Other than to pad the statistics for Southern California quarterback John David Booty, the nation’s No. 1 team has no reason to be playing Idaho on the first weekend of the college football season.
The Trojans are 47-point home favorites Saturday after the line opened at 42 1/2. It’s one of several hideous matchups on the schedule.
But there is little to complain about anymore. A year ago, almost everyone was blasting the NCAA for rule changes meant to shorten the length of games.
The controversial clock rules have been reversed, one key kickoff rule has been added, and almost everyone is pleased to predict the return of higher-scoring games. It also leaves bettors to wonder what impact the changes will have on handicapping.
Las Vegas Sports Consultants chief oddsmaker Ken White is watching totals trends closely and trying to make the proper adjustments.
“What everybody is thinking is that scoring is going to be up,” White said. “However, the first two weeks of the season, the offenses are not going to be at full strength and clicking. I don’t see these games flying over the totals the first two weeks just because of the rule changes.”
An NCAA rules panel made experimental changes before last season. The clock started on kickoffs as soon as the kicking team put the ball in play, and when possession changed, the clock continued to run.
“That was one of the worst rules I’ve ever seen,” White said. “Obviously, they recognized it and changed it.”
As a result, the total average points scored dropped from 50 to 47 per game, White said, and games had an average of 14 fewer plays in 2006 than in ’05.
The clock, in effect, has been turned back two years. It again will stop on changes of possession and won’t start on kickoffs until the receiving team touches the ball.
Kickoffs, now from the 30-yard line instead of the 35, should lead to fewer touchbacks and more big returns.
White said he expects scoring to rise to 51.5 to 53 points per game this season, but the difference might not be noticed immediately.
In the first four weeks last season, he said, the average total points scored was less than the average closing total. Scoring starts to increase substantially by about the fifth week, he said, citing numbers from the past 10 years.
The total in today’s UNLV-Utah State game has dropped half a point to 46 1/2. The Rebels are 7-point road favorites, down from an opening line of 9.
Both teams are expected to stick mostly to the ground game. UNLV is starting redshirt freshman Travis Dixon at quarterback, and running back Frank Summers figures to be the primary weapon.
“This is one that will probably close 4 1/2 because all the money will come in on Utah State,” White said.
White is monitoring several line moves for the opening week, which features 47 games on the betting board.
In one of the most attractive matchups, California is a 5 1/2-point home favorite over Tennessee on Saturday. LVSC opened the line at 4.
Georgia is a 6 1/2-point home favorite over Oklahoma State, after the line opened 9.
New Mexico is a 3-point road favorite over Texas-El Paso in a game that opened Pick.
UCLA is a 17-point road favorite over Stanford, a difference of three points from LVSC’s opener of 14.
Notre Dame, which has yet to announce a starting quarterback, is a 2 1/2-point home favorite over Georgia Tech.
“We sent out 3 1/2 on Notre Dame, and I thought that was too high,” White said. “I think Georgia Tech is by far the better team.”