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USC vs. Oregon State Prediction: Undefeated Trojans, Beavers Clash in Corvallis

Pac-12's top-scoring offenses could produce plenty of fireworks in Reser Stadium.

Saturday night's matchup between USC and Oregon State features a matchup of undefeated teams looking to help raise the Pac-12's national profile. No one is that surprised the Trojans are 3-0, not after the arrival of head coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams from Oklahoma (by different means). But the Beavers are 3-0 for the first time since 2014, more evidence that this program is trending upward under head coach Jonathan Smith.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 4

Three games into the 2022 season, USC and Oregon State are Nos. 1 and 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, both averaging more than 45 points per game. Does that mean these teams are on the same level? That's what Saturday night is all about. But they have played a common opponent already — Fresno State. In Week 2, the Bulldogs from the Mountain West gave the Beavers a fight with Oregon State winning 35-32 with a walk-off touchdown. A week later, the Trojans overwhelmed Fresno State 45-17 in the Coliseum.

Historically, USC has dominated this series, holding a commanding 63-12-4 lead, but Oregon State won last season's meeting 45-27 in Los Angeles, and its four other victories over the Trojans this century have all come in Corvallis (2000, '06, '08, '10). So what's the takeaway here? That while USC may appear to have all the momentum, with Riley seemingly pushing all the right buttons and Williams leading one of the nation's most explosive offenses, the Trojans better not take Smith's Beavers lightly.

And if there wasn't already enough on-field intrigue attached to this game there's plenty of attention being paid to it off the field as well…

Call it the Riley factor or whatever you want, but there are going to be a lot of people watching this game despite the late kickoff, and that's great news for everyone involved, especially the Pac-12.

No. 7 USC at Oregon State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: USC -6
Tickets: As low as $93 on SITickets.com

When USC Has the Ball

USC's ability to punish teams on offense has been the subject of an absurd number of columns. It's all too easy to point to Williams' relationship with wide receiver (and fellow transfer, via Pitt) Jordan Addison as a focal point for the success. But it also means that a ton of this success seems predicated upon the fact that Addison can't be stopped and has remained healthy. Defenses can't do anything about the health thing (at least not ethically), but you can force Williams to beat you without relying on Addison. That may be Oregon State defensive coordinator Trent Bray's best hope, but easier said than done.

Running backs (and fellow transfers) Travis Dye and Austin Jones seem to be getting more and more confident within Riley's offense with each passing week. Dye also understands that his job is to keep Williams upright and everything else is secondary. As Dye put it in a video for USC, "no block-y, no rock-y." This is the exact attitude the backs are going to need as the Trojans enter Pac-12 play. It's no secret that defenses will make pressuring and getting hits on Williams, whether he's inside or outside of the pocket, a priority.

But merely slowing down Addison may be a tough enough task in and of itself. He's got 18 catches for 295 yards and five touchdowns through his first three games in a Trojans uniform. Yes, Williams has plenty of other weapons at his disposal, but only one is a Biletnikoff Award winner and Addison is showing everyone why. Riley is plenty creative enough to get Addison the ball, and he'll make the most of every opportunity. He's one of the few players in the country who can make a massive impact on a game, even if he doesn't get that many (or any) touches.

When Oregon State Has the Ball

As impressive as Williams has been for USC in the early going, Chance Nolan has performed similarly for the Beavers. Through three games, he is completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 746 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions. Nolan's steady play is a big reason why Oregon State is averaging nearly 46 points and 470 yards per game.

Still, although Nolan and the offense have fared well, the Beavers probably don't want to get into a shootout with the Trojans. Oregon State loves to play spoiler with USC when it has teams that seem to be dark-horse national championship contenders. Beaver fans will fondly recall the fall of 2008 when Mark Sanchez choked away a Thursday night game in Reser Stadium and went on to lose in the BCS National Championship Game to a Florida team that lost that very same weekend at home to an Ole Miss team that finished with the same exact record as the Beavers because… SEC.

High-scoring or not, a big game from Nolan is how Oregon State knocks off the Trojans again. Let him distribute the football to quality receivers in Tre'Shaun Harrison, Anthony Gould, and Luke Musgrave. If Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick can provide additional support through the run game, then the recipe for another upset (think the win over No. 15 Oregon in 2020) is there. Keep it close, keep USC guessing where you're going with the ball, punish the defense on the ground, and enjoy the pressure getting to your opponent.

Final Analysis

There’s a certain amount of fumble luck that USC has enjoyed so far this season. You can certainly win a lot of games with 10 turnovers gained and zero lost. Perfection in this category, however, is highly unsustainable. The Trojans can and should win the turnover battle in most of their games, but it's nearly impossible to avoid turning the ball over an entire season, and if Oregon State can get one or two takeaways while cashing in their opportunities, Reser Stadium will do its part to help fuel the Beavers to an upset.

Even with all of the new faces, these Trojans will likely read up on the history of this series and be aware of the teams that have fallen in Reser Stadium. With all that has already transpired this season that can be labeled as "unexpected," this game being Riley's first "failure" as USC head coach fits the narrative, even if it's too soon to assign the same association to a potential loss on Saturday night to what happened to the Trojans back in 2008 (or Oregon in 2020).

That's not to say USC is overlooking the Beavers in the first place. But a team doesn't need to be overlooked to get the job done, and Oregon State is a quality team in its own right. The Trojans are certainly talented enough to cover the spread (and then some), but this team also is "new" and still unproven enough (first Pac-12 game) that it could wilt under pressure. Not sure if it's the latter, but I do think that the Trojans' fumble luck comes to an end on Saturday night, and so does their unblemished record.

Prediction: Oregon State 44, USC 42

Podcast: Week 4 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Kane Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.

*Price as of publication.

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