Could it be different this time around?
Not if Pac-12 officials have anything to do with it.
USC, now ranked at #5 nationally, is currently the best Pac-12 candidate to make the 4-team playoff; and the Pac-12 would love to have one, or maybe two teams in the national playoff. What does that mean for Cal fans, and for anyone hoping for an upset? It means more outrageous calls and no-calls. In fact, I’ll make a prediction: Cal QB Ross Bowers will receive a blatant shot to his head from one of the stalwarts of USC’s defense. And there will be no flag.
Last week, against Ole Miss, SEC referees sat and watched while Cal receivers were victims of egregious pass interference (PI) on two consecutive plays. No flags. But here’s the difference between new Cal HC Justin Wilcox and former HC Sonny Dykes: Wilcox got mad — and got a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Then he got even.
Did you notice how Cal’s defense shut down Ole Miss in the 2nd half, and how Cal’s DBs had the Rebels’ WRs covered like a glove? It was no coincidence. The Cal DBs did an amazing job of holding the Miss WRs just enough to stay with them, but not enough to get flagged. This is something they’ve worked on. And it paid off.
Against Ole Miss, the holding came after the SEC refs’ horrific no-calls.
On Saturday, against USC, Cal’s DBs might be tested early — and if they do what they did against Ole Miss, they’ll get flagged. A lot.
I’m willing to guess that the Pac-12 officiating crew has already been briefed on
- what to watch for (i.e., what penalties should be called against Cal), and;
- how much a USC victory (with big numbers from Sam Darnold) will help the Pac-12 conference as a whole.
So, look for the officiating crew to “set the tone” early in the game, especially when USC has the ball.
Other than the officiating, this could prove to be a challenging game. With RB Tre Watson out for the season, and WR Demetris Robertson injured (most likely), the Bears have no speed. With a 4.7 sec time in the 40-yard dash, Patrick Laird needs a team like Weber State to make him look fast. Against Ole Miss, many Cal rushes went for 2 yards or less. And Miss has the worst defense in the SEC. USC’s defense is big, strong, and fast. Expect them to stuff the running game, and dare Ross Bowers to find an open receiver. This will be Cal’s biggest test so far on offense, and we’ll see that without their outside speed weapons stretching the defense, they’ll be doing 3-and-outs most of the time.
Prediction: This one stays within reach for a while, but the line ends up about right. USC 27, Cal 10
But USC will come away from Strawberry Canyon knowing that their dominance over Cal, with Justin Wilcox, will be over in a year or two.