Bob Stoll of Dr. Bob Sports is one of the most seasoned, successful sports handicappers around. He was one of the first to use advanced analytics in sports handicapping after studying statistics and finance at U.C. Berkeley. You can find his historical college football performance here, and you can subscribe to his service here.
His Strong Opinions have a success rate of about 53.7% since 1999. You can find a Strong Opinion for free below. He has agreed to share some of his lengthy, from-every-angle game previews here.
**USC (-8 ½) 43 ARIZONA 27
USC struggled in September with 3 losses in 4 games. However, a change of quarterback from Max Browne to Sam Darnold served to jump start the offense and the Trojans are playing at a much higher level overall this month.
The Trojans’ attack has averaged 7.2 yards per play or better in all three of Darnold’s starts and they were much better last week than the 21-17 win over Colorado would suggest — as the offense racked up 544 yards at 7.2 yppl against a good Buffaloes’ defense (3 fumbles kept the scoring down). USC also should have scored a lot more than 27 points in their 4 point loss at Utah in Darnold’s first start, as 3 lost fumbles kept their scoring down in that game too.
The Trojans aren’t really fumble-prone, as they’ve had zero lost fumbles in 4 of their 6 games, but those mistake-filled games in two of the last three weeks are probably the reason there is value on USC in this game.
Arizona has a worse than average defense (6.1 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl against an average team) and I expect USC to turn those yards into points this week. The injury to top back Justin Davis hurts the Trojans, as his 6.4 ypr is significantly higher than the 4.1 ypr that the other two running backs have averaged this season. However, even with that hit to the rushing attack (worth 0.9 yprp) the math still projects 551 yards at 7.1 yppl for USC in this game.
Arizona also has a very potent attack and I’ll assume that the electric Brandon Dawkins will be able to play (he’s listed as questionable as of Friday morning) for the Wildcats. Arizona’s offense has averaged 6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 5.4 yppl to an average team and that unit has an advantage over a good, but not great, USC defense that’s been 0.5 yppl better than average this season (5.4 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.9 yppl). The math projects 448 yards at 6.3 yppl for Arizona.
USC’s projected yardage differential of +103 yards is good enough to win by double-digits and the Trojans should have a huge edge in starting field position based on their special teams advantage. Overall, the math gives USC a solid 56.1% chance of covering (based solely on the math) and the Trojans also apply to a 61-19-1 ATS situation that plays on road favorites with a losing spread record.
That losing ATS record is deceiving, as the Trojans would have easily covered at Utah and last week against Colorado had it not been for the 3 fumbles in each of those games. I’ll take USC in a 2-Star Best Bet at -10 points or less.