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Early bowl lines are out, and Pac-12 is not getting a lot of respect

USC’s Jay Tufele has a hold on Oregon’s Justin Herbert on Nov. 2 at the Coliseum.
USC’s Jay Tufele has a hold on Oregon’s Justin Herbert on Nov. 2 at the Coliseum.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

USC will likely be an underdog when it plays Iowa in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 in San Diego.

The game opened at pick ’em before money started to come in on the Hawkeyes. The line settled with Iowa as a 2½-point favorite Sunday night at offshore sites. If the Trojans land as three-point underdogs, that’s likely to get some play from the smart money. That’s a key number because so many final margins land exactly on three.

As is the case in any bowl, you could see big line moves between now and Christmas week if news comes out about suspensions, injuries or players choosing to skip the game. Postseason betting in college football often sees a flurry of activity as soon as the opening line is posted, then things go quiet until you get closer to game day.

Here are some things to consider for other Pac-12 Conference teams appearing in upcoming bowl games:

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  • Washington opened as a four-point favorite over Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21. Early money came in on the Broncos, and the line was dropped to three points. A mitigating factor could be that Huskies coach Chris Petersen has formally stepped down.
Two-way player Kyle Juergens is the second lineman to de-commit from USC after the school announced it was keeping Clay Helton as its coach.

  • Washington State opened as a 1½-point underdog against Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 27 in Phoenix. But early betting made the Falcons three-point favorites.
  • California opened as a seven-point favorite and then slipped to six in the Redbox Bowl against Illinois on Dec. 30 in Santa Clara.
  • Arizona State opened as a 2½-point favorite and grew to four points for its game against Florida State in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso. Offshore sites were showing the Sun Devils as six-point favorites Sunday evening.
  • Pac-12 runner-up Utah opened as a 9½-point favorite for its Alamo Bowl game against Texas on Dec. 31 in San Antonio. It seems the opening line was overshot, as it was bet down below a touchdown to 6½ by Sunday night.
  • Pac-12 champion Oregon opened as a 3½-point underdog against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. But that line dropped to 2½. It seems as if smart money clearly likes the Ducks getting three or more points pending changes or new information.
Former USC football coach John Robinson, 84, is in his first year as an offensive consultant for Ed Orgeron at Louisiana State. “It’s been just a fascinating experience,” Robinson says.

Generally speaking, early bettors weren’t enthusiastic about the Pac-12, except for Arizona State and Oregon.

Utah’s loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night kept the league out of the College Football Playoff. In the CFP, Louisiana State opened as an 11½-point favorite, which grew to 13, for its game against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Clemson opened as a 1½-point favorite before growing to two against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. The games are Dec. 28.

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Other notes

  • In college basketball, USC and UCLA earned victories over the weekend. On Friday night, the Trojans, four-point underdogs, upset Texas Christian 80-78 in Fort Worth. USC is 8-2 straight up this season but 5-5 against the spread. UCLA, a 20-point favorite, beat Denver 81-62 on Sunday. The Bruins are 7-3 straight up and 6-4 against the spread.
  • In the NFL, the Chargers opened as three-point underdogs for Sunday’s home game against Minnesota. It’s a huge game for the Vikings, which will likely encourage public betting support on the favorite. Smart money might jump if the line goes to 3½. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers plays a lot of close games.

The Rams will probably close as small underdogs against disintegrating Dallas, which will have the home field and three extra days of rest after a loss Thursday night at Chicago. But the Cowboys’ collapse is getting so bad that smart and square money could ride the Rams to favorite status.

Since our last NHL report, we received a question about the value of home ice. Home teams have won 55% over the last several thousand NHL games. In money-line terms, those percentages mean home ice is worth about 20 cents to 25 cents. If two evenly matched teams were to play a home-and-home series, the games wouldn’t be pick ’ems. The host would be laying odds because home ice offers a tangible advantage.

Though rinks look the same everywhere, fatigue and jet lag can be negative influences, as well as the tendency for home crowds to rattle visiting players and officials. Smart handicappers try to find situations that are more extreme than market perceptions.

The Kings might be an example. They’re 9-6-1 at home but just 2-12-1 on the road this season. Tuesday night’s game against the New York Rangers is their last home contest before they begin a six-game road trip. The Ducks (8-6-2 at home, 4-8-2 on the road) will host the Kings on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday.


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