USC'S Defense, Ball Possession the Keys



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Yesterday we looked at the Auburn/Ole Miss game, the first of two marquee matchups Saturday that will feature a #1 team (the BCS #1 in the case of Auburn) on the road against dangerous conference rivals. Today, we look at Oregon (#1 in the wire service polls) as they visit Southern Cal in prime time this evening.

It's hard to forget what happened the last time these two teams met:

Total Yardage: USC 327, Oregon 613

And Southern Cal was favored! JIM HURLEY was among many top handicappers who had a major release on the Ducks in this game last year. It had to be one of the worst lines ever posted by Vegas oddsmakers in football history.

*Oregon was the better team, by quite a good bit
*Oregon was playing at home
*Southern Cal had failed to cover five of its last six games, firmly establishing that they were very overrated.

It was never a ballgame. Oregon would go on to win the Pac 10 and play in the Rose Bowl. Southern Cal would play in a bowl named after a nut company, then would have to clean house in the offseason because of so many off-the-field transgressions in recent seasons.

This year?

Oregon may be even BETTER than last year's squad, even though they have a new quarterback. They're certainly obliterating whoever stands in their way on a regular basis. Southern Cal might actually be worse than last year given poor showings vs. Hawaii, Virginia, Washington, and a loss to Stanford that at least covered the spread.

Oddsmakers have made an adjustment. Oregon is -7 on the road this year rather than +3 at home. Is that enough of an adjustment considering the 47-20 final in 2009? Or, has Vegas gone overboard, overreacting to Oregon's tendency to run up the score when teams give up hope. What if USC shows up breathing fire with revenge? What if USC doesn't give up hope?

To us, the key factor here is very clearly the Southern Cal defense. Oregon is a juggernaut that moves the ball at will and rings up the scoreboard when facing vulnerable defenses. USC is vulnerable:

*Hawaii scored 36 points in the season opener, and drive the field very easily

*Washington scored 32 points a few weeks ago, even though they had struggled to score on other opponents. This was an embarrassing loss for USC in what should have been a revenge spot.

*Stanford scored 37 points two games ago. That's not too embarrassing because Stanford is very good. Oregon's offense is better than Stanford's, as you saw when they played head to head.

Based on THOSE games, Oregon is going to score 45 points at a minimum. They'll have a shot at 50 or more with some field position breaks. It's very unlikely that a #1 team will lose outright (as many BCS watchers are hoping) or will fail to cover the spread if they're marching into the end zone all night.

Hold on though, there's good news for Southern Cal:

*USC is coming off a bye week which will help the defense be as fresh as possible.

*USC is gradually getting injured defenders back, which means they're likely to be better on that side of the ball going forward than they have so far.

*USC just played a GREAT defensive game at home against Cal before the bye, suggesting a true shot to take a power like Oregon down to the wire.

Let's take a closer look at the key stats in that one:

Total Yardage: California 245, USC 602
Rushing Yardage: California 52, USC 211
Passing Stats: California 15-29-2-193, USC 30-44-0-391
Turnovers: California 2, USC 1
Third Downs: California 20%, USC 50%
Time of Possession: California 23, USC 37
Vegas Line: USC by 2, total of 54
Comments: Now, THIS is the perfect game! If Southern Cal can approximate anything resembling THIS, Oregon is going to be in for a battle.

*USC's defense kept Cal below 250 total yards, and below 55 rushing yards. This isn't some weakling like Washington State we're talking about. Cal is a bowl team, and was a popular choice by some pundits to win this game. Oddsmakers had Cal as the better team on a neutral field with a line below a field goal. HUGE performance from the USC defense. How about that 20% mark on third down conversions.

*USC's offense obviously exploded too. But, you expect that from the most talented team in the West. They weren't shy about running up the score either. Maybe that's created an illusion...because crushing a team that's thrown in the towel isn't that hard. Or, maybe it's a sign that USC has its mojo back.

*USC won time of possession handily, which may be the most important red flag in the numbers. That's why we included it this time. USC has a REAL chance to take out Oregon if they can control the ball like that. Oregon can't score if they're not on the field. Oregon will feel added pressure to produce if they're only touching the ball a couple of times per quarter. That leads to turnovers. Defense AND time of possession can create a synergy that leads to an upset for the Trojans.

We end up saying this every week...but it's always true! This is a very volatile game in a season where volatility is ruling the day. When underdogs play at a peak level, they can win outright and beat a Vegas spread by double digits. When Oregon is playing well, the spread doesn't even matter in their games. They have the full game spread covered by halftime...and the spanking has barely begun!

This could be another in the string of #1 upsets. It could be Oregon's latest slaughter. That's what makes college football so fun this year for fans. That's what makes it so profitable for PROVEN WINNERS like JIM HURLEY who know how to read the indicators.

NETWORK may or may not have a big play in Oregon/USC. It's a huge Saturday card, and we only get you the best plays on the board. We CAN assure you that a GAME OF THE YEAR caliber release is on today's ticket...and we'll definitely be making headlines with a major move in a high profile game.

Among the matchups getting serious consideration for us today:

Auburn at Ole Miss (see the archives if you missed yesterday's preview)
Oregon at USC (obviously)
Michigan State at Iowa (tough spot for undefeated MSU)
Missouri at Nebraska (ditto for unblemished Mizzou)
Florida at Georgia (don't forget the cocktail party!)
Utah at Air Force (sleeper game in the MWC)
Michigan at Penn State (TV tussle in the Big 10)
Baylor at Texas (Horns playing spoiler?)
Tulsa at Notre Dame (Over/Under possibility)
East Carolina at Central Florida (big matchup in CUSA)

You can purchase game day releases a few hours before kickoff whenever there's football (or any sport!) on the card. Don't forget about our special WEEKEND PASS for $99 that gets you Saturday through Monday in the colleges and the pros from our BLUE RIBBON, CLOSED CIRCUIT, and TOUCHDOWN clubs. Seasonal packages are also available.

If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about adding early season NBA and the World Series to your package. Games Three, Four, and Five are in Arlington this weekend.

Will history KEEP repeating itself with another big time upset? Or, is Oregon ready to slam the door shut upset talk? The man with the answers has been cashing tickets for his clients for almost 25 years. DON'T MAKE A MOVE IN SATURDAY'S COLLEGE ACTION UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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