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  • USC and Texas have both underperformed early in the season. Which team do we think has the best chance of getting back on track? Find out in our betting preview.
By Sam Chase
September 12, 2018

USC at Texas (-3.5)

Sat. 9/15, 8:00 p.m. ET

Three things you need to know before betting on USC-Texas:

1. We're only two weeks into the 2018 campaign, and already many USC and Texas fans are displeased with their head coaches. In Texas, the fact that Tom Herman has only coached 15 games for the Longhorns hasn't kept his critics at bay. It's hard to blame them right now, given that his team's second straight season-opening upset loss to Maryland was even worse this time around, coming against a Terrapins program that was thrown into turmoil in August. A not-so-decisive 28-21 home win for the Longhorns over Tulsa in Week 2 didn't make things better. Early indications suggest that Texas will fail to reach its preseason expectations once again.

For USC, Clay Helton has led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory in 2016 and a conference title in 2017 since taking over as USC head coach in the middle of the 2015 season. But given USC's perennial recruiting dominance, some supporters of the program expect more. A 17-3 loss at Stanford last weekend marked the fewest points USC has scored in a game since 1997, and the defeat dropped Helton's Trojans teams to 1-9 as underdogs—both straight up and against the spread. Helton needs a win in Austin this weekend to earn back some goodwill.

2. Texas ran the ball 36 times for 142 yards (3.9 yards per carry) against Maryland, but saw much greater success on the ground against Tulsa with 241 rushing yards on 47 carries (5.1 YPC). As the run game goes, so does the rest of the Longhorns offense. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger completed 54% of his passes and threw two interceptions in the loss to the Terrapins. He completed 78% of his throws and didn't throw a pick in the win over Tulsa. When the Golden Hurricane started to mount a late-game comeback last Saturday, Texas was able to use the run to milk the clock on two long fourth-quarter drives.

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The Longhorns will undoubtedly look to establish the run from the get-go against USC, and their chances of doing so seem quite strong. The Trojans gave up 136 yards on the ground to Bryce Love last Saturday and, even more concerning, allowed 308 rushing yards to an inferior UNLV team in Week 1.

Even when USC played its best run defense of the season against Texas in last year's matchup between these two teams, limiting the Longhorns to 1.9 yards per carry, the Trojans still needed overtime to get a 27-24 win at home as 16.5-point favorites. If Tom Herman's team can get a bit more out of the run game this time around, Texas's odds of grabbing a victory will increase dramatically.

3. Many games are decided by strength-on-strength matchups, but this one might come down to weakness on weakness: the Texas pass rush against the USC offensive line. The Longhorn front seven lost two studs from last season's team—Poona Ford and Malik Jefferson—to the NFL and has managed only one sack through two games this year, and that came from a cornerback. Meanwhile, the Trojan O-line has allowed freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels to get sacked six times already in 2018. If USC's line can improve its pass protection this week, Daniels should have enough time to make good throws to a strong receiving corps. If it can't, it's going to be another long night for the Trojans offense.

Pick: Texas -3.5

Confidence Level: High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)

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