Can a team really control its fate as a huge underdog?
That’s the question facing the UCLA football team this week. The Bruins would capture the Pac-12 South if they win their last three games -- at Utah, at USC and versus California. But Circa Sports in Las Vegas opened the Bruins as 20-point underdogs for Saturday’s game in Salt Lake City (5 p.m., Fox). The game was soon bet to Utah -21.
Even if subsequent money moves the number toward UCLA, market math would still suggest only a 1%-3% chance of an outright victory. And the spread could rise in the other direction. UCLA will be playing at a tough road site with late-game temperatures potentially diving into the 30s against a rested 8-1 opponent still dreaming of crashing the national playoff party.
UCLA’s bye last week is neutralized by the same schedule perk for the Utes. Utah won at Washington 33-28 two weeks ago to extend a five-game win/cover streak. UCLA is on a three-game streak of its own, with double-digit covers against Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado.
Perceptions that the Bruins’ offense is finally in sync under coach Chip Kelly will be tested by a Utah defense that ranks third nationally in fewest yards allowed and sixth in fewest points allowed.
Should UCLA’s stock rise by pulling a shocker at Utah, it would still likely be an underdog of at least a touchdown the next week at USC.
While either Utah or UCLA takes the division by winning out, betting markets are showing that the Utes, who will finish as favorites at Arizona and versus Colorado, have significantly more control over their destiny.
- USC opened as a 4-point favorite at California (8 p.m. Saturday, FS1) on the Circa board. The Trojans were quickly bet up to -5.5. That trip to Berkeley is USC’s third road game in the last four weeks and fifth road outing in its last seven games. The Trojans pushed as 5-point favorites Saturday at Arizona State 31-26. But quants noticed that USC won total yardage by a whopping 550-339 on 7.5 to 5.2 yards per play.
- The Rams will likely settle around 7-point favorites at home Sunday night versus the Chicago Bears (5:20 p.m., NBC). Both offenses struggled badly in their preludes. Chicago gained just 226 yards while going 2 of 12 on third-down tries in a misleading 20-13 win/cover over Detroit. The Rams went 1-for-14 on third down, were 0-for-2 on fourth down and turned the ball over four times in a 17-12 upset loss at Pittsburgh. A likely closing over/under near 41 will be the Rams’ lowest of the season. The Rams and Bears are both 3-6 to the under.
- The Chargers are still alive in the AFC West thanks to Kansas City’s last-minute loss Sunday at Tennessee. They can cut a two-game deficit to one against the Chiefs on Monday night (5:15 p.m., ESPN). The early line out of Las Vegas on Sunday was Kansas City by 4.5. A shootout is expected with an over/under of 53.5.
- You may have heard the truism that great teams don’t offer betting value because their point spreads are so high. Not always true. It was no secret that the Lakers and the Clippers were going to be loaded this season. Yet they had combined to go 12-6 against the spread through Sunday night’s action. And that includes a 1-1 ATS split against each other. Against everyone else, it’s an 11-5 record for a 69% success rate. The Lakers’ depth will be tested in a back-to-back Tuesday at surprising Phoenix and Wednesday versus Golden State. After hosting Toronto on Monday night, the Clippers will again ponder load management in a back-to-back Wednesday at Houston and Thursday at New Orleans. Nobody hates the trend toward resting star players more than oddsmakers. It increases their exposure to sharps (professional bettors) while reducing recreational interest from squares (the public).