Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022 | 2 a.m.
No team coming into the season sparked greater debate than USC ahead of coach Lincoln Riley’s first season in Los Angeles.
The betting public as a whole embraced the Trojans, cutting them from as high as 50-to-1 to win the College Football Playoff to as low as 20-to-1 as they became the most popular futures bet at Caesars/William Hill. A vocal opposition also emerged, however, ridiculing the familiar USC hype and declaring it not ready to compete at the highest levels of college football.
So far, the former group is feeling better about their position. USC has won and covered in each of its first three games, scoring at least 40 points in all of them.
The Trojans’ odds to win the College Football Playoff are down to 14-to-1 at Caesars, where quarterback Caleb Williams is the second-choice to win the Heisman Trophy at +325 (i.e. risking $100 to win $325).
But the dissenters aren’t dead yet. USC has experienced some good fortune to aid its hot start.
The Trojans had a +4 turnover margin, including two takeaways in the red zone, as part of its 41-28 Week 2 win over Stanford as 10-point favorites. They were +2 against last week while laying 11.5 points to Fresno State, which they ultimately blew out 45-17 after the Bulldogs’ star quarterback Jake Haener suffered an ankle injury.
I was more of a USC believer coming into the season, snagging 50-to-1 on it to win the College Football Playoff and 15-to-1 on Williams to win the Heisman last January, but feel more in between the two camps now. The Trojans will be a fascinating team to watch going forward, especially this week when they have their toughest game yet at Oregon State as 6.5-point favorites.
Read below for picks on that game and every other Week 4 contest. Lines are the best available on the chosen side at publication time in Nevada. Picks are labeled with three separate confidence categories. The record for the season stands at 89-63-2 (19-17 on plays, 37-20-2 on leans and 33-26 on guesses) after a 31-18 (5-6 on plays, 11-8 on leans and 15-4 on guesses) Week 3.
Maryland +16 at Michigan, over/under: 62.5. The number seems fair, but this is Michigan’s only remotely tough game for the first month-and-a-half of the season. It’s likely that Jim Harbaugh and his staff have been looking ahead to this game since the offseason and will have some new wrinkles to deploy. Guess: Michigan -16.
Clemson -7 at Wake Forest, over/under: 55. Wake Forest’s advantage at quarterback with Sam Hartman against Clemson’s D.J. Uiagelelei makes the underdog tempting, but its shaky defense is too much of a liability. Clemson blasted Wake Forest 48-37 as 3.5-point favorites last year, and the number in this year’s rematch should be closer to 10. Lean: Clemson -7.
Florida +11 at Tennessee, over/under: 62.5. Florida’s young secondary should get picked apart by Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker. Look for this spread to climb closer to two touchdowns. Play: Tennessee-11.
Oregon -5.5 at Washington State, over/under: 54. Before Washington State’s victory at Washington two weeks ago — a game the Cougars arguably shouldn’t have won — Oregon would have been more than a touchdown favorite. It’s puzzling that the Ducks aren’t getting a similar positive adjustment for last week’s impressive 41-20 smackdown of BYU. Lean: Oregon -5.5.
Arkansas +2 at Texas A&M, over/under: 48. I’ve sworn off betting against Arkansas after it’s seemingly beaten me on a weekly basis the last two years, but Texas A&M looks awfully tempting here. As inept as the Aggies’ offense has consisntely looked, its defense is among the stingiest in the nation. Lean: Texas A&M -2.
Wisconsin +18.5 at Ohio State, over/under: 55.5. Wisconsin won’t win but could slow down the pace enough to make things interesting. Badgers running back Braelon Allen will be far and away the best offensive player the Buckeyes have seen thus far. Guess: Wisconsin +18.5.
Kansas State +12 at Oklahoma, over/under: 51.5. The betting market continues to show Kansas State a high level of respect despite it having demonstrated no signs of a passing game. The Wildcats are well-coached and should be able to keep it close for a while, but the Sooners’ talent should win out in the end. Guess: Oklahoma -12.
USC -6.5 at Oregon State, over/under: 69. The way USC is winning unsustainable. It’s hard to consider betting against the Trojans at anything less than 7, but Beavers coach Jonathan Smith is the type of offensive tactician that could find tricky ways to attack what’s so far been a subpar defense. Guess: Oregon State +6.5.
West Virginia -3 at Virginia Tech, over/under: 53. Virginia Tech was downgraded too far off a fluky 20-17 loss to Old Dominion in Week 1. The Hokies are strong defensively, and could even see their offense get on track against a porous Mountaineers’ stop unit. Play: Virginia Tech +3.
Bowling Green +30 at Mississippi State, over/under: 56.5. Bowling Green somehow upset Marshall as 17-point underdogs last week despite getting outgained by more than 2 yards per play. This isn’t a great spot for the Bulldogs with the Falcons sandwiched in between two SEC games, but the former so thoroughly outmans the latter that it shouldn’t matter. Play: Mississippi State -30.
Duke +9.5 at Kansas, over/under: 64.5. Kansas deservedly gotten a big boost from the betting market after knocking off West Virginia and Houston in consecutive weeks. Duke hasn’t but deserves one too after also starting 3-0 while compiling one of the nation’s best net yard per play figures at +3.1. Play: Duke +9.5.
Minnesota -3 at Michigan State, over/under: 51.5. Minnesota has looked extremely impressive, but it might have played the easiest schedule in the nation so far. This number opened at Michigan State -1.5, which felt like the fair price. Play: Michigan State +3.
Tulsa +20.5 at Ole Miss, over/under: 62.5. Ole Miss is built to blow out inferior opponents with a talent-rich defense and a bullying offense. For the second week in a row — last week Ole Miss smashed Georgia Tech 42-0 as 17-point favorites — the spread looks a few points short. Play: Ole Miss -20.5.
Marshall -2 at Troy, over/under: 52. Call the defenses a draw considering the Thundering Herd and Trojans have two of the best in the Sun Belt Conference. But Marshall has the much more competent offense behind Texas Tech transfer quarterback Henry Colombi. Play: Marshall -2.
Charlotte +23 at South Carolina, over/under: 49.5. The 49ers have some bite back with the return of veteran quarterback Chris Reynolds back. South Carolina is a mess and not at 100% coming off of a physically-taxing 48-7 loss to Georgia as 25-point underdogs. Play: Charlotte +23.
Boston College +17 at Florida State, over/under: 48.5. Florida State suffered a rash of injuries, including to starting quarterback Jordan Travis, in last week’s comeback 35-31 victory over Louisville as 3-point favorites. The Seminoles are much-improved this season, but they need to be closer to vintage form to command this large of a spread. Play: Boston College +17.
Play: UCLA -21.5 vs. Colorado
Play: Louisville -13 vs. South Florida
Lean: Northwestern -6 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Lean: Georgia Tech +20.5 at UCF
Lean: Iowa -7.5 at Rutgers
Lean: LSU -30 vs. New Mexico
Lean: SMU +1 vs. TCU
Lean: Liberty -28 vs. Akron
Lean: Florida Atlantic +20 at Purdue
Lean: Ball State +10 at Georgia Southern
Lean: Syracuse -10 vs. Virginia
Lean: Auburn -7 vs. Missouri
Lean: Buffalo +4.5 at Eastern Michigan
Lean: Notre Dame -1 at North Carolina
Lean: Arkansas State +6.5 at Old Dominion
Lean: Wyoming +23 at BYU
Lean: James Madison +8 at Appalachian State
Lean: Hawaii +5 at New Mexico State
Guess: San Diego State +2 vs. Toledo
Guess: Southern Miss +13 at Tulane
Guess: Memphis -11.5 vs. North Texas
Guess: Miami -25.5 vs. Middle Tennessee State
Guess: Georgia -44 vs. Kent State
Guess: Northern Illinois +26 at Kentucky
Guess: Utah -14 at Arizona State
Guess: Washington -12.5 vs. Stanford
Guess: Louisiana Tech +14 at South Alabama
Guess: Cincinnati -17 vs. Indiana
Guess: Texas -5.5 at Texas Tech
Guess: Boise State -15 at UTEP
Guess: Western Michigan +6.5 at San Jose State
Guess: East Carolina -17 vs. Navy
Guess: Louisiana -9 at Louisiana-Monroe
Guess: California -3 vs. Arizona
Guess: Air Force -24.5 vs. UNR
Guess: Central Michigan +26.5 at Penn State
Guess: Western Kentucky -29.5 vs. Florida International
Guess: Temple -8.5 vs. UMass
Guess: Connecticut +39.5 at NC State
Guess: Rice +18 at Houston
Guess: Iowa State -2.5 vs. Baylor
Guess: Georgia State +3 vs. Coastal Carolina
Guess: Alabama -39.5 vs. Vanderbilt
Guess: UNLV -2.5 at Utah State