Matt Barkley, USC (-8); Matt Stafford, Lions (+7); Two Bets You Can "Shake" on

Mark CrystelContributor IIISeptember 13, 2012

Matt Barkley and USC went full circle from (+8) in 2011 to (-8) in 2012
Matt Barkley and USC went full circle from (+8) in 2011 to (-8) in 2012Rich Schultz/Getty Images

If there was ever a time when USC wanted a three-and-out from an opponent, it was at the end of last season's game with Stanford. 

That's three years, and out. 

This year, luck has everything to do with it. 

And that's Andrew Luck. 

USC will finally have a chance to get that monkey, or should I say, Cardinal off its back because Andrew Luck, the man primarily responsible for Stanford's three game winning streak over USC, has moved on.

And unfortunately for Stanford, he took his 53 percent third down conversion rate, and 97 percent red-zone efficiency from 2011 with him too. 

Stanford also ranked top three in the country for fewest punts in each of the last three seasons, but all that will change in 2012.

And no team could be happier than the USC Trojans.

Following a 1-11 season in 2006, Stanford shocked the country in 2007 with an amazing win at USC. It was amazing because the Cardinal were a 39 point underdog.

Proving that was no fluke, Stanford won at USC once again in 2009 as a 10 point underdog and scored 55 points with Andrew Luck under center.  By 2010 they went full circle to a 10 point favorite and defeated the Trojans once again before capping off Luck's career by winning the triple overtime thriller last season.


This year, the Pac-12 California showdown is USC's to win.

After an easy win over Hawaii followed by a cross country trip and a win over Syracuse in a game the Trojans controlled, Matt Barkley will open up conference play at Stanford but he'll be going up against new quarterback Josh Nunes.

Also new are the numbers he's putting up.

Through two games Stanford is undefeated but the stats aren't what they were with Andrew Luck. A 57-3 win over San Jose State last season translated into a game the Cardinal had to hold on to win by a field goal.

Last season Stanford traveled to Duke and put up more than 500 yards of offense, but this season they were out-gained at home but got by the Blue Devils 50-13 helped in part by long punt and interception returns for touchdowns, and four Duke turnovers. 

All this spells trouble for David Shaw's team against USC's offense.

Last season Andrew Luck could orchestrate long scoring drives which kept Stanford's defensive unit on the bench and resting.

Now that Luck is gone, Stanford will have more three-and-outs and more offensive drives that stall, which will keep its defense on the field longer against Matt Barkley's potent offense.

Stanford was an eight-point favorite at USC last season, but without Andrew Luck, the Trojans received a 16 point promotion with odds makers from last year's game and they are now the eight-point favorites on the road.

Considering the Trojans put up 34 regulation points last season against Stanford and 35 the year before, expect USC to at least match that for this game.

The question is:  can Stanford come close to matching USC? 

Either way, this season, luck just might have everything to do with it.

Take USC to cover eight points

About 35 miles up the San Francisco Bay will be the game of the day in the NFL on Sunday, as the Lions head west to Candlestick Park for a rematch against the 49ers and the now infamous post game handshake between coach Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz. 

"When these two teams take the field on Sunday, that won't be on one player's mind" said Schwartz, when asked about the near scuffle that ensued after Harbaugh patted Schwartz a little too hard on the back after a 25-20 win at Detroit.

Notice what Schwartz left out.

It won't be on the players mind, he says.

But he forgot something.

How about "It won't be on my mind."

But that's not what he said.  He seemed to conveniently leave that part out.

Perhaps that's because it still is on his mind.  As a matter of fact, this game was probably circled on his schedule as soon as the schedule came out!

Jim Schwartz is an ego guy. And he worked with some of the NFL's best and most well known coaches.

Schwartz started under Bill Belichick in the 90's before taking the defensive coordinator job with the Titans from 2001 until 2008 when Lions, coming off a winless season, hired him as their head coach after the 49ers turned him down in 2005.

"If you spot it, you got it" is a phrase often used by psychologists to describe how a person reacts when he/she gets angry at another person's egotistical behavior, with the notion in mind that the spotter has the same attributes.

Considering Schwartz's response to Harbaugh's overly aggressive and excited handshake and slap on the back following last season's game (Schwartz got very angry and chased Harbaugh down the field, almost getting in a fight), one could come to the conclusion that Schwartz's ego was not only damaged, but that he will have done some extra homework for this game plan and will be out for some major revenge. 

Aside from all the drama associated with this game, there are some noteworthy stats to consider.  Last season the 49ers, who are about seven-point favorites in this game, were an amazing plus-32 in turnover margin until the playoff game against the Saints.  It could mean they were very disciplined. But it also means they were very lucky. 

That great turnover ratio translated into a 13-3 record during the 2011 regular season and nine straight games without a loss against the spread.

It's highly unlikely the Niners will be able to match such a statistical record, so the question becomes whether or not they will be able to win games in the trenches.

If their game at Green Bay is any indication, the answer is yes.

Keep in mind however, Kansas City also defeated the Packers last season then lost at home in its next game as a favorite.

The 49ers' defense is considered by some to be the best in the league, but the Lions have some major momentum after a comeback win over the Rams.  They also made a bit of team history, as it marked the first time since 1972 the Lions won a game where they were minus-three or more in turnover margin.

If the Lions go 1-14 the rest of the season, this is the game Jim Schwartz will want to win, as it will be the ultimate payback from last season's ego deflation.

Like Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair when he created a complicated and pre-meditated plot to steal an expensive painting from the museum, only to put it up on his own wall for a night, sit back on his chair, look at it and revel in the rush of the ego trip, a win at San Francisco will give Jim Schwartz far more than a chance to smile when he shakes Harbaugh's hand at the end of this game.

Like Brosnan, he'll be able to kick his feet up when he gets home, sit back, and just smile to himself. 

Take Detroit to cover seven  points 


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