- What will the line be for the August opener vs. Southern California?
Obviously it’s a bit early to prognosticate on a single game, but this may be the most interesting question of the five so let’s give it a shot. Southern Cal finished the season ranked #3 in the AP poll and #2 in the USA Today poll. If you believe history matters, this marks the sixth consecutive season in the top 4 of both polls. Combined record: 70-8. During the same stretch, Virginia was 46-30 and finished in the top 25 of both polls just three times.
Over the past six years, the 70 USC wins by an average margin of 24 points. On the road, the average margin drops to… 23. The past three openers have been 28-, 36-, and 46-point victories for USC. Virginia will likely have a record crowd on hand cheering for the underdog in Charlottesville, but even that may not help keep the score close. VPI kept it within 11 in 2004, losing 24-13 before 91,665 mostly pro-Tech fans at FedEx Field. To open the 2004 season, USC beat an Arkansas team that went 10-4 by 36 points – 50-14 – in front of a record crowd of 76,564. In the 2003 opener, USC shut out an 8-5 Auburn team 23-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 86,063.
USC opened last year at home against Idaho and was a 45-point favorite. The last time we saw USC, they were 14-point favorites in the Rose Bowl against Illinois – the largest spread among all 32 bowls. Southern Cal squeaked by 49-17. Their biggest game before that? A 44-24 pasting of then-#7 Arizona State in Tempe. USC was leading by 27 heading into the 4th quarter, and clearly proved the single-digit line to be too small. Back in 2005, somewhat funny Maryland grad Norman Chad, detailed USC’s record at the time against the spread:
Eight times in the last two seasons, the Trojans have covered spreads of 24 points or more. Last year, minus-37 against Washington, USC won, 38-0; minus-35 against Arizona, USC won, 49-9. This season, minus-35 at Hawaii, USC won, 63-17; minus-29 against Arkansas, USC won 70-17.
You may recall in last season’s BCS title game — pick ’em versus Oklahoma — USC won by, uh, 55-19 or thereabouts.
At this point, if I were a betting man, I would have to take USC minus 23 1/2 against a UFO.
While it is true USC will likely not be the clear national favorite heading into the season that they have been in 3 of the last 4 years, there will be plenty of talent on the flight East. There is a stud playmaker in the backfield in Joe McKnight and two former high school All-Americans with experience (Mark Sanchez and Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain) competing for the QB job. Onetime Virginia recruiting target Vidal Hazelton will lead the always dangerous receiving corps. On defense, the losses are smaller for a unit that was ranked #2 nationally in total defense and scoring defense. And of course, head coach Pete Carroll is back after declining mega-millions in the NFL yet again.
Look for the August 30th line to be in the neighborhood of 20 points. But even that would be less than half of what USC was favored to win by against Stanford last year at home… when the lost 24-23.