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NCAA Football Futures: USC Handicapping

NCAAF Betting Lines: The Fall (And Rise) Of The USC Trojans

Something’s missing this summer. For the first time in eight years, the USC Trojans are not in their familiar preseason position on the top rung of the college football futures market. They won’t be showing up anytime soon, either.

The Trojans are on probation for the sixth time in the program’s history, ineligible for bowl games in both 2010 and 2011 after the NCAA brought the hammer down in June for violations that occurred during the Reggie Bush years.

The other 119 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision have all been affected to some degree or another by USC’s demise – perhaps none more than the Tennessee Volunteers. Once Pete Carroll abandoned ship and moved north to coach the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Lane Kiffin resigned his post with the Volunteers in order to take over the Trojans, where he served under Carroll as offensive co-coordinator from 2001 to 2006.

The Vols had trouble attracting a new coach after Kiffin left; they eventually went with 42-year-old Derek Dooley, who went 17-20 in three years at Louisiana Tech. Dooley has the bloodlines – he’s the son of former Georgia Bulldogs coach Vince Dooley – but he doesn’t have much of a track record. After decades of success in the SEC, Tennessee’s championship football odds have plunged all the way to 75-1 as a result.

USC’s postseason ban also has a direct impact on the top contenders in the Pacific-10. The path to the Rose Bowl (or better) just got that much easier for the Oregon Ducks, 5-2 favorites to defend their conference title and 35-1 to win the national championship. The Oregon State Beavers (3-1, 40-1) will provide tough competition, but Oregon returns most of the offense, including the entire offensive line, that led the Ducks to a 10-3 record (7-6 ATS) under first-year head coach Chip Kelly.

The leading national title candidates solidify their place atop the odds table without the Trojans around, and the favored Alabama Crimson Tide (4-1) even get an extra little boost in the SEC with Kiffin dumping the Volunteers. The Ohio State Buckeyes (5-1) have lost seven straight games against USC, including last year’s 18-15 heartbreaker in Week 2 with OSU getting seven points, so they won’t mind not seeing the Trojans in the postseason. And both the Boise State Broncos (8-1) and the TCU Horned Frogs (18-1) have a much better chance of getting a BCS bowl bid as non-BCS teams.

Believe it or not, the Trojans themselves will be largely unaffected by their scandal. Yes, they’ve lost Carroll, who experienced unparalleled success in his short nine years at USC. But the Trojans still have cachet, and Kiffin has hung onto most of USC’s talent (DE Malik Jackson to Tennessee being one notable exception), adding to it a strong recruiting class of his own. The Trojans have a total of 9.5 wins up on the board for 2010, with the OVER pegged at –140.

As disappointing as the 2009 campaign was for the Trojans, they still finished 9-4 (4-9 ATS) and won the Emerald Bowl 24-13 over the Boston College Eagles (+7). True freshman quarterback Matt Barkley (15 TDs, 14 INTs) was a bit awkward at times and missed the Week 3 loss to the Washington Huskies (+20.5) with a shoulder bruise. However, Barkley is well on his way to becoming the next big QB coming out of the Trojan program, following in the Heisman-winning footsteps of Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

The running back situation is in flux after Joe McKnight (6.2 yards per carry, eight TDs) went pro early. Senior RB Allen Bradford (5.8 yards per carry, eight TDs) isn’t considered a “home-run hitter” by Kiffin, but he’s a tank at 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, and he’s got deceptive speed. Freshman Dillon Baxter also has a chance to do some big things this year after making a strong impression this spring. The offensive line loses Charles Brown and Jeff Byers, and recruit Seantrel Henderson de-committed to sign instead with the Miami Hurricanes. But stud center Kristofer O’Dowd is poised for a bounce-back season after an injury-plagued 2009. Barkley has enough tools around him to get the job done; it might be a little early to pick him for the Heisman, but those 30-1 odds are tempting.

The bigger issues for the Trojans are on defense. The line is strong as always, but USC has unproven talent in the secondary, and that could be their undoing in the offensively charged Pac-10. Kiffin and the Trojans have three non-con games to figure it out, starting with the Hawaii Warriors on September 2.

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