We've already noted that ESPN contributor Phil Steele loves USC this season, and he further quantifies that here when he considers whether to pick an over or under on predicted win totals provided by the Las Vegas Hilton.
He loves the over with USC at 9.5 (Win totals do not include conference championship and bowl games).
Obviously, the Trojans were a huge disappointment last year, becoming the first preseason No. 1 team to finish outside of the Top 25, but the current team has much better depth. Outside of quarterback, they've improved at nearly every position. Their schedule is also more favorable, as they avoid Oregon and get Stanford at home. Currently Vegas has them favored in 10 of their games, while I have them as a favorite in 12. Another overlooked factor in this win total is that the Trojans play 13 regular-season games this year. They could lose three games and still cash on the over.
These are good points. Based on talent, the Trojans are a threat to win 10 or more games.
Some are down on USC for three reasons: 1. The departure of QB Matt Barkley; 2. The 2012 implosion; 3. Lane Kiffin's hot seat. These are not impossible issues to rectify. In fact, if Kiffin returns to his 2011 coaching form, all three will be solved. And let's not forget USC should be in better shape on defense with coordinator Clancy Pendergast running his 3-4 rather than Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2.
On the downside, Steele thinks you should go with the under for Utah at 5.5 wins.
Making the step up to a BCS conference has not been easy for the Utes. After going 48-14 in Mountain West play from 2003-2010, they have gone just 7-11 in Pac-12 play the past two years. It does not get any easier for Utah this year after avoiding both Oregon and Stanford the past two years. Both the Ducks and Cardinal appear on their schedule, which I rank as the 12th toughest in the country. Currently, I have the Utes rated as an underdog in nine of their 12 games this year, and while I respect the job Kyle Whittingham has done, with only 12 returning starters, the Utes will find it difficult even matching last year's five wins.
Steele's take is based on a lack of returning starters and the schedule, which seem like reasonable grounds for analysis. The key for the Utes is getting better play at quarterback with Travis Wilson.