Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, September 14, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Neither the USC Trojans nor the Stanford Cardinal have played to expectations this season heading into their nationally televised meeting on FOX Saturday Night. USC is 0-2 against the spread as favorites, failing to play to what had been very high expectations entering the season. Stanford almost lost its season opener to lowly San Jose State, before rallying last week for a misleadingly large victory margin over Duke (we’ll run their unimpressive stats from that game for you in a moment).
In fact, these teams had been so disappointing so far that we hadn’t even planned on previewing this game in the NOTEBOOK! Alabama-Arkansas originally had the spot. But, Arkansas lost its quarterback before losing a shocker to Louisiana-Monroe last week. That turned what was expected to be a true danger spot for the Crimson Tide into a projected laugher were ‘Bama is a three-touchdown favorite. We’re not here to preview games where somebody is a three-touchdown favorite!
There really aren’t any true marquee matchups in the afternoon Saturday. So, we’ll crunch some numbers for you in USC-Stanford here in this Friday edition of the NOTEBOOK. Then, we’ll come back tomorrow to look at the Notre Dame-Michigan State game that will be nationally televised in prime time by ABC.
SOUTHERN CAL AT STANFORD (7:30 p.m. on FOX)
Las Vegas Spread: USC by 8.5, total of 56
Remember, this game is in Palo Alto, so USC would be a double digit favorite on a neutral field, and probably about 14.5 or 15 points if this game were in the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Home field advantage is worth about three points in college football conference games. The market clearly sees USC as the superior team…but it has Stanford within striking distance with a spread like this.
CURRENT AP POLL RANKINGS
Of course, the AP had USC at #1 starting the season. They fell below Alabama because the Tide crushed Michigan so mightily. Southern Cal has mixed stretches of greatness with stretches of boredom Depth could be an issue on defense given unimpressive second halves. To this point, skeptics could reasonably point out that USC hasn’t been playing like a Top Ten team let alone top two. This will be their toughest opponent to date. Yet, Stanford CLEARLY has been way below Top 40 standards in terms of their boxscore stats in two outings. Maybe Stanford isn’t that much better than Syracuse! Time will tell with those rankings. We’re skeptical that Stanford will be a Top 25 team when the season is over, unless there’s just a dearth of real talent this year and a soft Pac 12 North schedule helps them out.
USC: Lane Kiffin
Stanford: David Shaw
Given the lack of production from Stanford under Shaw the past two weeks, you have to wonder about his readiness for the big time. He was fine last year when Andrew Luck was a virtual coach and offensive coordinator on the field. He was respected as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh. Maybe he was just riding the coattails of that dynamic family. You’d have to give the edge right now to Kiffin in terms of his ability to recruit athletes (which is going to matter now that Luck is not longer at Stanford) and his ability to put the ball in their hands. Both men are surrounded by question marks regarding whether or not they belong where the media has them. Kiffin has more of a track record, so we’ll give him the nod.
USC: Matt Barkley
Stanford: Josh Nunes
Potentially a monster edge here…though Barkley is prone to stretches where he doesn’t get as much as you’d hope out of yardage production. Nunes has thrown way too many incomplete passes for a conservative offense facing soft defenses like San Jose State and Duke. We’re talking about a Heisman Trophy contender facing a guy who may not really be starting material. HUGE edge for USC here.
LAST WEEK’S BOXES
USC 42, SYRACUSE 29
Total Yardage: USC 443, Syracuse 450
Rushing Yards: USC 256, Syracuse 131
Passing Stats: USC 23-30-1-187, Syracuse 30-46-2-319
Turnovers: USC 1, Syracuse 2
Third Downs: USC 50%, Syracuse 47%
Vegas Line: USC by 24, total of 62
You must remember to place more weight on rushing yardage than total yardage in this sport. Southern Cal was dominant at the point of attack, rushing for over 250 yards. Syracuse picked up a lot of garbage time yards in catch-up mode which makes things seem closer than they really were. That being said…this was supposed to be a rout and it wasn’t. Southern Cal’s defense may have backdoor issues all season based on what we’ve seen so far. The offense is going to be great. Can the defense seal the deal so the team covers spreads?
STANFORD 50, DUKE 13
Total Yardage: Duke 385, Stanford 373
Rushing Yards: Duke 27, Stanford 92
Passing Stats: Duke 42-63-3-358, Stanford 18-33-1-281
Turnovers: Duke 4, Stanford 1
Third Downs: Duke 25%, Stanford 42%
Vegas Line: Stanford by 16, total of 56
This is what we mean by the unimpressive boxscore. The blowout was triggered by cheap points off of turnovers…from a bad team in a bad conference that had to travel all the way across the country to play near midnight body time. USC is going to be less mistake-prone even if jet lag from their trip to New York creeps up. Stanford couldn’t rush for 100 yards against an undersized defense. Passing yardage was nice, but it came amidst 15 incomplete passes against a unimpressive pass defense. Did Stanford find themselves? Or, was this just a San Jose State-Duke game where Duke made a million turnovers? How you answer that question will influence how you pick the game.
This game could careen all over the place and not be a surprise. USC has the talent to name the score given how poorly Stanford has played. And, this week, it’s easier to name a score that will land on their side of the Vegas pointspread! Frankly, if USC wants to be treated seriously as a real BCS championship threat they need to win this game by at least 14 points. There’s always upset potential in big TV conference rivalry games though. And, USC did have to deal with travel and a bad storm last week. This is a road favorite dealing with “intangible” reasons for a less-than-peak performance. Stanford could win. Stanford could lose by three touchdowns or more depending on USC’s readiness and USC’s defensive intensity in the fourth quarter.
JIM HURLEY is working hard with his West Coast sources to get a true read on this game. Volatility is a handicapper’s friend, as is INFORMATION whenever this kind of situation pops up. If NETWORK gets the news it needs to hear, this will be a big play for clients. If not, there are plenty of other Saturday options to choose from where our scouts, sources, statheads, and Wise Guy connections will have bigger edges. You’ll have to sign up to find out the REAL best bets!
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