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California Bears at USC Trojans

Nov – 2008

We’ve got a really good PAC-10 match-up on tap for Saturday, with the 6-2 Golden Bears of Cal-Berkeley traveling on down to the Coliseum to take on the 7-1 USC Trojans. USC is currently sitting at 5-1 in the conference, but Cal is right there with them at 4-1.

USC has been on fire since their lone loss of the season 6 weeks ago at Oregon State. since then they’ve reeled of 5 wins in a row, iNCluding shutouts of Arizona St., Washington St. and Washington. In those 5 Games, they have out-scored the opposition 214-20. If you look closer though, the 3 shutouts were against teams that are 1-15 in the Conference and 3-22 overall. One of the other wins was a 17-10 road win over 5-3 Arizona (3-2 in conference). I guess the most impressive win was a 44-10 pasting of the Oregon Ducks in the Coliseum the week following the loss to the Beavers. But now we find them a 22.5 pt favorite (and climbing) over the Cal Bears who are a pretty good football team right now.

The Bears have won 4 of their last 5 Games to climb to 6-2 overall. Their only 2 losses have been a 7 pt loss at Maryland and a 15 pt loss at Arizona. In their 5 Conference Games, they are averaging 36.8 points per Game and giving up just 19. In the PAC-10 they are ranked 3rd in total defense, 4th in total offense, 1st in turnover margin and 2nd in passing efficieNCy defense with 17 INT’s (tops in the Conference by 5) and just 7 passing TD’s allowed. RB Jahvid Best ranks 2nd in the Conference with an average of 105 ypg rushing, and 1st in all-purpose running with 173 ypg. Cal has 2 capable QB’s in Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley, who have combined for over 1800 yds and 18 TD’s to just 7 INT’s.

We all know about USC and QB Mark SaNChez, who is completing 65% of his passes for 1884 yds and 22 TD’s to just 7 INT’s. They’ve got playmakers all over the field on both offense and defense. They are ranked 1st in the Conference in pass efficieNCy defense with 12 INT’s and have allowed only 2 passing TD’s all year. They are 2nd in passing offense efficieNCy with 24 passing TD’s, which is 6 more than California. They are 1st in rushing defense, giving up an average of just 84 ypg, and they are 3rd in rushing offense with an average of 204 ypg. But they can look very average, as we saw against Oregon St and Arizona. They have had a pretty easy Schedule, and this Game is likely to be the toughest to date. They are getting way too much credit for their recent combined 125-0 dominations over Washington and Washington St. Heck, even Stanford beat Washington St. by a score of 58-0. Those are really bad teams.

The line on this Game opened at –17 and has climbed steadily to the current line of –22.5 ( as of this writing) . Any value that existed for USC is long gone, and now the value sides with the Cal Bears. To give you an idea of how huge this line is, the Bears have only been underdogs of 20+ points in a Conference Game 3 times since 1996, and they are 2-1 ATS in those Games. However, USC did beat them 35-10 as an 18.5 pt favorite in 2005. But that was a Matt Leinart, LenDale White, Reggie Bush led Trojan team, and Cal had somebody named Joe Ayoob at QB? USC hogged the ball in that one, allowing the Bears just 23:57 in time of possession, and Ayoob went 9 of 19 for 98 yds, 4 INT’s and 0 INT’s. Of interest though, Cal had a RB named Marshawn LyNCh in that Game who ran for 87 yds on just 13 carries, for a 6.7 ypc average. And they also had a WR named DeSean Jackson who caught 1 pass for 9 yds. The Trojans went 12-0 that year in the regular season before losing to the ViNCe Young-led Texas Longhorns in the championship Game.

In the past 12 meetings between these teams, California has gone 5-7 SU and 6-6 ATS. Only 2 times has the margin of victory been more than14 points. Six times, the margin of victory was 7 points or less. USC is 3-6 ATS in their last 9 Games as a home favorite of 21 points or more. They are 3-9 ATS in their last 12 Games as a home favorite of 18.5 or more.

This is way too many points for this match-up. Virtually everyone seems to be jumping on USC, which is typically a bad sign. Who knows, maybe they will pull it off. But the smart bet is to take the 3+ TD’s and a pretty decent Cal Bear team that figures to be fired up for this one. And what’s good for us is that Cal could lose by something like 36-14 or 41-20 and we’d still be winners. I’d recommend taking Cal +22.5, or anything over 3 TD’s.

Last week I suggested taking Stanford –30 against the hapless Washington St CouGArs. Stanford covered easily, winning 58-0. Washington St has lost their last 3 Games 66-13, 69-0 and 58-0. They have been out-scored in their 6 Conference Games 350-33, and the average margin of defeat has been 53.8 pts. They are down to their 3rd string QB and have had a ton of injuries. This week they host Arizona who has been made 40 pt favorites. Arizona is at 5-3 and needs 1 more win to become bowl eligible, and with Oregon St., Oregon and Arizona left on the Schedule I don’t think they want to take anything for granted. This should be another blowout, as this Arizona team is better than the Stanford team that just pasted them 58-0.



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