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 hype machine has raised expectations for the Trojans, who may or may not be national title contenders in Riley’s freshman year. While some optimists predict USC will be a Top 5 team, others are more skeptical.
What is the truth ? South Point punters Chris Andrews and Vinny Magliulo tried to answer that question and many more last week when opening the lines on around 100 of the biggest games of the season.
“The public is probably going to be enamored with USC and excited about Lincoln Riley,” Magliulo said. “Chris and I certainly had a lot of talk about USC.”
The current state of college football could be defined by USC’s new look. Riley has a contract 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 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 given 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 to 9.5 for its 12-game schedule. South Point bettors have 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 receiver Jordan Addison (Pittsburgh) — and it remains to be seen whether the Abyssal Defense of the Year last will be better.
“USC has got to show me a lot of improvement on the offensive line and with defense,” Magliulo said. “Their defense wasn’t great and lost most of the starters.”
Andrews and Magliulo shrugged off 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 vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 26. Net money was shown on the Trojans in all three games – Utah went to -7, UCLA went to -1.5 and Notre Dame went to -3.
In several instances across the board, South Point’s opening lines were vastly different from what a few other sportsbooks had opened, but Andrews said he paid no attention to what other books had released and that he wasn’t too stubborn to move his numbers.
“I’ve never looked at any other issue, and I really don’t care what anybody else puts out there,” Andrews said. “I gave everything a strong movement. If someone took 10, I would go to 8.5, and if they took that, I would go to 7. Anyone who is going to tie up their money for six months and do their homework, I have to respect that. I respect the action.
Most of the action at the South Point windows on Friday afternoon came from Brad Powers of Las Vegas and Paul Stone of Texas, professional 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 day one bet handle was around $150,000.
“I ended up making 30 bets, even though six of those bets were games that I got a double shot at,” Powers said. “I brought $15,000 with me and expected to make five to seven bets, given that many games had already been published on other books in the past two weeks. Honestly, I didn’t expect 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 how many lines were missing from my numbers.
Powers, who reloaded his bankroll and continued shooting, said: “My seven favorite bets I’ve made include Arizona +17 against Arizona State (I made the line Arizona +7), Iowa State +11, 5 at Iowa (I made the Iowa State +6 line), Alabama -8.5 at Tennessee (I made the Alabama -14 line), Utah State +22 at BYU (I made the Utah State +16 line ), West Virginia +8 at Virginia Tech (I did the WV +2 line), Wake Forest +7 at Louisville (I did the Wake +2 line), and Baylor +8 at BYU (I did the Baylor line + 2).
Stone, who travels from Texas each summer to play South Point’s college football opener, said he believes the offseason betting opportunities offer a substantial degree of potential value. His one key rule: don’t bet on a match in early June unless you think the number you get is clearly better than what will eventually be available the week of the match.
“I study and handicap college football for 12 months,” Stone said, “so it stands to reason that I should be able to find value in those markets.”
Stone bet 14 games in the first hour after Andrews opened the lines. On Monday, Stone’s tickets had an average value of 3.3 points over current South Point numbers. His first two bets on Navy +19 on Air Force and Iowa State +13 on Iowa had an aggregate value of 13 points. Eleven of his bets were on the underdog.
“Chris is his own guy and I think he likes competition,” Stone said. “I have 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 punters and bookies alike.
“You have to be comfortable and confident in your numbers,” Magliulo said. “There are 99 games and we are not going to be right on all the numbers. These are truly respected opinions. John Q. Public is not playing these games.
Of course, this is all a bit of a guessing game. Changes in college football are coming fast, and USC is one of many mystery teams.