Stanford Cardinal at USC Trojans Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
Stanford Cardinal at USC Trojans, Saturday Sept. 9, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Pac-12 gets off to a very early start to conference play, and they aren't easing into it. This game is one of the three or four biggest games that the conference will feature all year. The teams are in different divisions, so the game won't have a direct impact in the standings - one team won't wind up with a game in hand on the other - but both teams are in tight fights in which every conference win will be absolutely crucial, so one of these teams with conference championship aspirations will be behind the eight ball before we even get to the middle of September.
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Both teams come into the game with interesting storylines in play. Stanford started their season early in Sydney, Australia, so they are coming off a bye week already, and they didn't exactly get tested by Rice in that opener Down Under. USC, meanwhile, got far more of a test than they should have, and than they were likely looking to get, at the hands of Western Michigan in their opener. They came through in the end, but not before they had shaken the confidence of anyone who had had faith in them heading into the season. They are the only team currently in the Top 10 of the AP Poll that won a game and dropped in the poll - they fell two spots to sixth - so it was not a good start in relative terms.
Can they bounce back? Can Stanford shake off the rust and bounce back against real competition? Are both of these teams for real this year? Are either of them?
Stanford at USC Betting Storylines
Coming into the season one of the bigger questions about Stanford was how much they would miss Christian McCaffrey. Not much, if first impressions mean anything. Bryce Love took over lead back duties this year and promptly ran for 180 yards in the opener. Now, USC is a better team than Rice in every way, so there is a bit of an asterisk beside that performance. But the Trojans were torched on the ground by Western Michigan - the Broncos averaged 228 yards per game last year against a MAC schedule and gained 263 against the Trojans, with top rusher LeVante Bellamy gaining 102 yards on just nine carries. It was the worst running performance by the USC defense since they allowed 302 yards to Stanford last year. Look for Love to have a good day unless this Trojans defense can adjust in a hurry - and adjusting in a hurry doesn't stand out as a particular strength of this staff in my eyes.
About that coaching - and we can be brief on this front. Clay Helton is one of the least-inspiring hires at a major program in the last decade. I could go on a rant about the lack of imagination and ambition this hire showed from USC, but this is the school that hired Lynn Swann to be their AD, so I don't have to. David Shaw is great and could have his choice of about 20 different NFL jobs if he was so inclined. This is a massive coaching mismatch, and that's all we need to say about that.
A big question for Stanford entering the season was the health of QB Keller Chryst, who injured his ACL in his bowl game last year. Again, playing against Rice doesn't prove a whole lot, but Chryst looked fine. He was fairly mobile, he passed reasonably well, and he didn't seem tentative. And he has had two more weeks of just practicing since. There are a lot of reasons why Stanford could lose this game, but I'm fairly confident saying that Chryst's knee isn't going to be one of them.
Stanford at USC Odds and Betting Trends
The line has been on a ride that has wound up going nowhere. The game was opened with USC favored by five, but that was bet away in very short order. It opened widely at 6.5, climbed briefly up to 7, and then fell back to 6.5 . Nearly 70 percent of bets have been on Stanford, so if we see that seven again then we'll know that sharp money is pounding USC. I don't expect that to be the case. The total opened widely at 56 and has been stable there in early action.
The Cardinal are a very strong 21-10 ATS in their last 31 games overall and 6-1 ATS in their last seven in September. They are, however, just 2-5 ATS in their last seven games following a straight up win. The Trojans are 6-2 ATS in their last eight overall, 5-2 ATS in their last seven at home, and 5-0 ATS in their last five conference games. But they are just 1-4 ATS in their last four games in September.
Stanford at USC Predictions and Picks
I don't need to think too hard on this one. I don't trust USC mentally, and I don't trust their coaching staff. Stanford will be better prepared, and they will find ways to punch the Trojans in the mouth early and often. I don't trust USC to punch back. I'd love to get seven points, but even if I have to take only 6.5 Stanford is the clear play.
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