Turns out the USC Trojans might not be the best team in college football. But at least they finally got their first cover of the season. The Trojans will try for another this Thursday night against the Utah Utes.
SBR NCAAF Feature: October 1
No. 13 USC vs. Utah Pick on Spread
Ah, the Trojans. So beloved –
and so chalky. Never mind that Pete Carroll is long gone and the football
program he left behind is still recovering from those nasty NCAA sanctions. The
Trojans are bowl-eligible, baby! And with senior QB Matt Barkley coming back
for one more season, the fine folks at Associated Press made USC the No. 1 team
in the preseason rankings.
It didn’t last. The Trojans
didn’t cover the 44.5-point spread in their season opener against the Hawai’i
Warriors. Nor did they cover the 24.5 points they were laying a week later
against the Syracuse Orange. It was a bad omen. USC took the short trip north
in Week 3 and lost 21-14 to the Stanford Cardinal (+9.5).
Has the healing begun? In Week
4, the Trojans just managed to get paid against the California Golden Bears,
winning 27-9 as 16.5-point home faves. It was hardly a football clinic. Barkley
threw a pair of interceptions to bring his season total to five; he had seven
all of last year as USC rose from the dead to finish 10-2 SU and 8-4 ATS.
So let’s take an honest look
at the Trojans. They might have Barkley and 16 other starters from last year’s
squad, but those 30 missing scholarships over three seasons (thanks, Reggie
Bush and O.J. Mayo) mean that Southern California is less populated with talent
Maybe one of those
scholarships could have been used to find a quality replacement at left tackle
for the departed Matt Kalil. “The Hammer” went fourth overall in the 2012 NFL
Draft to the Minnesota Vikings. Now protecting Barkley’s blind side: Aundrey
Walker, who has plenty of size at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, but may be lacking
I preach about this
constantly, but let me say it again: Left tackle is one of the most important
positions on the football field, especially when the quarterback is
right-handed. Barkley is not getting the same pass protection as last year, so
the Trojans offense is worse. The effect on the college football betting lines
is magnified because the betting public knows next to nothing about offensive
linemen and their value.
Having said that, the win
against Cal may prove to be a turning point for the Trojans. Coach Lane Kiffin
threatened to replace Walker with freshman Max Tuerk before the Stanford game,
and it seemed to light a fire under Walker. Kiffin isn’t letting Walker off the
hook just yet, though, splitting this week’s practice reps between Walker and
Tuerk. There’s some motivation for you.
The last time we checked in on
the Utes, they were cashing in for us at +160 in their 24-21 Holy War triumph
over the BYU Cougars (–3.5 away). Well, that’s the only cover Utah has managed
thus far. The Utes were tripped up 37-7 last week by the Arizona State Sun
Devils (–7 at home) to fall to 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS on the young season.
The Utes have some offensive
line blues of their own. They’re trying to replace tackles Tony Bergstrom and
John Cullen from last year’s team, and it isn’t happening as of yet. Utah’s
defense hasn’t been consistent, either. You’ll find the Utes way down at No. 65
on the F/+ Combined Ratings at Football Outsiders, three spots below the Golden
That gives us a decent
comparison for looking at Thursday night’s matchup (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN). The
first football odds lines released Sunday had USC favored by 12 points, which moved
fairly quickly to 13 and 14 points in early action. This game is at Rice-Eccles
Stadium in Salt Lake City, with sunny weather in the forecast. If home-field
advantage is worth 3-4 points in college football, then the Trojans might be
expected to beat Utah by 10-12 points with a similar performance as the Cal
contest. There’s your justification to fade the Trojans.
I'm adding the Utes to my Thursday college football picks.
My Pick: Utah +13