USC a big odds-on favorite in matchup against Colorado despite injuries

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis lines up for a play against Arizona on Oct. 19.
(Getty Images)

USC is getting a lot of market respect in Friday night’s important Pac-12 South challenge at Colorado (6 p.m., ESPN2). An opening line in the range of -10 to -11 depending on the sportsbook was quickly bet up to -13. It might take as high as Trojans -14 to bring in underdog money on the host Buffaloes.

It’s odd to see a road favorite get pounded when its most common media descriptor is “injury-riddled.” In this case, both teams are dealing with important talent losses. But …

  • USC has risen to the occasion thanks to quality depth. The Trojans covered a point spread of +10.5 at Notre Dame in a 30-27 loss two weeks ago, then bullied Arizona 41-14 on Saturday favored at that price. USC has covered three of its last four against the spread, including an outright win over Utah. It would have been four for four if turnovers hadn’t cost USC a bet at Washington, where the Trojans outgained the Huskies 375-374 but lost the turnover category 3-1.
  • Colorado is playing like it has already thrown in the towel for 2019 under new coach Mel Tucker. Over the last two weeks, the Buffaloes were dominated 41-10 at Washington State and 45-3 at Oregon. Defense is the specialty of Tucker, a former coordinator at Georgia and Alabama. But Colorado allowed more than 1,000 combined yards to the Cougars and Ducks while forcing only one turnover. Its offense turned the ball over seven times in those two implosions.
  • Sharps (pro bettors) have made it clear they like USC at anything below -13. Recreational bettors love backing favorites in national TV games. They might bring -14 into play before dog lovers come in at a key number. Those dog lovers are aware this is a potential look-ahead spot for USC, with a home game against Oregon on deck … and that “altitude” and “injury-riddled” might not be a good mix for a double-digit favorite.
  • USC is tied atop the Pac-12 South with Utah but owns the tiebreaker with a head-to-head victory. Crosstown rival UCLA is focused more on bowl eligibility as it carries a 2-5 record into Saturday’s meeting with No. 24 Arizona State at the Rose Bowl (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). It will take six wins to earn a postseason bid. The Bruins can’t afford another outright loss, with road underdog spots at Utah and USC still ahead.
  • Arizona State opened as a favorite of -2.5 points offshore. It has been bet up to as high as -4 through the week. Clearly, sharps love the Sun Devils at -3 or better. But underdog interest has shown on UCLA +4. Cover percentages swing significantly around 3, the most important point spread in football betting.

NFL notes

The Rams continue to be one of the most underrated teams in this season’s betting markets after a 37-10 victory as a three-point favorite last week at Atlanta. That brought the Rams to 5-2 ATS, tied for the best point-spread mark in pro football with New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, Minnesota and Arizona.

UCLA football coach Chip Kelly asked his team to enjoy itself when it played Stanford last week. The Bruins responded with a 34-16 win.

Oct. 23, 2019

Jared Goff and company will have to clear their highest hurdle of 2019 when laying 13 points Sunday against the bungling Cincinnati Bengals. It’s the Rams’ first double-digit spread. As we saw with USC, an opening line around -10 has surged up to almost two touchdowns.

The Bengals are 0-7 straight up and have failed to cover four of their last six outings. They’ve been outgained 460-291, 497-250, 514-370, 326-175, 416-306 and 572-316 since a stunningly close season-opening loss at Seattle.

The Chargers keep finding new ways to lose, putting them on the other end of the ATS spectrum. Most backers lost at +2.5 last week in a 23-20 heartbreaker at Tennessee. Anyone finding +3 pushed. Either way, the Chargers’ only cover this season was in a victory at winless Miami. Chargers bettors are either 1-5-1 ATS or 1-4-2, depending on their shopping acumen. Only Atlanta at 1-6 ATS has been more overrated, if you accept the premise that settled point spreads in a liquid market best reflect how teams are “rated” by informed observers.

Philip Rivers will try to reverse his team’s fortunes Sunday at disappointing Chicago. An opening line of Bears -5.5 has come down to -4. Chicago is just 1-4 ATS this season as a favorite, losing its last two outright to Oakland (24-21 in England laying -6.5) and New Orleans (36-25 at Soldier Field laying -4).


NBA notes

The Lakers inexplicably surged as high as 4-point neutral-court favorites over the Clippers in Tuesday night’s season opener. Kawhi Leonard led the Clips to a 112-102 double-digit win/cover. Clearly, power ratings used by oddsmakers provided a better read than overly enthusiastic public sentiment for the LeBron James-Anthony Davis combo.

The Purple and Gold stay at Staples Center through the weekend as home favorites Friday vs. Utah and Sunday vs. Charlotte. The Clippers visit improved Phoenix on Saturday.

Market observers will soon have a good sense of how the Lakers and Clippers compare with other Western Conference contenders on a perceived point-margin basis. Per-game averages won’t matter for a while. Point spreads paint a quick picture.