Some way-too-early offshore betting lines have been released for the first week of college football and USC is a heavy favorite over Hawaii.
The Trojans play the Warriors at Aloha Stadium on Thursday, August 29, and as of now, USC is a 19-point favorite. That will probably change and go up as opening week draws closer. But does a 19-point spread put the team under the gun?
USC beat Hawaii 49-10 last year at the Los Angeles Coliseum, so a 19-point spread this year seems a little on the low side. But for a team going on the road in its first game of the season under a new quarterback, new center, a green secondary and a cloud of disappointment, maybe that spread is about right.
In fact, it might be a little generous.
Hawaii did have a very poor 2012 season finishing 3-9. In its season opener at USC last year, Hawaii only had one senior starter on the field—Hawaii lost 49-10 but it did cover that contest's opening 42-point spread.
To be fair, the Warriors changed to a new offensive scheme last year under new head coach Norm Chow. And Hawaii may have had a better season if its offensive line had done a better job in pass protection. Still, Hawaii will improve under Chow.
In 2012, Chow changed up the offense from a four-wide, run-and-shoot offense to his favored pro set approach, which focuses more on tight ends and fullbacks. USC has had problems in the past with teams using this scheme, specifically Stanford.
But all this minutia aside, an opening 19-point spread may pose a few underlying problems for USC.
First, that line presumes an easy victory by USC, which could give the Trojans a sense of over confidence. Last year's 7-6 season won't sit well with the returning Trojan starters, but there may be some self-doubt simmering in the players' minds. As much as USC would like to forget its 2012 season, the so-called experts have not and that 19-point spread is fairly indicative of that.
USC should win handily but a blow out is not expected, according to that betting line.
Second, a 19-point spread is a lot less than the previous year's 42-point spread and that may be a result of lower expectations from the so-called experts. Many fans are under the impression that a point spread is equivalent to a handicap. Rather, a betting line is designed to influence potential bettors to wager on both sides of the spread. A handicap doesn't change but a point spread will adjust if one team is getting too much action.
If the 19-point spread goes down that would indicate that too many wagers were being placed on Hawaii. That's not exactly a ringing bell of endorsement for USC. If the line goes up, too many wagers were placed on USC—that could give USC a false sense of security. True, players supposedly don't pay attention to this sort of stuff, but thanks to the media, it's hard to avoid after the fact.
In fact, in USC's 23-14 victory over Utah in 2011, the game play itself didn't draw headlines. The controversial final score—which caused havoc in Las Vegas sport books—was garnering all of the attention.
Frankly, the Trojans are probably unaware of the opening line so this may be all moot. But with easy access to information via the Internet, some players may have unwittingly happened on the early betting line by simply googling USC. Technology has its drawbacks.
And so does playing in Hawaii.
Paradise can be very distracting. So can the three-hour jet lag and 5.5-hour plane trip to the Hawaiian Islands. That idyllic setting can induce players to let their guard down. A trip to Hawaii may be all business, but it's hard to ignore the nightlife and bikinis in Honolulu and on Waikiki Beach.
Head coach Lane Kiffin will no doubt have curfews set while the team is in Hawaii, as well as have his team on a plane as soon as the game is over. The question is, will USC's August 29 headline be a big splash across every major news outlet's front page banner (a huge upset) or will it just be a small blip (expected victory) on page two?
One thing is for sure—USC is now officially under pressure. The Trojans are expected to win big.
And in 120 days we'll have our first glimpse of USC's rebuilt secondary vs. Hawaii's offense.