Carroll, USC no longer sure thing

Because he’s a gambler, Southern California football coach Pete Carroll has many admirers. Obviously, a lot of gamblers are losers. But Carroll gets enthusiastic about taking risks, and he usually wins.

Carroll is bold, charismatic and creative. He never shows up for a big game wearing a sweater vest, and he knows when it’s better to go for it on fourth down at the 1.

Jim Tressel and Norv Turner are poster boys for conservative chokers. Charlie Weis rolls the dice at the wrong time and craps out.

It’s easy to criticize coaches for the errors in their ways. While watching the Miami Dolphins on Monday night, some of their play-calls were so strange, I wondered if the coaches were passing a whiskey bottle on the sideline.

Carroll has been different because he rarely gets ripped. In the aftermath of the Trojans’ 16-13 loss at Washington on Saturday, however, he’s hearing criticism for being too conservative.

But the coach probably deserves a break this time. It’s too simple to pin the tail on Carroll and call him the donkey.

It was a stunning fall for one of college football’s most reliable point-spread coaches. True, he lost to Stanford as a 40-point favorite two years ago. But he frequently covers as a favorite, and in Las Vegas, where we scrutinize every coach’s game-management decisions, Carroll is regarded as solid.

Review the latest USC disappointment, and, in reality, it was mostly offensive coordinator John Morton and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, the main play-caller, who got too conservative.

The Trojans are also more vulnerable because their quarterbacks, Matt Barkley and Aaron Corp, are inexperienced. Barkley was injured and did not play last week. Corp got the start and failed miserably.

The Trojans were 18-point favorites, and their loss, said The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall, ”strikes a real blow to the veneer of USC’s invincibility.” Marshall said he expects the Trojans to lose one or two more times this season.

USC’s offense was at its best when future NFL quarterbacks ran it and Norm Chow and his disciples coordinated it. Chow handed off the job to Lane Kiffin, who was replaced by Steve Sarkisian. Chow is at UCLA, Kiffin is at Tennessee and Sarkisian is at Washington.

”They are missing that connection to Chow now,” Marshall said. ”Carroll is clueless about the offense. He’s a defensive guy. I thought it was pathetic play-calling late in the game (against Washington). They were so unbelievably outcoached in that game.

”I don’t know if Barkley can do it yet, and I surely know Corp can’t do it. Corp doesn’t look good, and, frankly, I didn’t think Barkley looked good the previous week.”

As a result, Carroll is not looking as good. His weakness — being clueless about the offense — is fully exposed. But he will bounce back as Barkley gets better.

Barkley is expected to start Saturday, when USC hosts a Washington State team that is a bad joke. The Trojans, who whipped the Cougars 69-0 last year, are 46-point favorites.

”They might beat Washington State 70-0,” Marshall said, ”but that would not solve their problems, which would pop up against the better teams.”

Carroll is normally a cash machine for bettors. He was 26-7 against the spread in 33 games before this season. After this week’s scrimmage, the Trojans are on the road against California on Oct. 3.

“I really expect Cal to beat USC next week,” Marshall said.

The Trojans visit Notre Dame on Oct. 17, and the Irish’s fight to get Weis off the hot seat was helped by their 33-30 victory over Michigan State last week.

But Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen is hobbled by a toe injury, and star receiver Michael Floyd is out with a broken collarbone. Notre Dame is a 7-point favorite at Purdue, and Marshall is backing the Boilermakers as one of his top plays.

“I think this game maybe has upset written on it,” Marshall said. ”Weis isn’t out of the woods yet. He was lucky to win that game last week. I think he’s in some trouble this week. Last year, in the games Floyd missed, the offense couldn’t do anything.”

Marshall (goldsheet.com) recommends two more underdogs — Colorado State plus-17 at Brigham Young, and Army plus-10 at Iowa State.

* CLOSING NUMBERS — Brigham Young and Florida flopped, and I went 2-4 last week to drop to 7-11 for the season. My six picks for Saturday (home team in CAPS):

Illinois (+14) over OHIO STATE; GEORGIA (-11) over Arizona State; NORTH CAROLINA STATE (-1) over Pittsburgh; PURDUE (+7) over Notre Dame; Texas Tech-HOUSTON (Over 73); OREGON STATE (-21/2) over Arizona.

Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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