when Brady White was dropping dimes while Wilkins just didn't show the same touch on his throws. Fast forward to the end of the Cal game, and I've been impressed ten-fold with how composed he's been. We all knew he'd be dynamic and bring a dimension to the offense that's been missing since Taylor Kelly graduated, but he's operating this offense with incredibly efficiency. The running game helps of course, but Wilkins has made this his team, and that is something I would not have foreseen back in April.

Madden: I'm not surprised the secondary has been this awful, but I am surprised Chip Lindsey's offensive scheme has melded with his unit this quickly and effectively.

Jones: I can't say I'm too surprised by anything too much. Record? Not really. I could've easily seen this team win the first four or drop them. The points? Nope. Did you not see what Chip Lindsey did with Southern Miss? The defense? Nahh. Graham said the blitz would be toned down back in the spring. I'm not sure. Maybe Kaeln Ballage's eight-TD performance? Yeah. Let's go with that, because truthfully, I was kinda prepared for anything.

Todd: The amount of hurdling that has been done.

Q: Arizona State is undefeated but those wins haven't exactly been the prettiest of sights, nor did they come against great competition. Has the 4-0 start changed your expectations for the season as a whole?

Pelton: Nope. With the fairly easy schedule to start the season, I had this team running the table through its first four games. Now the schedule ramps up, and I'm not sure there's more than the three wins left that I projected for them back in August.

Pacleb: I think plenty of people picked ASU to win seven or eight games based on curiosity and a lack of certainty. I still don’t think this is a 10-win team with the coming challenges and randomness that can happen in the Pac-12, but I’m certainly more optimistic about the team than at the beginning of the season.

Theodore: Now I need to think back to what my expectations before the season were.....I, like a lot of other people who follow the program, wasn't going to let the disappointment of 2015 completely sour my opinion of Todd Graham and the trajectory of which he's taking the program. We're no longer happy with trips to the Holiday Bowl, we're able to reasonably expect to compete for the Pac-12 South yearly and make the occasional run toward the College Football Playoff. But I didn't expect this year's bunch to accomplish those goals. Four weeks later, I believe the Sun Devils can realistically compete for the Pac-12 South this year, absolutely. The rest of the South is a mess, and an ASU team riding high on confidence is plenty able to beat the competition they're going to face in the division. But as for further aspirations, there's no standout team in the South this year, but there's still going to be plenty of tough competition to face, and I don't see ASU making it through conference season without dropping a pair of games. A berth in the Pac-12 title game may be in reach and would be impressive considering where I thought they were going before the season started (New Mexico Bowl), but I really think the only school strong enough to make a CFP run has a stupid tree as their mascot.

Madden: Nope. I assumed the Sun Devils would go 4-0, with this game in Los Angeles being the turning point. While the way they have won games has surprised me and been completely unsustainable, if they pull out a win Saturday they will be legitimate contenders for the Pac-12 South.

Jones: I had ASU somehow winning eight games this year. To do that, they needed to start 4-0, split the LA schools, then survive the rest of conference play. Weirdly (not shockingly), the Sun Devils are right on schedule, if you ask me.

Todd: Yes, at the start of the season I thought they would’ve lost to Texas Tech for sure and I was 50-50 on them beating California. However, with them performing like they have in the second halves of games, It’s hard to see them losing a lot in the future unless they are getting killed by an un-erasable deficit at halftime.

Q: With no disrespect meant towards UTSA, a Pac-12 game in the LA Memorial Coliseum is a little different than a weekday game against a C-USA opponent. How much does playing their first tough road game of the season hurt the Sun Devils on Saturday?

Pelton: I could see a scenario where a pissed off USC team jumps on Arizona State early and the combination of an early deficit plus a rowdy home crowd intimidates the Sun Devils. But if Todd Graham's team is able avoid a slow start, I don't see the crowd being much of a factor.

Pacleb: I don’t think it’ll be too drastic of a drop off in performance. I’m not sure the Sun Devils could have started any slower in their first road test, and learning how to handle those moments and that pressure on the road is a good lesson no matter where and who you play.

Theodore: Meh, it's whatever. ASU's enjoyed plenty of success against Pac-12 squads on the road and they've put together plenty poor performances at home against conference opponents. The venue won't dictate how ASU plays. That'll be up to the Sun Devils.

Madden: I think the stagnant offense in San Antonio was really just due to ASU holding back in their playbook ahead of a big first non-conference game against Cal, much like the NAU game. But the Devils will surely face a tough challenge playing in a truly hostile environment in the LA Memorial Coliseum, in a game where a shaky start could really, finally hurt them

Jones: Imagine if UTSA had JuJu Smith-Schuster, Taylor McNamara and Darreus Rogers. It's gonna be tough. Although Clay Helton is the qualifier in this...the fact he went away from Justin Davis against Utah suggests he could make a silly decision to go away from what works against ASU. The disparity in talent makes it tough, though.

Todd: It’s better that it’s on a Saturday as opposed to the Friday game against UTSA, however I think this might be their toughest game. Road games are always tough but the Coliseum is always one heck of a place to play on the road. However, the last time the Sun Devils played in the Coliseum...

Jael Mary Via FOX

Q: Vegas had the Trojans at about a six-point favorite for this game at the start of the week. Does that line feel right to you?

Pelton: It's a little higher than I originally thought, but not too surprising. Vegas loves talented teams, and USC certainly has more talent across the field overall. That, plus the Trojans' strength of schedule and home field advantage, makes that line seem just about right.

Pacleb: Not really. I know USC is talented at several positions, but it is also a 1-3 team. It should be closer, in my opinion.

Theodore: Name any other 1-3 team in FBS with a first-year head coach and a carousel at quarterback that would be favored over a 4-0 conference opponent. You can't. USC's a mess this year. But, Vegas always values raw talent over coaching and composure in college football. I don't see this game being that close. If ASU loses, they'll have let the game get away from them by more than six points. If they play as they're capable, they'll win by more than that.

Madden: I think the line should be a little bit closer to 3-3.5. These are two teams with struggling defenses and offenses that can be explosive, so it's going to be close.

Jones: Spot on. Which team, on paper, is better to you? Take record out of it. Same.


Pelton Pacleb Theodore Madden Jones
1 TD for 3-way star Adoree Jackson Push Over Under Over Under
0.5 50+ FGs for Zane Gonzalez Over Over Over Under Over


Pelton Pacleb Theodore Madden Jones
USC fires Clay Helton after this game if ASU wins True True False True True
USC makes a bowl game this season True False False True True

Final Score

Pelton Pacleb Theodore Madden Jones
Final Score 34-30, USC 38-35, ASU 38-28, ASU 34-30, USC 38-32, USC