Before the season started, the LVH posted USC a 3 ½-point favorite over Oregon on their “Game of the Year” list. Last week, prior to USC’s loss 39-26 at Arizona, Oregon was listed as the 3 ½-point favorite. When Johnny Avello opened this game Sunday at the Wynn for the world to take a look at, he posted Oregon -5 ½. Within four hours, bettors had pushed the Ducks to -7 ½ before finally getting someone to buy-back USC and settle at -7.
The tables have definitely turned. USC was ranked No. 1 in several polls before the season started and we were quickly alerted that many of the high praise given to them may have been off-base as they failed to cover the lofty spreads in their first two games. Then came the Stanford game where they lost outright as 10-point favorites in Palo, Alto.
This was supposed to be a season that the young men of Troy competed for a national championship. They were now eligible after a postseason NCAA ban and had star quarterback Matt Barkley turning down millions from the NFL in order to come back and do just that -- win a title.
Even though their image took a blow following the Stanford loss, they still had to be optimists, especially as the Pac-12 was getting lots of positive attention nationally for good play from the top half of their teams. A one-loss USC squad still might have been able to contend for the championship, but they would have to beat Oregon on Nov. 3.
Before getting to that point, USC had the problem of making continuous mistakes. They might have been able to mask that issue against Utah, Washington and Colorado, but not last Saturday at Arizona where they turned the ball over five times, which ultimately led to the loss.
"Our mistakes," Coach Lane Kiffin said, "caught up with us."
USC produced 618 yards with Barkley and receiver Marqise Lee setting all kinds records, but in addition to the five turnovers, USC also had 13 penalties.
"Penalties killed us," said Lee, who caught 16 passes for a conference-record 345 yards. "You can't come to a game, have over 100-something yards in penalties then have turnovers and expect to win. Especially when you're away." This could have been a case where USC was looking ahead to the Oregon, a trend that bettors always take into account when betting on or against a team in their game before their big one. Oregon is its big one, and it's been circled since the time Barkley had a press conference in the spring to announce that he was coming back.
On the other side we have Oregon stuck at No. 4 in the BCS, despite No. 2 Florida losing last week. Notre Dame leap-frogged them to No. 3 after their impressive 30-13 win at Oklahoma.
The USC loss coupled with Oregon State taking a fall at Washington might suggest that the Pac-12 is tough in every game, but they were two of the top-10 BCS teams prior, and losing didn't do Oregon any favors.
If Oregon beats USC this weekend, the win isn't as powerful in the polls as it would have been had USC beat Arizona, but the Ducks still have plenty of personal motivation to get them up for this game. Last season it was USC who knocked Oregon out of any championship thoughts with a 38-35 win in Eugene. It's also the last loss the Ducks have had and one that still stings a bit.
"It was a hard one to swallow," said Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who redshirted last season, "I wouldn't say it's a revenge game for us but it's one that they are ready for."
Prior to that game, Oregon had won the two previous game against USC by 21 or more, including a 53-21 win in their last visit to the Coliseum.
Said Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas, a Los Angeles-native: "If we keep playing Oregon football I feel like we're the team to beat."
Las Vegas thinks so too, which is why they're such a large 7-point favorite this week. The Arizona squad that USC just lost to was pounded 49-0 last month by the Ducks. Oregon has covered their past three games by wide margins, including the track meet against Colorado last week where they covered a 47-point spread by winning 70-14.
USC could be ready to just let it all hang out with nothing to lose, but it's hard to imagine that after getting to the point where their looking at playing in some dot.com bowl that now, all of a sudden, they're ready to play smart and take care of the ball. Look for Oregon to win by two touchdowns Saturday.
There's another big game going on Saturday as well in Baton Rouge where No. 1 Alabama is a 10-point road favorite against No. 5 LSU. Yes, that's not a misprint, 10-points. If you had seen the LVH sheet before the season started, you would have seen Pick 'em next to the game. That was before we knew Alabama might be better than last season’s championship team and LSU couldn't move the ball. But we'll let all the talking heads go over that one, since it will take center stage on every sports network during the week. We have to give the West Coast a little love with some coverage here.