Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. USC Trojans (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), 3:30 p.m. EST, College Football Week 1, Saturday, September 3, 2011, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California
by Scotty L of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Minnesota Golden Gophers +20.5/USC Trojans -20.5
On Saturday, September 3, the Minnesota Golden Gophers travel to SoCal to take on the USC Trojans, as each team opens their 2011 regular season. With an 8-5 record last year and a 17-9 mark over the past two campaigns, USC has been in a bit of a swoon by their standards. The Golden Gophers of Minnesota, however, can only dream of such a ledger. With a 3-9 record last year, they will need a major turnaround to avoid the cellar of the Big Ten Legends Division.
Even teams like Minnesota can be optimistic at the beginning of a season. They very well may turn out to be a bad team, but that identity has not set in yet. In fact, they won their last two games of the year to end the season with a good headspacevictories over Illinois and Iowa in a big upset. The common perception is that they will struggle mightily, but Minnesota might be able to build on some positive momentum and surprise some people.
It will be difficult against a home Trojans team. Lane Kiffin is in his 2nd season as head coach and he looks to return USC to its high-flying offensive glory days of the recent past. If successful, he will need to be less reliant on the run than in prior standout USC seasons. Nevertheless, returning starting QB Matt Barkley figures to improve with a great cast of playmakers. The offensive line only returns two starters, so the new unit will need to mesh early. If so, expect a season of shootouts from this offense.
Stellar Trojan freshman WR Robert Woods looks to have a big year. Some rising young talent at that position could also help. Returning tailback Mark Tyler (10 TDs in 2010) looks to take some pressure off Barkley and his young pass-catching crew. A slew of returning players also look to anchor the Trojans defense. Defensive end Nick Perry and an experienced front line look to cause some problems for opposing quarterbacks. The linebacking crew, with returning Chris Galippo and Devon Kennard, will need to step it up to lend more balance to a defensive squad that can use a little improvement if USC hopes to return to the national picture.
Minnesota began last season 1-9 before winning their final two games, so they are obviously looking to avoid such a bad start. New head coach Jerry Kill has seen success at Southern and Northern Illinois. As good as he is, growing pains are expected. MarQueis Gray is a converted wide receiver looking to make his mark at quarterback. His ability to adapt to the position will largely affect this teams chances this season. Until we see Gray tested, we really dont know how effective he will be. Gray will have some weapons at his disposal, including tailback Duane Bennett. With Gray looking to use his legs, he and Bennett could provide a nice 1-2 punch in the running game. In all 3 of their wins last year, their rush was excellent. Its especially important for this team to run the ball well.
Their defense is a major problem. They face the double-edged sword of returning 9 players, but ones who mostly failed to establish a respectable D in 2010. They gave up an average of 33 points a game. More alarming, perhaps, is that they amassed an anemic 9 sacks all season. That lack of pressure will not bode well in the Coliseum against Barkley. Without the heat being applied, he could conceivably have a gigantic game. If Minnesota has any hopes of being competitive in this game, those returning starters will all need to elevate their form significantly from last season.
Its too early to know for certain, but the Trojans could be awfully tough. Their defense might prove to be porous, but Matt Barkley and Company should be able to come out on the sunny side of most of their shootouts. Expect some high-scoring games this season from the Trojans. The Golden Gophers are also moving in the right direction. Their head coach is a proven winner and he has some good athletes with which to work. It will be a baptism-by-fire, as they would surely appreciate an easier first week test than a road game at USC.
Scotty Ls Pick to Cover the Point Spread: USC beat Minnesota 32-21 on the road last year to cover the 10.5-point spread. Now they are at home and laying twice as many points. A potential Minnesota backer is really taking a leap of faith, however. What the teams form will be is pretty much a mystery and there is no reason to rule out a sound beating at the hands of USC. Its just that USC never seems to perform consistently well in the role of a big favorite. In their last ten games as a favorite of 10.5 or more, they are 3-7.
While I wouldnt find much solace in that statistic and Minnesota is very iffy, they might be able to make enough big plays against a Trojan defense that isnt quite clicking yet to keep it within 20.5. Take Minnesota plus 20.5 points.
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