USC Aiming to Bounce Back Under Kiffin



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Given some of the early season discussions about the USC program, you'd have thought they didn't play any games on the field in 2009. Heading into tonight's season opener at Hawaii (to be televised by ESPN), this is the scuttlebutt...

*There's a lot of talk about off-the-field transgressions.

*There's a lot of talk about a lack of institutional control...about a program that became DOMINANT in recent years because of that lack of control. Talk about that ESPN! Future NFL stars loved going to USC because there was so little control over what they could and couldn't do!

*There's a lot of talk about Pete Carroll fleeing for the pro's just when the hammer was about to come down on him for allowing the mess to grow so big in the first place.

*There's a lot of talk wondering how a guy who couldn't keep his players out of trouble in his limited time in Tennessee is the man to clean things up at USC.

Yes, Lane Kiffin is the man you want running the show when your players keep showing up in tabloid reports!

It's easy to forget about that happened last year. When Southern Cal turned into one of the most overrated major programs of recent memory...and continued to burn money for backers on a weekly basis.

Do you remember these debacles?

*USC (-20.5) lost at Washington 16-13 in mid-September. Washington wasn't very good last year. They have a touted quarterback who can't pass accurately. That's about it. USC was supposed to beat them by three touchdowns, but couldn't even score two touchdowns! This came on the heels of an 18-15 nailbiter with Ohio State that made it clear that young quarterback Matt Barkely was far from a phenom. He's got plenty of time to develop into one. He wasn't one as a freshman.

*USC (-45.5) beat Washington State 27-6 the next week. Great bounce back guys! When USC should have been breathing fire off an embarrassing loss, they kicked the ball around all day against one of the worst teams in the country, and possibly the worst Pac 10 team of the last 50 years. If you know what you're doing, you can lead Washington State 27-6 in the second quarter. Many opponents proved that last year. USC missed the spread by 24 points.

*USC (-21) beat Oregon State 42-36. Southern Cal trailed 36-35 in the fourth quarter, at home, as a three-touchdown favorite. This was an early sign that the defense was going to have problems vs. quality. They hadn't faced many good offenses early. The week before this game, USC allowed 27 to Notre Dame and Jimmy Claussen. That was the first hole in the dike. Oregon State popping a 36 was the second. In terms of the national rankings, USC was still getting respect. They were 6-1 straight up even if they were 2-5 against the spread with some very bad misses. The season was about to come crumbling down.

*USC (-3) lost to Oregon 47-20. Yup, a 30-point non-cover where the team was never in the game. The supposedly fantastic defense made up of superstars was outclassed from the get-go. Many handicapping services saw this one coming, and got their clients on Oregon. Why in the world did oddsmakers think Southern Cal was the better team? You're going to lose to Washington, struggle with Washington State, barely survive Notre Dame and Oregon State...then you're going travel to Oregon and win? An obliteration.

*USC (-11) lost to Stanford 55-21 two weeks later. Their chance to atone vs. a top opponent. Their chance to remind everyone that they were still a force to be reckoned with. USC missed the spread by 45 points!

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Southern Cal would split their last two games to end the season 8-4, with a poor 3-9 record against Vegas expectations. They did win and cover their bowl game vs. a weaker than usual Boston College team, salvaging some pride.

As we mentioned in the Pac 10 Preview we wrote a few weeks back (check the archives for ALL of our conference previews if you were travelling during the summer), the national stat rankings for USC were stunningly bad for a power program.

OFFENSE: 55th in the country
DEFENSE: 40th in the country

This is supposed to be a group of future NFL'ers. They graded out as about the 45-50th team in the nation...playing in a conference that was exposed as overrated once so many teams lost in their bowls (particularly Oregon in the Rose Bowl who lost as a favorite to Ohio State, Oregon State and Cal losing as favorites to Mountain West teams in early bowls, and Arizona missing the spread by about 30 points to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl). When you adjust for the schedule, were they even a top 50 team?

USC is once again getting early season respect this year...because the media just can't help themselves. The Trojans are ranked 14th in the AP poll despite a lack of evidence they're really top 25. USC is banned from the Coach's Poll because of their offseason issues. The team is also banned from winning the Pac 10 this year or playing in the postseason.

They're not banned from the Las Vegas boards though...which means handicappers need to make sure they've got a good read on this team. Will the oddsmakers be able to post numbers that actually make sense this season? Will the team find some pride and make a run at their past form? Or, are the players so demoralized about having to behave like real college students during a year where nothing is at stake that a disaster is at hand.

We're always encouraging you to look for volatility in the betting markets. If the collapse continues, USC is looking at another 3-9 type season vs. the number. If they play with pride, and the young talent comes into its own...they could be the best team in a BCS conference with a chip on their shoulder. That's been a moneymaker in recent seasons.

We'll be watching the season opener tonight at Hawaii very closely. In terms of physicality, this should be a mismatch. 'Old' USC would have won this game 64-13. A power team ranked in the teens has the ability to win 51-10. That's what Wisconsin won by on this field last December...and that team is currently #12 in the rankings. If we don't see a bunch of athletes breathing fire, we're going to be down on USC again this season.

And, frankly, even if we do...we'll be skeptical for awhile. Last year's team ran up the score on lowly San Jose State before falling apart. USC actually has an easy early schedule, which makes analysis a bit dicey.

*at Hawaii...which shouldn't present physical challenges.
*vs. Virginia...a rebuilding ACC team with a new head coach.
*at Minnesota...picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 10
*vs. Washington State...should still be a gift
*vs. Washington...a revenge spot against a team that had BETTER get USC's juices flowing.

That's the first five games. Maybe a blowout vs. Hawaii signals 4-5 pending blowouts before trouble sets in. A struggle...and you won't see us laying points with the Trojans any time soon.

The biggest games on the remaining slate look to be:

*October 9th: A road trip to dangerous Stanford, who's QB is getting talked up in the Heisman race.

*October 30th: A home game against Oregon, which many expect to determine who finishes first in the Pac 10 this season (though USC is ineligible to carry a trophy home).

*November 27th: At home against Notre Dame, who could well be a big story this season if new coach Brian Kelly has his way. Even if the Irish struggle early in the transition, they may be clicking on all cylinders by late November.

Lane Kiffin has lucked into an easy schedule. Virginia and Minnesota have fielded better teams in recent years (as has Hawaii for that matter). Both Oregon and Stanford lost star contributors on offense. The league as a whole is fading in the wrong direction. That's as good as you can hope for when stepping up to a power program as head coach in a BCS league. Is he up to the task? The answers will start to come in tonight.

JIM HURLEY has been waiting MONTHS for the college season to arrive. IT'S HERE! COLLEGE FOOTBALL STARTS TONIGHT!

You can purchase this evening's season opening selections online. Or, sign up for full season BLUE RIBBON or CLOSED CIRCUIT service with your credit card. If you'd like more information on NETWORK offerings, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We may have something for you in USC/Hawaii. TV games Southern Miss/South Carolina and Pittsburgh/Utah are also in sight on our radar. The fun continues Friday with Arizona/Toledo. Saturday's busy slate features North Carolina/LSU, Oregon State/TCU and Purdue/Notre Dame.

Southern Cal's fall from grace in 2009 showed you how quickly a big name team can run into trouble. The biggest name in handicapping has never run into trouble. JIM HURLEY'S BEEN HELPING YOU CASH TICKETS FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS! KICK OFF YOUR 2010 SEASON WITH NETWORK TONIGHT!

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