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Betting the Pac-10: USC is the Key

   by Ben Burns - 07/17/2009

Betting the Pac-10 is all about figuring out Southern Cal.

When will the Trojans be at their best? (11-1 ATS in non-conference games the last three years).

When will they lay a brick? (4-10 ATS on the road in the Pac-10 the last three seasons).

Pete Carroll’s juggernaut lost a ton off of last year’s team. Only three defensive starters return, and it was pretty obvious from Carroll’s whining just how much quarterback Mark Sanchez meant to the Trojans.

They face California and Oregon on the road. The season-ending showdown with improving UCLA will be extremely tough as well. The Bruins are 4-1 ATS against the Trojans in their last five meetings.

This year appears as good as any for the Trojans to be dethroned. Yet, you’ll find USC ranked in the top 5 of every preseason poll. Oddsmakers have posted the Trojans as -300 favorites to win a record eighth consecutive Pac-10 title.

Defending champion Florida is the only other BCS team to be an outright favorite in their conference. The Gators are also -300 favorites to win the SEC.

Is USC really as dominant over rest of the Pac-10 as Florida is over the rest of the SEC?

No way.

The talent gap between the Trojans and the rest of the Pac-10 is as small as it has been in quite some time.

Not only will Cal, Oregon and UCLA be solid this, but the Trojans also know they can’t overlook Oregon State.

Arizona returns the core of a defense that held the Trojans to 17 points and less than 200 yards of offense last season.

Even Stanford, with 17 returning starters, has a chance to challenge the Trojans. (Laugh now, but come November the four touchdowns the Cardinal will be getting at USC might look pretty good.)

Like every conference, the Pac-10 does have its pushovers in Washington and Washington State. The Apple State cupcakes combined to go 5-19 ATS the last season. Nowhere to go but up for those guys, but proceed cautiously.

Overall, the Pac-10 may have not caught up completely with the Trojans, but the conference could be as balanced as it has been in a long time.

USC has slipped up against Pac-10 competition at least once each of the last three seasons. If it happens twice this year, the Trojans’ reign will end.

Projected Finish

(ATS records are from last three seasons).

UCLA

ATS: 24-14 (Home: 15-5. Away: 8-8)

Thing to remember: The Bruins have been one of the best bets in the nation the past five seasons. They are 39-23 ATS during that time frame, including 27-16 in conference play.

Rick Neuheisel enters his second year with 16 returning starters, a star-studded defense and the best special teams in the Pac-10.

The Bruins get Cal and Oregon at home but must play better on the road (4-12 SU the last three years) if they want to earn a surprise trip to the Rose Bowl.

California

ATS: 19-19 (Home: 12-7. Away: 5-11)

Thing to remember:

USC

ATS: 21-17-1 (Home: 10-7-1. Away: 8-10)

Thing to remember: Grass slows these guys down. The under is 21-5-1 in the Trojans’ last 27 games on grass, including an impressive 16-5-1 mark at home in the Coliseum.

Oregon

ATS: 22-16 (Home: 11-6. Away: 9-8)

Non: 7-4. Conf: 15-12

Thing to remember: Nine players have left the program since Mike Belotti handed over the reigns to longtime offensive coordinator and new head coach Chip Kelly. The biggest loss was projected starting wide receiver Chris Harper, a big-time recruit with dynamic athleticism. Some believed Harper, who received some snaps at quarterback last season, was the next Dennis Dixon. His defection will be felt.

Oregon State

ATS: 24-14 (Home: 11-6. Away: 10-7)

Thing to remember: The Beavers own the best in-conference ATS record over the past three seasons at 17-10.

In coach Mike Riley’s six-year tenure, the Beavers are 41-30-1 ATS.

Stanford

ATS: 15-21 (Home: 8-10. Away: 7-11)

Thing to remember: Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck threw five touchdown passes in the spring game. He’ll have a strong offensive line, a 1,000-yard rusher in Toby Gerhart and the top three receivers from last season at his disposal.

The Cardinal hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2001. That should change this year.

Arizona State

ATS: 17-18-1 (Home: 10-9; Away: 7-7-1)

Thing to remember: In Dennis Erickson’s third season at Miami (1992), he led the Hurricanes to an undefeated season and a national title. The under went 6-1 in Miami games that season.

Arizona

ATS: 19-16 (Home: 11-7. Away: 7-9)

Thing to remember: The Wildcats have everything, but a quarterback. Obviously, that’s a Mark Mangino-sized but.

A pair of inexperienced sophomores—Matt Scott and Nick Foles—will try to win the job in August, something neither was able to do in spring practice.

Arizona has some weapons on offense to help out, including All-American tight end Rob Gronkowski. But will either Scott or Foles be able to get him the ball?

Washington

ATS: 13-23-1 (Home: 6-14. Away: 7-9-1)

Thing to remember: First-year coach Steve Sarkisian inherits 18 returning starters, the most in the conference. But are returning starters off a 0-12 team (1-11 ATS) really that valuable?

The Huskies own the Pac-10’s worst in conference ATS mark over the last three years at 8-19.

Washington State

ATS: 16-20 (Home: 11-10. Away: 7-11)

Thing to remember: The Cougars enter August without a clear-cut starting quarterback. Senior Kevin Lopina, who threw 11 interceptions and no touchdowns last season, is lead candidate. But hotshot sophomore Marshal Lobbestael will get a look. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was much better at 4-to-4.

Play the over on …

California: If the Bears get improved quarterback play from junior Kevin Riley, look out.

To make that possible, Cal hired veteran offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who spent the last three seasons at Utah. The Utes averaged 39 points a game and went undefeated last season.

Ludwig has developed quality quarterbacks throughout his career, including David Carr at Fresno State, Kellen Clemens at Oregon and Brian Johnson at Utah.

If Ludwig continues that trend with Riley, the Bears’ already potent running attack, featuring Jahvid Best, will become that much better.

Play the under on …

USC: When Pete Carroll named sophomore Aaron Corp his starting quarterback, the Trojan coach said it was the only choice he could make because Corp was the only QB who handle the signals coming in from the sidelines. That statement doesn’t exactly exude confidence.

The strength of the Trojan offense is up front, where all five starting linemen return, and at running back, where Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and C.J. Gable give USC a trio of potent weapons.

This could be the most run-oriented attack the Trojans have had in a long time.

Keeping the ball on the ground also will protect a fairy inexperienced defense as well. Still, with senior All-American safety Taylor Mays leading the defense, don’t expect opponents to score on the Trojans at will.

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