Free Expert NCAA Football Picks: USC Trojans at Stanford Cardinal Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 9/4/2014
USC Trojans at Stanford Cardinal, Saturday Sept. 6, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Pac-12 isn't wasting any time when it comes to giving us marquee conference showdowns. Both teams are ranked in the Top 14 - USC at 14, and Stanford at 10 - so this game is going to do a lot to establish the hierarchy in what is an extremely tough Pac-12. They are in different divisions, so it's not like a conference championship berth will be decided here, but any loss in conference play among the top teams will be costly this year.
Of course, there is a dark side to having such huge games early in the season from a betting perspective - we don't know anything about the teams involved. Both have played just one game, and neither was exactly tested. USC rolled up more than 700 total yards in a 52-13 massacre of Fresno State that could easily have been even more lopsided. Stanford focused on defense, allowing UC Davis - hardly a football powerhouse - to gain just 115 yards and achieve six first downs in a 45-0 trouncing. In both cases the level of competition was so weak that all that happened was that what we already knew - Stanford can play defense, and USC can score - was affirmed. How is that going to translate to games that really matter against opponents that are actually competent? That's a tougher question.
USC at Stanford Betting Storylines
Steve Sarkisian had a rough week leading into his first game as USC head coach. Between being called racist by a former player and having to deal with the bizarre Josh Shaw situation (the cornerback who lied about how he injured his ankles), it was far from what he would have hoped for. Popular opinion seems to be that that is all in the past after the strong opening effort against Fresno State. I'm not so sure. That first game was going to be an easy win regardless - Fresno State is not in a good place right now - and everyone around the team knew it. The focus and cohesiveness of the team is going to be called upon much more here, and we can't know what they are capable of in a crunch. This is a program that has gone through a whole lot of change in the last 10 months, so to assume that all will be smooth and that all systems are going to be go now - and that past controversies won't impact them - seems risky at best. The biggest concerns around USC heading into this contest have to be around their mindset.
USC QB Cody Kessler was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week on the strength of his Fresno State outing. Now he faces a ferocious defense. That shouldn't intimidate him too much, though. Last year he faced Stanford for the first time in his career, and he keyed a 20-17 victory with a 25-for-37, 288-yard-and-a-touchdown performance. He looked very comfortable and in control - something that you certainly couldn't have said about him earlier in the season. Can he replicate that performance - or improve on it - in a new system against what should be a somewhat better defense? A big advantage he has is the difficulty Stanford faces in preparing for the game. Sarkisian has brought an aggressive, up-tempo system with him - the Trojans set a league record by running 105 plays last week. Stanford has a challenge finding tape to study. Fresno State was only one game, and with that many defensive flaws on display it's hard to really learn much from it. They are looking back at Washington tape from Sarkisian's previous gig, but with different and lesser talent involved that isn't ideal, either. USC will almost certainly have the advantage of surprise in this one.
USC at Stanford Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Stanford favored by 3.5 points, but has since moved through the key number of three and sits widely at 2.5 points. About 60 percent of bets have been placed on the Cardinal, so the movement through such an important number is a good sign that some sharp money is pointed at USC. The total sits at 54.5 points.
The Trojans have failed to cover their last eight road games at teams with a winning home record, and they are just 2-11 ATS in their last 13 road games. USC is just 2-5 ATS in the last seven meetings between these squads, and the underdog has covered six of the last seven meetings.
Expert NCAA Football Picks: USC Trojans at Stanford Cardinal Predictions
The game got easier to call when the line moved. With Stanford giving up less than the home-field advantage they are the attractive play here. I am concerned about USC's mindset and preparation against a tough defense, and Cody Kessler's health is a minor concern after dealing with a staph infection in his toe this week. I trust Stanford's defense more than USC's offense right now, and the Cardinal have a senior QB and plenty of playmakers to do some damage when they have the ball. This won't be a blowout in all likelihood, but Stanford should come out on top.
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