The University of Southern California (USC) and Western Michigan University (WMU) are located in the great state of California. They are both Division I athletics schools and their combined alumni roster currently numbers in the vicinity of 400,000. Last season, they met on the field on four separate occasions: once in Los Angeles, once in Ann Arbor, twice in Pasadena. While the match-ups in Los Angeles and Pasadena ended in draws, the other two were closely contested affairs, resulting in score lines of 3-3, 3-2, and 7-6 in favor of USC. The 2018 football season opens this month and it will be interesting to see if the intensity is as high as in years past.
These are two of the top 15 teams in the country and it will be fascinating to see how they match up against each other. WMU had one of the most dynamic offensive attacks in the country a year ago. Their quarterback, Dennis Erickson, threw for 4,037 yards and 41 touchdowns while leading his team to a 6-5 record. The only blemish on their copybook occurred in the form of a 45-14 loss at North Texas in October. Since then, defense has taken over the Wolverines. Their 17 sacks and interception returned for a TD cost them a 4-4 record last year. It has been well-documented how difficult it is to sack Dennis Erickson, who has proven to be, quite simply, one of the best QBs in the country.
USC has always had a great defense. However, they have also had a strong offense for many years. The Trojans average 42.1 points per game over the last three seasons and rank 9th in the nation in total offense. Todd Fitch took over the reigns as offensive coordinator in 2018 and had great success, leading the team to 536 yards and 5 touchdowns in just four games. Although they lost three of their last four, the future looks extremely bright for the USC Trojans.
The USC vs. WMU Series
The two schools are long-standing members of the Big Ten and have met on the football field 73 times. The overall series is tied at 37-37-3 as of 2018. However, USC leads the overall series 53-18-3. It is quite clear that they are in the midst of a major football revival. The Trojans have won four of the last five meetings, including a 40-38 thriller in Ann Arbor in 2017 and an 18-15 thriller at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2016.
The sportsbooks at bet365 have released the line for the USC vs. Western Michigan football game and the oddsmakers have set the game at +450 (USC – 450, WMU – 500). As stated earlier, these are two of the top 15 teams in the country and it is difficult to put into words the level of interest in this game. It has been widely reported that the television ratings for this game will likely be among the highest of the season. The sportsbooks are clearly expecting a lot of people to place bets on this game and there is no question that the line has been moved in favor of the Trojans. It is an even money game with the spread at half-point (USC – 7, WMU – 7) and it should be a fascinating matchup. No wonder why so many people are interested in this game. One would have to go all the way back to 1899 to find the last time these two teams faced off. Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and revisit some of the key events that have led up to this moment…
The Early Years
If you want to go all the way back to 1899, you have to go way before the start of the 20th century. In fact, it was well before the start of the 20th century that USC and Western Michigan first played each other. Before then, they did not have football, they had baseball. And before baseball, they had basketball. (Yes, they actually played basketball way back in the 1800s. But it was more of a demonstration sport than a fully fledged game.) When they did play each other, it was usually in a baseball tournament and for some reason, they almost always played on Thanksgiving. (It must have been some sort of a tradition. In any case, they played on Thanksgiving Day back in 1899, 1913, 1919, and 1921.) The schools did not resume their football rivalry until the mid-1920s and even then, it was not until the 1929 season that they first played each other on the football field.
The Game That Stopped The Rivalry
In 1921, USC and WMU played each other for the first time in 25 years. It was the beginning of a very special relationship. On that front, the Trojans finally ended the rivalry by upsetting the previously undefeated and then #2-ranked Wolverines. The Trojans had never won a game over the Wolverines and it marked the first time that they had defeated their arch-nemesis. (The game turned out to be a memorable one for other reasons as well. The Trojans scored 28 points in the first quarter alone and then scored 24 more in the second quarter. In the first half alone, they totaled 56 points. In the second half, they piled on another 28 points to give them a grand total of 84 points. The 84-point blast is still the largest point total in school history.) With the victory, USC became a part of NCAA Division I for the first time ever and they would remain a part of the division for the next 80 years. (USC made the transition to the Big Ten in the summer of 1921 and have been a member of the conference ever since. For the first 45 years of their existence as a Division I member, the Trojans never had a losing season. From 1948-2003, they finished with a record of 98-18-1. Since then, they have had one winning season in 2009 and have gone 6-7-1 the other five years.)
The Game That Ended In A Draw
As great as that 1921 victory was, it was not the last game that the two schools would play against each other. Over the next several years, they would play several times but not as regularly as in the early years. In fact, it was not until the 1935 season that they next played each other and that game ended in a tie. (The Trojans finished the season 9-1 while the Wolverines finished 6-3. It was the only time that the two teams would meet and play to a tie in the series. The following season, WMU ended the rivalry by knocking off USC 22-20 in Los Angeles. It was their only victory in the series.)
The Game That Ended In A Victory For USC
The Trojans bounced back from the 1935 tie game by winning the next meeting 34-7 in Los Angeles. Since then, they have won six out of the next seven matchups, including the last five. (The overall series is tied at 57-57 as of 2018. However, the Trojans lead the series 14-3.) The only defeat for the Trojans in that sequence came in the form of a 28-6 loss to Tennessee in 2017. Even then, the Vols did not play their best and it was not until the fourth quarter that they scored the only six points. (It is quite clear that the tide is turning and it is quite clear that the Trojans are the superior team. Their five straight victories over the Wolverines are a testament to that fact.)
A Revival Of The Rivalry
It was the end of the 2016 season and both teams were 7-4. They had split their meetings up until that point with USC winning in Los Angeles and the Wolverines winning in Ann Arbor. However, that night, it was the home team that triumphed, defeating the visitors 41-27. It was the largest margin of victory in the series since 1929 and snapped the Trojans’ eight-game losing streak to the Wolverines. (Since that night, the teams have met three more times. In 2017, they split a pair of games in Los Angeles and Ann Arbor, with the Trojans holding a 7-3 advantage in the series. In 2019, it was the home team that prevailed 14-13 in a shootout. This year, with the two teams at 8-0 heading into their meeting in Ann Arbor, the outcome is quite likely to be similar. The only question is, will this be the start of a major resurgence for the rivalry or will it simmer down once again?)