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USC is a two-point underdog for the Holiday Bowl, but things could change

USC coach Clay Helton looks during the second half of a game against UCLA on Nov. 23 at the Coliseum.
USC coach Clay Helton during the second half of the game against UCLA on Nov. 23 at the Coliseum.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

USC is likely to close as a short underdog in the Holiday Bowl on Friday against Iowa (5 p.m., FS1). Iowa has been a two-point favorite for several days. But it is possible that game-day interest in the Trojans could drop the line to pick-’em.

Market observers recognize that professional bettors aren’t interested in Iowa at -2. In football, 3 is a key number because so many games finish exactly at a field-goal margin. Professionals know the percentages, yet didn’t get their money in on Iowa just below the most important betting number in the sport. That suggests these possibilities:

— Professional bettors prefer USC’s skill sets but are waiting to see if public interest in the favorite moves the line the other direction.

— They prefer USC but thought it more likely that bad news about suspensions was more likely to hit the Trojans than the Hawkeyes. They wanted to wait until key players were locked in before betting on game day.

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— They made the game Iowa -2 themselves and are passing on the game.

As Drew Richmond looked back on an up-and-down collegiate career, the easy-going USC right tackle smiled as he recalled the experience that helped him rediscover what he’d once lost.

Full-season stats show a game of extremes. At 8-4, No. 22 USC ranked 18th nationally in total offense but a poor 83rd on defense. At 9-3, plodding Iowa ranked 98th on offense but a physical 12th on defense.

Those rankings basically cancel out. Turnover margin appears to be the market tiebreaker installing Iowa as a small favorite. Iowa’s safer approach led to a +6 differential on the season. USC’s more mistake-prone attack was -7.

USC is the second Pac-12 team to play this postseason. Washington (-3.5) got the league off to a strong start with a 38-7 rout of Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Maybe that will change the Pac-12’s recent course in bowl performance. The league is still just 5-18 against the spread (ATS) dating to the 2016-17 season.

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Washington State plays later Friday, getting a field goal from Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix (7:15 p.m., ESPN).

Elsewhere

— Though no Pac-12 team qualified for the College Football Playoff, here’s a quick look at Saturday’s market dynamics.

LSU will be about a two-touchdown favorite over Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl (1 p.m. PST, ESPN). As VSiN reported when openers went up, an early line of LSU -11 was bet hard up to -13 right away. It subsequently rose to -14 after news of player suspensions for Oklahoma. Underdog lovers have taken a bite of +14, which dropped the line to a solid 13.5 through Christmas.

For now, professionals clearly like LSU at -13 or less, but the percentages (and bets) flip when the key number of 14 comes into play.

Clemson has been a solid two-point favorite for weeks over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl (5 p.m. PST, ESPN). Clemson was bet up from an opener of -1 to -2. And that was after the media speculated Ohio State might open as a small favorite. Certainly the Buckeyes would get pounded if the line were driven up to Clemson -3. But given OSU’s national profile, recreational bettors could just as easily move the number back toward pick-’em.

— In the NBA, the betting markets decided on Christmas that the Lakers were two points better than the Clippers. The Clippers proved they couldn’t care less what markets thought. Kawhi Leonard and company took a 2-0 series edge (straight up and ATS) with a 111-106 victory. The Clippers won the season opener 112-102, getting +3.5 points.

It was the Lakers’ (24-7) sixth straight non-cover. Backers are now minus money on the season with a 16-15 ATS record due to the standard 10% vigorish on losses (essentially, 16 wins and 16.5 losses). The Clippers (23-10) are now 19-14 ATS — plus 3.6 units after vig. A recent surge has them 9-4 ATS their last 13 outings.

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Wednesday’s game stayed under the market total of 223.5. Lakers games this season are 13-18 to the under, while Clippers games 15-18 to the under.

USC’s Austin Jackson, Tyler Vaughns and Jay Tufele all expect to hear from the NFL advisory committee before making a decision about declaring for the NFL draft.

— In the NFL, oddsmakers are waiting to post a point spread in Sunday’s Cardinals-Rams game (1:25 p.m., Fox) pending the status of Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray. He left last week’s game against Seattle with a hamstring injury. If he can’t go, backup Brett Hundley will start. Both teams are eliminated from playoff contention.

— The Chargers are now 8.5- or 9-point underdogs at Kansas City (10 a.m., CBS) depending on where you bet. Kansas City can help its playoff seeding, while the Chargers are pondering a complete offseason rebuild. Professional bettors might not consider the Chargers until the key number of +10 hits the board.


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