USC Football: Picking Every 2012 Game on the Board Against the Spread
OK, let's get the "disclaimers" and "qualifiers" out of the way.
First, a disclaimer...for my Trojan brethren, if you are going to bet, for God's sake, please don't let my choices guide your picks.
I'm a sensitive dude, and the last thing I need is any influence I might have offered to you that resulted in a car payment being missed.
Now for the qualifier:
Included in this slideshow are 11 games that the Golden Nugget has established an early betting line on for the 2012 college football season.
"Wait a minute," you are probably thinking to yourself, "Aren't the Trojans playing 12 games this year?"
Yes, but the Hawaii game is not on the board. So, no slide for that game...you will just have to take your chances if one is released later on.
Now before we go on, I am adamant that USC will win all of its games this year and play for that crystal trophy in its welcome back to postseason play after two years of non-participation (thanks to the NCAA and their sanctions).
But what about the spread? Realistically, can the Trojans cover every game and make their fans (and more than a few bettors) happy this year?
If you want my opinion, read on...
Saturday Sept. 8 at Syracuse (Game Played at a Neutral Site in New York): USC -21
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This will be an interesting game, and while the Trojans should win handily, Syracuse might be better than many think.
Ryan Nassib returns at quarterback for the Orange, and he has a group of talented and experienced receivers led by Alec Lemon.
If the offensive line can give Nassib time to operate (which is not a given based on last year), he has the talent to make things interesting, at least for a while.
On defense, head coach Doug Marrone will look to an experienced secondary and a physical interior line, but they probably will not put too much pressure on Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley after losing their best ends, including Chandler Jones, who was All-Conference.
No pressure on Barkley is not a recipe for success for the Orange, and this will allow the Trojans to pull away late.
USC covers the spread, but just barely
Saturday Sept. 15 at Stanford: USC -10
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Payback for three straight losses comes on the road at Stanford, but will the Trojans cover?
Of course, the Cardinal loses quarterback Andrew Luck and two great offensive linemen, but in 2012, head coach David Shaw will be looking to the ground game to guide his teams fortunes, and in this area, Stanford is still to be feared.
With Stepfan Taylor—who has rushed for over 1000 yards in the last two seasons—leading the way, Shaw's best defense against the Trojans will be a clock-consuming run game.
On defense, USC can exploit a weak secondary, and although the Cardinal has a potentially great set of linebackers (especially if Shane Skov can return from knee surgery), the pass game will set up the rushing portion of what the Trojans have to offer.
Look for USC to wash three years of bad memories away in a big roadie win.
USC covers fairly handily
Saturday Sept. 22 vs. Cal: USC- 24
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Gee, when was the last time Cal beat the Trojans?
No matter; it's not going to happen in 2012, but what about the spread? Twenty-four points?
Now, I know many of you are saying that this won't be a problem, but consider this:
Cal returns a much-improved Zach Maynard at quarterback, along with their leading rusher, Isi Sofiele, and three offensive linemen.
However, the Bears defense has lost a lot of experience, including high NFL draft pick linebacker Mychal Kendricks, both defensive ends and a couple of starting safeties.
Still, Cal has recruited well on the defensive side of the ball, and if the youngsters mature quickly, they might make a game of it early.
USC just barely covers the spread.
Thursday Oct. 4 at Utah: USC- 16
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This will be an interesting game on the road where Utah is especially tough.
On offense, the Utes will welcome back quarterback Jordan Wynn, who is returning from an injury and will be led on the ground by veteran running back John White and his school record 1,519 yards in 2011.
However, if the Utes are to make any noise in 2012, they must rely on a stingy defense led by tackle Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's top defensive lineman.
To be certain, USC will not face a tougher defensive line all year.
And although Utah lost two linebackers, it has able players to step in and fill the void.
This game will be tougher than many think, and if the Trojans can't get some points early, it could be close.
USC doesn't cover, but wins by 10.
Saturday Oct. 13 at Washington: USC- 17
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It's a good thing that the Trojans get a couple of extra days to prepare for this game because it could be a doozy.
The Huskies return record-setting quarterback Keith Price, and while stud running back Chris Polk will have to be replaced (look for Bishop Sankey in that capacity), Price will have sophomores Austin Sefarian-Jenkins at tight end and Kasen Williams (wide receiver) in the passing game to give time for the running side of things to take hold.
Still, the defense was porous in 2011, and there is little reason to believe that beyond a year's experience gained, there will be significant improvement on that side of the ball.
For all of that, Huskie head coach Steve Sarkisian will be looking for revenge after the Trojans shellacked Washington at home last year, and Century Link Stadium is a very hostile place to play.
Because of this, USC will struggle, but get a high-scoring win.
USC wins by 10, but doesn't cover.
Saturday Oct. 20 vs. Colorado: USC- 36
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Can USC give 36 points to Colorado and still cover?
Whereas the Buffaloes basketball team came into the Pac-12 and made an immediate impact by winning the conference tournament, their football team yet to make much of an impact on the gridiron.
However, they are improving, as evidenced by the Buffs winning two of their final three conference games, including a 17-14 win at Utah.
But with their best player, wide receiver Paul Richardson, lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in the spring and having to break in a new quarterback, the offense will be suspect at best.
Couple that with a defense that only produced 15 turnovers in 13 games and was last or close to last in the conference in many statistical categories, and it is easy to see this game getting out of hand quickly.
USC covers in an lopsided affair
Saturday Oct. 27 at Arizona: USC- 14
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New head coach Rich Rodriguez should have implemented his spread option offense by this time with new fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott taking over for productive Nick Foles.
The Wildcats also return all five offensive linemen and three wide receivers that caught 60 or more passes last year, along with a tailback (Kadeem Carey) that could rush for more than a 1,000 yards this year.
So far, so good.
But with a defense that is thin at linebacker and in the secondary, Arizona will have to play way over its heads to keep Matt Barkley and his offense from hanging 50 on them.
The Trojans should have a big day at the Coliseum.
USC should cover easily
Saturday Nov. 3 vs. Oregon: USC- 6
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The Golden Nugget has the Trojans as favorites in every game they play this year, and this is the only one that they don't have them as at least double-digit winners.
Oregon will be looking for payback for last year's thrilling Trojan win at Autzen Stadium, but it will have a new quarterback and no LaMichael James in the backfield.
True, it still has Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas to run wild, but they have a suspect receiving crew once you get past tight end Colt Lyela.
On defense, the Ducks will be good with an experienced and deep line and a battle tested (but also scarred) secondary.
There will be some new faces in the linebacker unit, but they should be acclimated by the time this game rolls around.
How soon the new quarterback (either Brian Bennett or Marcus Mariota) clicks will go a long way toward how this game unfolds, but USC will not be denied at home.
USC covers and wins by 10
Saturday Nov. 10 vs. Arizona State: USC -27
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Could this be a "trap game" after the Trojans big win over Oregon the week before?
The Sun Devils will be replacing quarterback Brock Osweiler, three starting receivers and three offensive linemen in a revamped unit under first-year head coach Todd Graham.
Because of this, look for Arizona State's offense to struggle mightily this year.
Meanwhile, Sun Devil linebacker Vontaze Burfict has taken his lack of discipline to the NFL, but it should be noted that he always played well against the Trojans.
That same defense will also have to replace Burfict's starting linebacker mates and both safeties, which should make for a productive day for Matt Barkley and his crew.
All of which means USC gains a measure of revenge for last year's debacle at Tempe.
USC covers in another easy win
Saturday Nov. 17 at UCLA: USC- 16
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No, this is the "trap game" I alluded to in the last slide, and I said so as I detailed the various reasons why USC should be wary of this game more than two months ago.
Yes, UCLA has been hapless against the Trojans for more than a decade, and it seems to be constantly stuck in "rebuilding mode."
But this is a team hungry to prove to a new coach that there is some fight in the powder blue and gold, and there is some talent on both sides of the ball.
This is especially true of the defense where eight starters return for new defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, whose years in the NFL were spent crafting mostly solid 3-4 defenses but will also flip to a 4-3 when circumstances dictate.
The Trojans will win this game, but not by anything close to the 50-0 wipeout of 2011.
USC wins by 13 and does not cover
Saturday Nov. 24 vs Notre Dame: USC -14
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If Notre Dame can settle on a quarterback (and stay with him) and find a playmaker to replace wide receiver Michael Floyd (a huge challenge), the Fighting Irish have a chance to be pretty good in 2011.
That is, if they can survive a brutal schedule that finds them playing—get this—Michigan State, Michigan, Oklahoma, BYU and Stanford among others.
The Irish will have a good running game behind tailbacks Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, and tight end Tyler Eifert is as good as there is at his position.
Losing defensive end Aaron Lynch to transfer will hurt, but linebacker Manti Teo and a stout defensive line should keep Brian Kelly's boys in most games.
However, by the time the Irish rolls in to the coliseum, they will be a battered bunch, and their lack of talent in the defensive secondary will give Barkley and his boys little in the way of opposition.
USC covers and wins by three touchdowns