Pac-10 Betting Chaos
by Trevor Whenham - 10/11/2007
Last week was not a good week to be a Pac-10 supporter. Coming into the season many people, including me, thought that there were two teams at the top of the conference - USC and UCLA. Oops. UCLA was beaten soundly by previously (and mostly still) pathetic Notre Dame, which was a good follow up for their lousy performance against Utah a couple weeks earlier. Two games they should have won going away they instead lost by a combined score of 64-12. They were favored in those two games by a total of 36 points. That means they failed to cover by 88 points. Ugly. At least they beat Stanford, though, which is more than USC can say. In what, from a betting perspective, is perhaps the biggest upset in college football history, Stanford went into L.A. as 41-point underdogs and came out victorious.
That shaking you feel if you are in Los Angeles isn't an earthquake. It's everyone jumping off the Trojan bandwagon.
Two broken teams are very hard on a conference's credibility. Or at least they would be if Cal wasn't a solid No. 2 in the country, and if Oregon, shockingly, wasn't just a bad break in the last seconds of their game against Cal away from being there in place of the Bears. It also doesn't hurt that Arizona State is undefeated, proving that Dennis Erickson, for all his numerous faults, knows how to coach football.
Yes, there is chaos in the Pac-10. Everything we thought we knew at the beginning of the season has been proven false. It's time to re-evaluate, and to draw new assumptions to operate from. Here, then, are five things you need to consider if you want to bet in the new reality of the West Coast's finest conference.
1. We don't know how good Arizona State is - Sure they are unbeaten, they are 4-2 ATS, and they have mostly won in style, but who have they beaten? With the exception of a win over a suddenly sizzling Colorado early in the year, the Sun Devils have beaten a cast of nobodies (with apologies to Stanford). They should get to 7-0 against Washington, and earn some more public attention at the same time, but a stretch drive against Cal, Oregon, UCLA and USC will really test this team. They have to thank the schedule makers for where they are at and the confidence they have because of that.
2. USC is broken - It's always easy to heap on a team after a bad loss, but in this case it is deserved. The Trojans have looked mortal since the first game of the year against Idaho (with the exception of a dominating performance in Lincoln against Nebraska). They have only covered twice in five tries, and only gone over once, so they aren't nearly as good as the public expected them to be. Quarterbacking is a disaster not helped by current injuries. Injuries have also decimated the running game and the receivers have struggled badly. The fact that this team is ranked No. 10 is a bad joke. You may not be ready to entirely give up on the Trojans, but you had better have a good reason for betting on them in the next couple of weeks until something changes. Their name and reputation is as tempting to bettors as a siren song, but don't be fooled. It's not as bad as people are saying - it's worse.
3. Cal still needs to prove itself - Sure the Bears are unbeaten and No. 2, and they have a very impressive win over a Tennessee team that showed last week against Georgia that they can play, but the Bears still need to prove to me that they are a truly elite team worthy of their position. They had Colorado State down and out, up by 20 with nine minutes left. Instead of stepping on the throat of a clearly inferior team, though, Cal let them score two late touchdowns to give up the cover and make the game much closer than it should have been. Arizona completely neutralized DeSean Jackson and kept the game much closer than it should have been. They covered against Oregon, but one reversed call late and suddenly the game is tied with all the momentum on Oregon's side. The Tennessee win was big, but it was a long time ago. I think that Cal still lacks a signature statement of their eliteness, and the public is going to be all over them because of their ranking, so I might be skeptical of playing them in a tough spot.
4. Stanford's win was a fluke, but they are not a joke - If any handicapper says they picked Stanford as an outright winner then you can be certain that they are lying. That being said, Stanford isn't a terrible team. They have a lot of building to do, but the signs of promise are certainly there. Against Oregon they controlled the first half totally after a rough first 10 minutes, and they went into halftime with a lead. Unfortunately, they completely forgot to show up in the second half. They were favored by just seven against San Jose State, but dominated both sides of the ball to roll to a 37-0 victory. You can't trust them yet - the Oregon and USC performances surrounded a terrible 41-3 showing against Arizona State. In the right spots, though, this is a team that is worth a look. The hiring of Jim Harbaugh is looking like a stroke of genius.
5. Washington is in desperate trouble - The start of the season held such promise, with wins against Syracuse and Boise State. Those were followed, though, by three straight losses. At the time the three-point loss to USC was trumpeted as a sign of huge progress, but the excitement has dimmed after USC's Stanford debacle. The team is 2-3, and the next two games (Arizona State and Oregon) don't look too promising. You don't have to be a football genius to figure out the biggest problem. Jake Locker, the sophomore quarterback who has been mostly sensational, has 1,205 yards of total offense, including 411 on the ground. The team has a total of 1,662. Just short of three quarters of the team's yardage comes from one guy. That's not a winning formula. In contrast, Nate Longshore has 53 percent of Cal's total yards.