No. 13 USC is slowly trying to inch its way back into national-title contention, while unranked Utah is simply trying to regain some respectability.
Viewed before the season as the Trojans’ main threat in the Pac-12 South, the Utes are off to a 2-2 start and are now two-touchdown home underdogs on ESPN’s Thursday Night Football.
What follows is a breakdown of the point spread for the game, with news, notes, quotes and anecdotes to help you make your bets.
Keep in mind: The “edge” is merely a suggestion, and not something we necessarily recommend playing.
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NO. 13 USC AT UTAH, 9 P.M. ET
OPENING POINT SPREAD: USC -13.5 | CURRENT: USC -14 | OVER/UNDER: 48.5 | TV: ESPN
SUMMARY: Whatever happens in this game tonight, let’s just hope we avoid a debacle on this level from last year, when USC—an 8.5-point favorite—won 23-14, then 17-14, and then 23-14 again and bookmakers all over Las Vegas and offshore were forced into on-the-fly judgments about how to make a final ruling on the point spread. The Trojans are public darlings, and SportsInsights says 70 percent of bettors are backing them as 14-point favorites, yet they didn’t notch their first cover of the season until a 27-9 victory over Cal two weeks ago.
STORYLINES: If you happen to be in the minority and like Utah catching (at least) two touchdowns at home tonight, there are a few factors pointing in your favor.
First, home teams are generally pretty solid against the spread on Thursday Night Football, especially in the underdog role.
Second, in his seven-plus seasons as Utah coach, Kyle Whittingham has thrived with extra time to prepare, going 12-2 straight up and 9-5 ATS. That includes four outright wins as underdogs in five opportunities.
Third, Whittingham is also strong at getting his team refocused after a loss, posting a 14-9-1 ATS mark since 2004.
But this game comes down to matchups, and that’s where Utah—on paper, at least—is overmatched. The offense, playing with second-string QB Jon Hays, is near the bottom of the national rankings in virtually every category. The defense will have to get a good push from mammoth-sized tackle Star Lotulelei up front to have any hope of shutting down the ground game and forcing Matt Barkley to beat them.
EDGE: Eventually, this USC team will put it all together, much like it did last season in winning six of seven games (and also going 6-1 ATS) to close the year. Ironically, that streak started with a road Thursday Night Football win at California. Will we see some déjà vu in 2012? It’s hard to tell, but there’s no way we’d feel comfortable laying this many points with a Trojans team that doesn’t seem all that interested so far, so we’ll give a small edge to Utah here.