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Irish, Trojans have high stakes

Notre Dame-USC Could Set Betting Standard For Season

There can be little argument that the University of Notre Dame football program is the most popular in America by a wide margin. With that being said, there can also be little argument that it's because the Fighting Irish are the most polarizing team in America: fans either love or hate them and there's little in between. It's much like the Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees.

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With Notre Dame atop the BCS standings for the first time in school history and one win from playing for its first national title in more than two decades, Saturday night's game at Southern Cal projects as potentially the most-wagered college game of the 2012 season to date at the book. The Irish will earn a trip to Miami for the January 7 National Championship Game with a victory, although they won't know their opponent until next weekend. A loss likely sends Notre Dame to the Fiesta Bowl. Depending on how Irish linebacker Manti Te'o performs versus the Trojans, the Heisman race also could be impacted Saturday night.

Notre Dame is an opening 6-point favorite, a number that was boosted by the fact that USC starting quarterback Matt Barkley will miss the game with a shoulder injury. Barkley torched the Irish in his two career starts against them; both wins. In his place, redshirt freshman Max Wittek, the third-ranked QB recruit in the Class of 2011 (from Barkley's high school), will make his first start. He has been Barkley's primary backup all season, appearing in three games and completing 8 of 9 pass attempts for 95 yards and a touchdown. Wittek has the nation's top receiving duo to throw to in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Te'o, a senior from Hawaii, has been the face of the Irish this year and looks to become the second defensive player to win the Heisman. He is currently the 4/1 third-favorite behind Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2/5) - who is attempting to become the first freshman Heisman winner - and Kansas State QB Collin Klein (5/2).

Manziel plays earlier Saturday against Missouri, a game the Aggies should win at home (they are 22.5-point favorites). If "Johnny Football" has a big outing in his regular-season finale, it will be tough to pass him. However, if Manziel struggles and A&M is upset, then the door could be wide open. In addition, some voters will resist casting their ballot for a freshman.

Klein is off this week. If his Wildcats lose next weekend in their regular-season finale to Texas, Te'o could steal enough votes to win the award should he have a big game in the national spotlight against the Trojans. As it is, Te'o is a lock to be the fourth defensive Heisman finalist in the past four years (Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh in 2009 and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu last year).

Other Live Betting Games

As is typically the case, there are several NCAA games on "Black Friday" following Thanksgiving. The book will offer Live Betting on Syracuse (-7.5) at Temple, LSU (-12) at Arkansas, South Florida at Cincinnati (-13) and Arizona State at Arizona (-2.5).

Only one of those four games has much national significance. Should LSU beat the Hogs and have Texas A&M beat Missouri and Alabama lose to Auburn, the Tigers would represent the SEC West in the conference title game for a second year in a row. Those three results would leave the West in a three-way tie among LSU, Bama and A&M, which all beat each other this season. The Tigers and Aggies would have 5-1 divisional records, while the Tide would have a 4-2 SEC West mark. LSU beat A&M head-to-head and thus would win the tiebreaker.

On Saturday, the book is offering Georgia Tech at Georgia, Auburn at Alabama and that Notre Dame-USC matchup.

The Jackets can derail the Dawgs' national title hopes with an upset, but Tech is a 13-point underdog and has lost 10 of the past 11 meetings with Georgia, which has covered in seven of those. UGA is the 6/1 third-favorite to win the national title and would earn a trip to the game with wins over Georgia Tech and then in the SEC Championship Game.

Auburn would seem to have no shot against Alabama as a 32-point dog in the Iron Bowl. It could be the final game on the sideline for embattled Tigers' coach Gene Chizik with the Tigers 0-7 in the SEC. They haven't gone winless in the conference in 32 years.

This year's game is in Tuscaloosa and Auburn is 7-1 all-time there against Alabama. Chizik is 1-2 versus the Tide, with that lone win coming in the miracle comeback game engineered by Cam Newton in the Tigers' 2010 national championship season. That seems forever ago for Chizik.

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