USC in dicey Pac-12 title game matchup versus replacement Oregon

Sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis has worked a few miracles for USC this season, the latest coming Saturday in a 43-38 victory over UCLA. Slovis’ 8-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left beat the Bruins at the Rose Bowl and handed a bad beat to underdog bettors who took 3.5 points. UCLA went ahead 38-36 in the final minute before Slovis hit two big pass plays to steal the win and cover.

The Trojans have made a habit of living on the edge. USC escaped upset bids in its first two games with last-minute comeback victories over Arizona State and Arizona. A College Football Playoff invitation remains unlikely for the Trojans (5-0) as they enter Friday’s Pac-12 title game in Los Angeles. USC was favored by seven points against Washington before the Huskies pulled out of the game Monday, citing COVID-19 problems.

Oregon (3-2) is the replacement as the North Division representative, and the new line is USC -3 to -3.5. The Ducks enter on a two-game losing streak after falling to Oregon State and California. Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough has shown promising flashes in his first season as Justin Herbert’s successor, but the Ducks have not had a big-play offense.

While it’s never easy to lay points with USC coach Clay Helton, the Trojans have a slight talent advantage and should win. Helton might need another last-minute comeback drive by Slovis.

Here’s a look at Friday’s championship games in a couple of smaller leagues:

Conference USA: UAB at Marshall (-4.5, 43,5) — The regular season lasted a week too long for Marshall, which took an undefeated record into December before getting rudely upended by sneaky-good Rice. The 20-0 whitewash was Marshall’s first shutout loss since 2000.

The price gives us pause. UAB has been combative for coach Bill Clark, who might deserve a call from Auburn after steering the Blazers to their fourth straight bowl. UAB was not the point-spread force it has been in recent seasons, covering just two of eight, but that was mostly because the oddsmakers have caught up with Clark and routinely forced his team to overcome considerable spread hurdles.

The challenge will be to dent a Herd defense that allowed the fewest points per game in the nation (11) and ranked second in rushing defense. UAB’s Tyler Johnston, participating in his third Conference USA title game in a row, passed for 217 yards and two TDs with no picks in beating Rice last week.

MAC: Ball State vs. Buffalo (-13.5, 67.5) — While it’s nice to be back in the MAC title game and likely headed to a decent bowl, Buffalo is a bit worried shrewd coach Lance Leipold will be targeted by Power Five schools. Leipold is said to be on the short list at Illinois after Lovie Smith’s firing last weekend. Leipold’s team ran roughshod through the MAC and didn’t come close to losing in five games, with the only spread blemish an eased-up 25-point win over 31½-point ’dog Bowling Green.

Ball State will give it a go with gunslinger QB Drew Plitt, who has passed for 4,592 yards and 37 TDs in the last two seasons. Bowling-ball RB Caleb Huntley (5.5 ypc) has opted out, however, leaving the heavy lifting to bruising sophomore Tye Evans (4.5 ypc).

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