In show business terms, Southern California junior Matt Barkley is the second banana this week. He’s the supporting actor to college football’s Superman.
Barkley could be the No. 2-rated quarterback in the next NFL Draft, too, so he’s not always an underdog. But he’s no Andrew Luck, who might be the perfect pro prospect.
Stanford is a 7½-point favorite at USC on Saturday, and after overanalyzing the game, I settled on the conclusion that the best option is to not take a side.
The Cardinal rule this season, and one I violated last week, has been to avoid betting against Stanford, which is 7-0 against the spread. Instead, I’ll bet on Luck and Barkley to trade punches and put up points.
“I would lean to Stanford first, but I think Barkley has a chance to keep it competitive,” Cal Neva sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “It might be the best game on the board to watch.”
Look for a shootout in Los Angeles — and not just in the neighborhoods surrounding the Coliseum — that goes over the total of 60. VegasInsider.com handicapper Brian Edwards said he made the total 72, the same number the score hit last year in Stanford’s 37-35 victory. The teams combined for 76 and 68 points in the previous two meetings.
If any two passers are capable of producing a high-scoring duel, it’s Luck and Barkley, in that order.
Luck has passed for 1,888 yards and 20 touchdowns, but he’s not alone in the huddle. The Cardinal piled up 446 yards rushing in their 65-21 victory over Washington.
Barkley has passed for 2,006 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven games for the Trojans, who improved to 6-1 with a 31-17 upset victory at Notre Dame. Barkley has 176 completions, 72 to sophomore Robert Woods.
The nation’s elite teams continue to overwhelm what appear to be inflated point spreads, but there were two major exceptions a week ago with Oklahoma and Wisconsin biting the dust and burning the betting public.
“It has been a crazy season, there’s no question about it. With so many top 10 teams covering, it has been impossible to win as a bookmaker,” Bogdanovich said. “All the books had a big Saturday to finally slow (the public) down a little bit. Finally, it turned our way.
“But that doesn’t mean it will stay that way.”
The biggest losers last week were the Sooners, 29-point home favorites in a 41-38 loss to Texas Tech. How will Oklahoma react to the setback? That’s a question for handicappers who double as amateur psychologists to tackle.
One would expect the Sooners to experience some sort of an emotional letdown at Kansas State, a 13½-point home underdog that is 7-0 and has covered six straight.
“Do the Sooners still have a chance to win the national championship with a loss? I don’t know,” Bogdanovich said. “Will they be hanging their heads?
“Oklahoma might be a little overrated. Usually, the further you go into the season, the numbers get more solid. Everything tends to correct itself at some point. Look at Oklahoma’s numbers, because they were so ridiculously high.”
Clemson also has been riding a big wave. The Tigers, 8-0 straight up and 7-1 ATS, might be due for a crash as 3½-point favorites at Georgia Tech.
“The sharps are on Georgia Tech. The public will be on Clemson,” said Bogdanovich, who was taking sharp action on the underdog Thursday.
How will Wisconsin and Michigan State respond to the wildest finish of the season? The Spartans, after a stunning 37-31 victory on a Hail Mary as time expired, are 4-point underdogs at Nebraska.
“I like Michigan State in the game, but the spot is horrific,” Bogdanovich said.
The Badgers are back on the road as 7-point favorites against Ohio State. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson is fading from the Heisman Trophy race because of a fluke play.
At one offshore book, Luck is plus-220 to win the Heisman, and that’s a wager worth making.
■ CLOSING NUMBERS — I have not been Mr. October in terms of college handicapping. After another weak 2-3 week, I’m 19-23-2 for the season. Four plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
NEBRASKA (-4) over Michigan State; Florida (+3) over Georgia; KANSAS STATE (+13½) over Oklahoma; Stanford-USC (Over 60).
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.