Football

Bucking the Line: Texas can’t stack up to USC — and here’s why

Posted September 14th, 2017

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Vince Young has offered his school words of inspiration this week. It’s too bad Texas can’t find a way to suit him up Saturday night in Los Angeles.

The biggest reason why Southern Cal should easily handle the Longhorns isn’t the home-field advantage, the Trojans’ experience in big games or even their significant advantage in projected premium-round 2018 NFL Draft choices. Well, OK, it does have a little to do with the latter.

For the return match of the 2005 national championship game, USC owns a better version of Matt Leinart at quarterback and Texas doesn’t have anything close to VY, no matter which of the three play — or whether they all play.

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The quarterback position has become almost as important at the highest level of college football as it is in the NFL. It’s hard to win a marquee matchup without a premier QB.

Darnold, a redshirt sophomore completing 75 percent of his passes, is not only a first-round pick in the next draft, he could go No. 1 overall. He’s already won a Rose Bowl.

Shane Buechele is a nice passer but not a next-level QB. Jerrod Heard is a dangerous runner but can’t throw. Westlake’s Sam Ehlinger is a promising but raw freshman.

That mismatch probably accounts for about half the 16-point spread, bet up from an opening line of 14, incidentally.

A survey of the five-year recruiting rankings that make up these teams also tells a tale with the Trojans winning four of those years. For the 2013-17 cycle, here are the 247Sports composites for each school’s national rating:

USC: 13 / 10 / 2 / 10 / 4 = 7.8 average

Texas: 17 / 17 / 10 / 7 / 25 = 15.4 average

Both teams are living off their 2015 classes.

USC is starting 10 players from that second-ranked group, including three projected 2018 No. 1 draft choices — Darnold, inside linebacker Cam Smith and cornerback Iman Marshall. Running back Ronald Jones, another ‘15 signee, is a possible second-rounder.

Darnold, by the way, was only the 12th-ranked player in that group and the 21st-rated player from California that year.

Texas starts eight players from its 10th-ranked 2015 class, including six on defense, led by five-star Malik Jefferson (who got a few too many stars). Preseason All-American left tackle Connor Williams was a mere three-star in that ‘15 group.

Of course, the Longhorns do have the psychological advantage of being a huge underdog — hey, it works a lot of years against Oklahoma, doesn’t it? And Tom Herman’s 6-0 record at Houston against Top 25 opponents is worth considering.

USC also could be in letdown mode after throttling long-time nemesis Stanford 42-24 last week and now facing an unranked team that lost to Maryland.

Handicapping trends favor the Trojans. They are 7-2 against the spread in their last nine games, including 4-1 at home. The Longhorns are 2-9 vs. the line in their last 11 road trips. During USC’s 11-game winning streak, the average margin of victory is 18 points.

From here, it looks like USC 42, Texas 28.

BUCKING THE LINE

I’ve been given an imaginary $1,000 bankroll for the college football season. Will I turn a profit — or need a loan by bowl season?

Update: Best bets bounced back with a 3-2 record, including Oklahoma’s big win over Ohio State, and a $26 profit. That places the season mark at 5-6.

Bankroll: $978

BEST BETS

UCLA (-3) over Memphis: Fully aware the Tigers are a good team playing at home, but Josh Rosen and the Bruins should pull through with a significant talent advantage. $22

Tennessee (+5) over Florida: Can the Gators even score six points to cover? The Vols have more than enough offense to at least hang close in the Swamp. $22

SMU (+19) over TCU: Love this Horned Frog team, but they’re riding a little too high from their Hog hunting trip. Chad Morris’ Mustangs are 2-0 and aim to show big brother Big 12 they can play in the battle for the Iron Skillet. $22

Rice (+23) over Houston: Another state rivalry game where the underdog is getting too many points. The Owls should safely cover in the Bayou Bucket Classic. $22

Ole Miss (-4) over California: Before the Rebels face the wrath of NCAA investigators, they win one for the SEC vs. the Pac-12. $22

Duke (-14) over Baylor: Vegas hasn’t quite caught up yet with just how bad the Bears are. $22

South Carolina (-6½) over Kentucky: Will Muschamp is off to a good start this year, and the Gamecocks draw a friendly SEC home opener. $22

Penn State (-37) over Georgia State: This just feels like a 52-0 game. $22

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