Western Michigan Broncos vs. USC Trojans Preview
Where: LA Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles, CA
When: Saturday, September 2, 2017 – 5:15 PM ET
TV Broadcast: PAC-12 Network
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Betting on the Western Michigan Broncos (+27)
The Broncos are coming off their best season in school history. They boasted a high-powered offense in 2016 and raced into a 13-1 record, with their lone defeat coming from the Wisconsin Badgers at the Cotton Bowl.
Now let’s say this one right out of the gate: they won’t be as good in 2017. There are some pieces to get interested in, but this new-looked team probably won’t even sniff half of the accomplishments of last year’s squad.
A huge reason why is because this is a transitioning year. Head coach PJ Fleck, who has coached the team in the last four seasons and was the architect of their culture, has left for Minnesota. It also coincided with the lethal passing combination of quarterback Zach Terrell and wide receiver Corey Davis both moving on.
Former Syracuse and Purdue QB coach/coordinator and WMU QB Tim Lester will be replacing Fleck, and although he has stated that he plans to adapt majority of his predecessor’s style, his problem under center will be a big obstacle.
Sophomore Jon Wassink, who redshirted his freshman year, is Lester’s probable starter. He may experience a lot of beating, because aside from the inexperience, his receiving corps only has 19 receptions… COMBINED, 18 of which came from co-sophomore D’Wayne Eskridge. Wassink will be hoping to get help from his well-regarded offensive line and strong backfield, which, on the other hand, has a pair of quality weapons – Jarvion Franklin (1,353 yards, 12 TDs) and Jamauri Bougan (923 yards, eight TDs).
WMU’s defense, meanwhile, could remain competitive. A big bulk of last year’s group that only allowed 19.8 points (ranked 15th) and 353.6 total yards (ranked 26th) per game are returning. It includes the linebacking corps that will still have Robert Spilane and Asantay Brown on tap, and the aggressive secondary that has Darreus Phillips and rising sophomore Justin Tranquil.
Betting on the USC Trojans (-27)
Excitement and interest is (understandably) floating all around Trojan nation. They concluded the 2016 season by stitching together big wins, and topped it off nicely with a memorable come-from-behind victory over Penn State at the Rose Bowl.
Stirring up most of the excitement, of course, is QB Sam Darnold. The incoming junior lit up the college football world last season when he stepped into the starting role and guided USC into a 9-1 record. As a starter, he put up 295 passing yards per game and had a 29-8 TD-INT ratio (67.4 completion rate). Darnold is sure to treat this season as a tool to further sell himself for the pros, thus, making him more intriguing to watch.
The challenges he’ll face are also likely to be tougher than last year’s, so should he be able to excel, him being the top pick in the next NFL draft could be automatic.
Among the challenges are his depleted offensive line, most notably Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler. Darnold’s protectors, being one of the nation’s best towards the last half of the 2016 season, helped him be one of the least-sacked QBs in the conference.
It continues in the crop of receivers, as they are hoping that youngsters Michael Pittman and Deontay Burnett can be worthy replacements to the reliable duo of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, who accounted for almost half of the team’s aerial yardage last year.
Running back Ronald Jones can be Darnold’s best weapon. The junior back had over 1,000 yards and scored 12 rushing TDs in 2016 (6.3 YPC), and could be primed for a more productive campaign.
Over on defense, they’ll be similar to Western Michigan, as their group of linebackers are the most promising. Leading tackler Cameron Smith and the destructive Porter Gustin and Ochenna Nwosu, who combined for 20.5 tackles for loss a year ago, will be the key LBs. Though the loss of the now-pro Adoree Jackson will have its effect on the secondary, the defensive backs are expected to adjust well. Iman Marshall could takeover Jackson’s spot. He is returning from a season where he tallied three picks and eight pass deflections.
USC (-27) will dominate, but they’ll fail to cover the sizable spread, 41-20.
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