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Miscellany

You Have to Look Really, Really Hard to Find Any Reason to Like USC Against Stanford

Outside of Alabama and LSU, Stanford has been the most dominant team in college football through the first eight weeks. Against a less-than-imposing schedule – Washington is the only ranked team they’ve played – Stanford has beaten opponents by an average of 35 points per game. They have the best QB in the country, the best trio of tight ends in college football, two offensive lineman who could be taken in the first round of the draft in April, and probably the 2nd best linebacker in the Pac-10 (Chase Thomas; they would have two of the top three if Shayne Skov hadn’t gotten hurt).

But Las Vegas doesn’t like Stanford. So what if Stanford covered the last four games of 2010? In late August/early September, “professional bettors” gave no love to Stanford and Todd Fuhrman of Caesars in Las Vegas told me they took some money on the under 9.5 win total. My guess as to why: Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL and the new coach, David Shaw, is something of an unknown quantity (he’d never been a head coach before). Vegas proceeded to underestimate Stanford all season long, and all the Cardinal did was respond by covering each time (7-0 against the spread this season).

To my surprise, Vegas only made Stanford 9.5-point favorites against USC Saturday. The line dropped to 7.5 in a day – all that early Vegas money came in on USC – and has stayed there. I keep looking for reasons as to why anyone would like USC in this game. Can’t find any.

* Four weeks ago, USC’s defense gave up 37 first downs and 554 yards to Arizona in a narrow 48-41 victory. Nick Foles of Arizona threw 53 passes and completed 77 percent (!) of them. Ten days later, Arizona fired its coach.

* Brock Osweiler, the Arizona State QB, completed 78 percent of his passes against USC (25-of-32).

* USC’s pass defense is 103rd in the nation (out of 120). Two of USC’s linebackers who will attempt to slow the Stanford tight ends are redshirt freshman.

* USC’s secondary did hold Notre Dame star WR Michael Floyd to two receptions last week, but tight end Tyler Eifert caught seven passes for 66 yards. Expect Coby Fleener (17 reecptions, 7 TDs, 22.6 ypc) to have a field day against USC.

* Everyone mocks Stanford’s schedule, and there’s no question it has been soft. You do realize USC has played nobody either, right? The Trojans’ opponents are a combined 24-25.

* The Vegas guys love to talk about “yards per play” and even here, Stanford trumps USC, 7.5 to 6.1. And defensively, Stanford is giving up 4.9 ypp; USC 5.3.

The only weakness I see in Stanford is the tendency to start sluggish on the road. I’ve seen it happen to them four times this season: They only led Arizona 16-10 at the break (won 37-10), led Duke 17-7 at the half (won 44-14), led UCLA 17-7 at the half (won 45-19), and led Washington State at the half 10-7 (won 44-14). Three of those games were on the road (UCLA was in Palo Alto). This leads me to believe two things: Stanford simply wore down their opponents with the mammoth line and the strong front seven on defense (25 sacks, 8th in the country), or Shaw made some terrific adjustments at the half.

But USC is better than all four of those teams. It has a much more explosive offense (Barkley is a very good QB and Woods is an excellent receiver who torched Stanford last year), and if their last two games are any indication, all those young miscues they made earlier this year are behind them. USC is +6 in turnovers in their last two games (Cal, ND); it turned the ball over four times in its only loss of the season (Arizona State). If you went position-by-position, does USC have better athletes than Stanford? Probably.

My pick all week has been Stanford. I like the Cardinal at -9 and -7.5 and I’d probably take Stanford all the way up to 13.

Of course, this means you should definitely pick USC. Stanford’s due to blow a big game, or at least not cover.

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