11/16/2013 11:46 AM
Nick Bogdanovich, a veteran Vegas bookmaker, now the Director of Trading at William Hill U.S., gets four sets of independent numbers from consultants before setting his college football point spreads. Each set of numbers had Stanford as a 3-point favorite at Southern Cal on Saturday.
Man, that seems low. At the end of September, Stanford was a 7-point favorite over the Trojans at the LVH SuperBook. A lot has changed since then, but has the gap between these two teams really narrowed?
“You have to worry about Stanford with an emotional letdown, coming off that big victory (26-20 over Oregon last Thursday),” said Bogdanovich. “S.C. is playing much better ball now under (coach Ed Orgeron); Marqise Lee looks healthy. The public will probably still be on Stanford, but, according to all the experts out there 3 or 3 ½ is right there.”
Since taking over for Lane Kiffin at the beginning of October, Orgeron has led the Trojans to a 4-1 mark, straight-up and against the spread. He’s certainly energized the Trojans, but has he really increased their overall talent and depth to a level where they can compete with a physical Stanford team that just dominated mighty Oregon?
Bettors gravitated to the Cardinal early in the week. As of Wednesday, the line had been bet up to Stanford -4 at most shops, including William Hill. Bogdanovich said he was a little heavy on money and tickets on Stanford, but nothing significant.
The Cardinal (8-1, 5-4 against the spread) have beaten USC four straight and have covered the number in seven of the last 10 meetings. Coach David Shaw’s team wore down the Trojans in the second half of last season’s 21-14 win at home. Stanford, a 9.5-point underdog in that game, rushed for 202 yards and passed for 212 yards in the win.
Shaw’s team appears to be peaking and has bounced from an upset loss at Utah with three straight wins over ranked opponents, none more impressive than last week’s win over Oregon.
Stanford held the Ducks’ offense averaging more than 50 points to a season-low in points and rushing yards (62).
The Cardinal have been dominant on the road, covering the spread in 11 of 14 away games in Shaw’s three seasons as head coach.
Leading rusher Tyler Gaffney was dinged up against Oregon and was listed as questionable early in the week. His status will need to be managed. If Gaffney is limited, Barry Sanders Jr. could play a bigger role for the Stanford offense.
The Trojans (7-3, 5-5 ATS) also are playing their best football of the season. USC’s defense ranks 17th in the nation and second behind Stanford in the Pac-12. The offense has been more explosive of late and should be even more potent with the return of Marqise Lee to full strength. A preseason Heisman contender, Lee has battled injuries throughout the season, but is expected to be 100 percent against the Cardinal on Saturday.
Even though the Trojans aren't ranked, their best player still believes that this game means something. "It's a spotlight game for us, you know, coming from where we came from, the things that are going on, that went on in this program," Lee told reporters this week. "This one, you could say, is a little bit bigger."
Sophomore QB Cody Kessler has strung together three solid performances, throwing four touchdowns with only one interception in wins over Utah, Oregon State and California. USC has failed to cover the spread in its last four games as a home underdog.
Since Stanford and USC rely on a ball-control style of offense, don't expect either team to push the tempo. Stanford is averaging 65.3 offensive plays per game, while USC has run average of 62 plays in its last three games. Eleven of the Cardinal’s 14 road games under Shaw also have stayed UNDER the total.
The Linemakers' lean: We're a little wary of a potential letdown for Stanford after its big win over Oregon last week, and USC has found its groove since Ed Orgeron took over. But instead of playing the side, we're sensing an opportunity with the total, which sat at about 46 as of Thursday evening. Stanford has no problem playing a grind-it-out style, and USC figures to have trouble moving the ball against the Cardinal defense. Seven of these teams' last eight games combined have stayed UNDER, and our money is on that trend to continue on Saturday.