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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Even though a lot has changed at USC in recent years, as they head into Thursday's nationally televised Pac 12 showdown with California, it looks like one tradition is still being kept. Southern Cal gets too much respect in the Vegas line!

Lane Kiffin's team is 4-1 so far this season, with the only loss coming on the road against the team most likely right now to win the Pac 12 South. But, that 4-1 record has so many skeletons in the closet that you have to wonder if this would be a bowl caliber team if they were allowed to go to a bowl this year.

Let's review:

  • USC started the season with a lethargic 19-17 win over Minnesota. That result looks worse and worse with each passing week because Minnesota is absolutely terrible this year. One of the worst teams in the country. In fact, Purdue is pretty bad...but Purdue crushed Minnesota last week. Computers in particular are penalizing USC significantly for this very unimpressive result. It was a win...but the Trojans missed the spread by about three touchdowns.

  • USC needed a miracle, and a controversial league overturn, to cover against Utah in a 23-14 victory as favorites of -7.5 points. You'll recall this wild finish. It was 17-14 as time was running out. USC blocked a game-tying field goal attempt and returned it for a disputed touchdown. If Utah makes the field goal, we go to overtime and USC doesn't cover. If the ruling of game officials was respected, the game would have ended 17-14. Considering how inconsistent Utah has been since (losing home games to Washington and Arizona State by a combined 66-28), this doesn't look like a great result either.

  • USC had its only clean cover of the year in a 38-17 win over Syracuse as 17-point favorites. The Trojans really did play very well here, so there's nothing to gripe about. Syracuse and the Big East as a whole isn't all that great of course. And, this was a cross-country trip for the visitor. USC gained over 500 yards and sparkled. No reason to nitpick.

  • USC followed up that good outing with a road disaster though, losing at Arizona State 43-22 as an underdog of just a field goal. The game was closer than the score made it sound because of a 4-0 turnover edge for the hosts. But...this was the first road game of the year for USC, and they clearly self-destructed. The Trojans also had 10 penalties for 87 yards...and fizzled badly in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line (28-22 after three).

  • USC went back home and beat Arizona 48-41. Big day offensively. But, this is the Arizona team that's been so bad in other games that their head coach Mike Stoops was just fired. This was the only good game Arizona played against a board team in 2011, and it came against USC! The Trojans were favorites of about 12-13 points here...meaning they once again failed to play to expectations.

It all adds up to a 4-1 record against a schedule that should have yielded a 4-1 record based on the pointspreads. But, we're looking at 1-4 against expectations when you account for the controversial end-game decision vs. Utah. Because of a volatile offense, a shaky defense, and a tendency for badly timed mistakes, USC has had big troubles matching expectations against a schedule that certainly have been manageable.

Vegas has clearly made an adjustment because USC is only a 3-point favorite tonight at Pac Bell Park (home of the San Francisco Giants). Cal is playing home games there this year because of renovations to their usual stadium. They probably don't deserve full home field advantage as a result. Tonight, handicappers have to determine if USC is still overpriced...or if oddsmakers have moved too far against them and they now offer value.

It's worth nothing that USC's offense has had several great stretches this season. If and when they finally put together 60 full minutes of quality football, they're going to embarrass somebody. They were statistically even on the road with Arizona State when you take out the turnovers. ASU may be the third best team in the Pac 12 this year.

Of course, California is going to have some say in all of this. The Bears are in a bounce-back spot after last Thursday's loss in Oregon. Let's catch up with what Cal has done this season.

  • Cal opened with an impressive 36-21 win over Fresno State...with stats that were even more one-sided. Unfortunately, Fresno State has turned out to be pretty bad. You may have seen them get crushed by Boise State last week.

  • Cal then had to go overtime to beat Colorado on the road. Colorado is pretty bad this year. Cal was favored by a touchdown and almost lost.

  • Cal beat Presbyterian in a non-board game...and blowouts over non-entities often don't mean anything.

  • Cal lost at Washington 31-23 as a one-point underdog. The game was closer than that score made it sound. Cal settled for field goals one or two times too many. Still, they were supposed to be the better team based on that line, and didn't look to be.

  • Cal fell apart late last week vs. Oregon in a nationally televised 43-15 loss to what might be the best team in the Pac 12.

This isn't exactly a dream matchup at this point is it?! But it is a game that's fun for handicappers because of the challenges in place. Both teams are capable of playing at a high level for a half or three quarters. Can somebody put together four good quarters tonight under the spotlight?

JIM HURLEY will have something for you in this game here at the website. NETWORK may also get involved with San Diego State/Air Force on CBSC that will start an hour earlier. Check he purchase page here at the website this afternoon for more information about the specifics of the card. Of course, there's baseball too with Game Five in Detroit in the ALCS, and Game Four in St. Louis of the NLCS. A great time for a two-sport parlay!

Tonight is very important for us because we want to build everyone's bankrolls for our annual GOLDEN GAME that goes Saturday. It's our biggest college game of the year that's won 21 times in the last 26 seasons. The more you win Thursday and Friday in the tune-ups...the more you'll make Saturday in the GOLDEN GAME!

We have a full weekend 5-DAY WINFEST available right now online that includes tonight, Friday's Hawaii-San Jose State matchup, Saturday's GOLDEN GAME, Sunday's PRO PARLAY OF THE MONTH, and Monday's AFC East Grudge Match featuring Miami and the NY Jets. If you've never tried out our service, THIS IS THE TIME TO MAKE YOUR MOVE!

Or, sign up for the full season to get the most bang for your buck. You can do that here at the website, or by calling the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on our postseason baseball rates when you call. The LCS could go deep...and the World Series is shaping up to be a doozy.

Hey...maybe a play on the GOLDEN BEARS will kick off our GOLDEN GAME weekend! Or, maybe we'll be looking at GOLDEN BOY quarterback Matt Barkley of USC to get us the money. We can tell you this...the name JIM HURLEY has always been AS GOOD AS GOLD!

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