College Football Picks: USC Early Futures & Preview

Steve -

Sunday, April 21, 2013 4:18 PM UTC

Sunday, Apr. 21, 2013 4:18 PM UTC

Whether judged by National Championships, Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans, or NFL draftees, the USC Trojans have one of the most storied college football programs in the history of the sport.


The USC Trojans’ Early 2013-2014 College Football Betting Preview 

Although expectations for Troy are at a 10-year low, that just might be good news for Trojan football bettors. In this article, we will preview USC’s 2013-2014 college football-betting prospects. 

The Trojans Against-the-Spread (ATS)

Attempting to predict a college football team’s ATS success in the off-season is challenging, but we have discovered some correlations worth examining. A profitable ATS season is usually the result of exceeded expectations. Those expectations can be measured by an improvement in straight-up (SU) wins (from the previous season), a bad or non-existent preseason ranking, and a terrible ATS season immediately prior to the one in question. In 2012, the Trojans were 7-6 SU and 3-10 ATS. Looking to improve on seven SU wins, USC should win at least four of their seven home games. Of their six road contests, four look to be winnable. Because of their favorable schedule, USC should get at least eight wins in 2013, which is one more than in 2012, and that suggests positive ATS results. Most early preseason polls do not have USC in their top-25, making that measure of expectations exceptionally low by USC standards. Finally, going 3-10 ATS in 2012 has positioned USC for a rebound. Over the past 10 seasons, there have been 13 examples of teams with double-digit ATS losses in a single season. Only 2 of those 13 teams had losing ATS seasons the following year. The only two words of caution are that USC is a perennial public favorite (over the last 10 seasons, USC had the majority of the public betting with them more than 69% of the time), and given their NCAA-mandated scholarship restrictions, the Trojans might be hampered in ways that the previous 13 double-digit ATS losers were not.

A New Coordinator

New defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, held that same title with three prior teams: the Arizona Cardinals (NFL) from 2004-2008, the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL) in 2009, and the California Golden Bears (NCAA) from 2010-2012. He brings a new defensive scheme that is based on 3-4 personnel, but it often looks like a 5-2 at the line of scrimmage. The good news for the Trojans is that two out of the three defenses coached by Pendergast have shown improvement in his first year, using points allowed per game as the metric. The bad news for USC is those defenses got progressively worse from year one to year two, and again from year two to year three. Upon leaving all three prior defensive coordinator positions, all of Pendergast’s scoring defenses were in the bottom-25% of their respective leagues (NFL and NCAA). That alarming tendency might suggest that after one year, opponents understand how to attack his defense. As a defensive coordinator, Pendergast’s teams have gone 66-69-2 against-the-spread.

A New Quarterback

Four-year starting quarterback, Matt Barkley, is gone. His replacement will be redshirt sophomore Max Wittek, redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler, or true freshman Max Browne. According to head coach, Lane Kiffin, the spring did not yield a favorite for the starting job, but Wittek started two games in 2012 when Barkley was injured. In high school, Wittek threw 24 interceptions in 24 games as an upperclassman. In seven of those games, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns, five of which were in his senior year. In each of his two games as a starter at USC, Wittek threw more interceptions than touchdowns. In USC’s 2013 spring game, he threw two interceptions and two more balls that should have been intercepted (to his two touchdown passes).

Cody Kessler, on the other hand, had just three high school games as an upperclassman where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns, none of which were in his senior year. He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in USC’s 2013 spring game.

Max Browne has attracted most of the quarterback excitement in Troy, given that he was considered the #1 pro-style quarterback in the country coming out of high school. As an upperclassman, he only had one game where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns- when he was a junior. While there might be tremendous upside to Browne, USC’s spring scrimmage was evidence that Browne is not ready to be THE GUY just yet.

Why the emphasis on interceptions over touchdowns? Since Kiffin has been USC’s head coach, when USC has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, the Trojans are 0-7 both SU and ATS. Two of those seven games were Wittek’s. From our perspective, Cody Kessler gives USC the best opportunity for a profitable season; so before considering a wager on the Trojans, make sure you know who the starting quarterback is.

2014 BCS National Championship Futures Bet

As this is being written, Bovada has USC at 50-to-1 to win the 2014 BCS National Championship. In a previous article , we outlined our 60% Rule, where all BCS National Champions had at least three of the following five criteria before starting their championship seasons:

1) an upperclassman quarterback

2) a top-20 scoring defense one year prior

3) a preseason top-10 ranking

4) membership in the Southeastern Conference (the SEC)

5) a head coach who had been at the school for two to four years.

USC will have an underclassman at the quarterback position. USC’s scoring defense ranked 40th in 2012. Although the Associated Press (AP) Preseason Poll has yet to be released, based on futures odds and other early polls, USC will not be ranked in the top-10 this preseason. The Trojans obviously do not play in the SEC, but their head coach is going into his fourth year at the helm of the program. That means the 2013 Trojans meet one of the five criteria, and therefore fail to conform to the 60% Rule. The last BCS issue that bears noting is USC’s schedule. Having the traditional clout that USC enjoys, combined with not playing Oregon (unless they meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game), getting both Stanford and UCLA at home, and going to Notre Dame means that the Trojans have an opportunity to earn their way to the title game. Going undefeated through a manageable schedule while beating the Irish, Stanford (possibly twice), and Oregon (in that possible Pac-12 Championship Game) would recommend USC to the championship game. For our money and NCAAF picks however, we would not bet on it.

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