Youmans: New-look USC one of many mystery teams in college football

June 19, 2022 06:55 PM
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During a circus of an offseason in college football, change is constant and it’s everywhere, and it’s most dramatic a short drive from Hollywood. The star of the show is Lincoln Riley, a new coach with the potential to bring back the old days at USC.

The media hype machine has cranked up expectations for the Trojans, who may or may not be national title contenders in Riley’s first year. While some optimists are projecting USC to be a Top 5 team, others are more skeptical.

What’s the truth? South Point oddsmakers Chris Andrews and Vinny Magliulo attempted to tackle that question and many more last week when opening lines on about 100 of the season’s biggest games.

“The public is probably going to be enamored with USC and excited about Lincoln Riley,” Magliulo said. “Chris and I definitely had a lot of discussion on USC.”

The current state of college football could be defined by USC’s new look. Riley has a contract reportedly worth around $110 million. In a new era of what is essentially free agency, Riley has given the Trojans’ roster a facelift by adding at least 18 players from the transfer portal.

When the Trojans stumbled out of the gate last year, former coach Clay Helton was fired two weeks into the season and the team finished 4-8. Riley, 38 and among the game’s most innovative offensive coaches, was handed big money to leave Oklahoma and bring back USC’s winning tradition. But how quickly can he fix it?

DraftKings recently opened USC’s regular-season win total at 9.5 for its 12-game schedule. The South Point oddsmakers made the Trojans significant underdogs in high-profile games against Notre Dame, UCLA and Utah.

Riley’s immediate-impact transfers are on offense — quarterback Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), running back Travis Dye (Oregon) and wide receiver Jordan Addison (Pittsburgh) — and it remains to be seen if last year’s abysmal defense will be better.

“USC needs to show me a lot of improvement on the offensive line and with the defense,” Magliulo said. “Their defense was not great and lost most of the starters.”

Andrews and Magliulo ignored the hype and took a pessimistic view by opening USC as a 12-point dog at Utah on Oct. 15, a 5-point dog at UCLA on Nov. 19 and a 5-point home dog against Notre Dame on Nov. 26. Sharp money showed on the Trojans in all three games — Utah moved to -7, UCLA moved to -1.5 and Notre Dame moved to -3.

In several cases across the board, the South Point opening lines were vastly different from what a couple other sportsbooks had opened, but Andrews said he paid no attention to what other books had posted and was not too stubborn to move his numbers.

“I never looked at any other number, and I really don’t care what anybody else puts out there,” Andrews said. “I gave everything a strong move. If somebody took 10, I would go to 8.5, and if they took that, I would go to 7. Anybody who’s going to tie up their money for six months and does their homework, I’ve got to respect that. I respect the action.”

A majority of the action at the South Point windows Friday afternoon came from Las Vegas’ Brad Powers and Texas’ Paul Stone, pro bettors who specialize in college football. The betting limits were $2,000 per game in the book with a $500 limit on the phone app. Andrews said the wagering handle on the first day was around $150,000.

“I ended up making 30 bets, although six of those bets were games I fired twice on,” Powers said. “I brought $15,000 with me and was expecting to make five to seven bets, considering a lot of games had already been released at other books in the last couple of weeks. I honestly wasn't expecting to find much value. However, Mr. Andrews is that old-school bookmaker who trusts his own numbers, so you never know sometimes. I was surprised to see how many lines were off my numbers.”

Powers, who reloaded his bankroll and kept firing, said, “My favorite seven bets I made include Arizona + 17 vs. Arizona State (I made the line Arizona + 7), Iowa State + 11.5 at Iowa (I made the line Iowa State + 6), Alabama -8.5 at Tennessee (I made the line Alabama -14), Utah State + 22 at BYU (I made the line Utah State + 16), West Virginia + 8 at Virginia Tech (I made the line WV + 2), Wake Forest + 7 at Louisville (I made the line Wake + 2) and Baylor + 8 at BYU (I made the line Baylor + 2).”

Stone, who travels from Texas each summer to play the South Point's college football openers, said he believes offseason betting opportunities offer a substantial degree of potential value. His one key rule: Don't bet a game in early June unless you believe the number you're getting is clearly better than what will ultimately be available the week of the game.

"I extensively study and handicap college football for 12 months," Stone said, "so it stands to reason I should be able to find some value in these markets."

Stone bet 14 games in the first hour after Andrews opened the lines. As of Monday, Stone's tickets had 3.3 points value on average when compared to current South Point numbers. His first two bets on Navy + 19 over Air Force and Iowa State + 13 over Iowa had a cumulative value of 13 points. Eleven of his bets were on the underdog.

"Chris is his own guy and I believe he enjoys the competition," Stone said. "I've got some pretty good value in theory, but that doesn't guarantee I'm going to be a winner on these games."

Andrews compared making college numbers in June to “shooting in the dark,” and that’s true for the bettors and bookmakers.

“You have got to be comfortable and confident in your numbers,” Magliulo said. “There are 99 games and we’re not going to be right on every number. These are really respected opinions. This is not John Q. Public playing these games.”

Of course, it’s all somewhat of a guessing game. Changes in college football are coming fast, and USC is one of many mystery teams.

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