Saturday, November 24, 2012

UCLA and USC Win Tossup Games

UCLA (9-2) is a two-point underdog to Stanford today at the Rose Bowl, while USC (7-4) is a 6-point dog in its clash with undefeated, No.1 Notre Dame ( 11-0) crosstown at the Coliseum later in the day. Forget the point spreads. Both these games are really tossups. If you're betting  take the LA dogs. Here's why:

UCLA vs, Stanford:  After downing the Ducks 17-14 last week up in Oregon, Stanford, at the moment, is king of the conference. They wounded the Ducks, doing what seemed impossible, holding that scary offense to 40 points below its scoring average. Built like an SEC team, Stanford has a killer defense supported by a modest, run-oriented offense built around RB Stephan Taylor. Their strengths are their terrific linebackers, which are among the nation's finest and a run defense that's second best in the country.

UCLA's defense can't match Stanford's, but its front seven, guided by savvy coordinator Lou Spanos, gets better every week. Compare this crew today to what it was at the beginning of the season, and it's like night and day. The guts of this team, though, is a balanced offense headed by fab freshman QB Brett Hundley, both a superb runner and passer, and RB Jonathan Franklin, who's among the top three in the conference.

Expect the Bruins to set up a defense to bog down RB Taylor and dare freshman Kevin Hogan to beat them. The Cardinal's WRs aren't much but it does have super tight ends--Zach Ertz and Levine Toliolo. Can the Bruins defense put a lid on the Cardinal's offense? Can UCLA's offense dent the iron Stanford D? Can the Bruins overcome its major weakness, surrendering sacks (the offensive line is near the bottom in this critical stat)?

The answer to all three questions is yes. For Stanford to win, it has to, for the second week in a row, go into a tough team's hostile stadium and win, with a freshman QB, no less. Beating Oregon last week drained the Cardinal. A lot of its energy is still on the stadium floor in Oregon. Can the Cardinal, behind a baby QB, win another road crucial this week. Odds are against it. Bet on the Bruins.

USC vs. Notre Dame: Was there ever a weaker No.1 than Notre Dame?. On paper its schedule looks formidable, but nearly all these teams, like Purdue and BYU, are merely good to awful this year. The Irish squeaked by teams it should have routed. That OT win against lowly Pitt should have been a loss, just like that OT win against Stanford, which was aided by a questionable call. Notre Dame has impressive defensive stats, boasting the nation's finest red-zone defense, but it piled up these fancy figures against so-so offenses. They've faced just one first-rate passing team, Oklahoma, which trashed the Irish secondary.

Talented SC has been a major disappointment, mainly because turnovers and penalties have sabotaged their efforts. Notre Dame has a minor-league offense, run by a very ordinary QB, Everett Golson, that can be handled by SC, which has an edge in team speed. SC's big advantage is its super receiving corps, which could run roughshod over that mediocre Irish pass defense.Of course, Trojan QB Matt Barkley is out with a sprained shoulder, so inexperienced freshman QB Max Wittek is at the helm. Betting on SC is betting that he has an outstanding game and that SC's sack-happy pass-rushers can rattle QB Golson, who's been playing better lately.

Notre Dame, whose best player is Heisman candidate linebacker Manti Te'o, is very good but not great and is very beatable. If the Irish were in the SEC or the Pac-12, they'd be in third or fourth place, at best. There's another reason to take SC--the team has a hallowed history of beating undefeated Notre Dame teams. Betting on SC means gambling that it can clean up its act, cut down on turnovers and penalties, and that Wittek has a decent, fairly mistake-free game.

SC, which has won nine out of its last ten games with Notre Dame, can wash away its bad season with a win today.  This victory would go down as one of the biggest in school history. So SC has to be really motivated. Betting on the Trojans is worth the gamble.