Minnesota Golden Gophers at Southern California Trojans
Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, California
Saturday, September 3, 2011, 3:30 pm Eastern, TV: ABC or ESPN2
Opening Line: USC -20
Current Line: USC -23 1/2
Opening Total: 50
Current Total: 51 1/2
Opening Money Line: USC -1800 / Minnesota +1150
Current Money Line: USC -1900 / Minnesota +1200
USC is on the sec0nd year of probation and can’t go to a bowl game or play in the new Pac 12 championship game. The Trojans open the season at home against Minnesota. USC leads the all-time series 5-1-1 including a 32-21 victory last season in Minneapolis.
USC finished last season 8-5 under first year coach Lane Kiffin. Minnesota was 3-9 last season and brought in coach Jerry Kill from Northern Illinois to turn the program around.
Minnesota struggled last to move the ball averaging 364.6 yards a game and scored 23.2 points a game. The Gophers are pretty young with only 41 upperclassmen on the roster. Junior Marqueis Gray takes over at quarterback for the reliable Adam Weber, now with the Broncos in the NFL. Gray only threw 8 passes last year but he had 22 rushes for 110 yards and a touchdown. He even played receiver last year and had 42 catches, 587 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Senior Duane Bennett should get plenty of carries in coach Kill’s run first offense along with the dual threat quarterback Gray. Bennett had 123 carries, 529 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He also had 33 catches and a touchdown last season. Redshirt freshmen Donnell Kirkwood and Lamonte Edwards will also get plenty of carries. Senior receiver Da’Jon McKnight was the leading receiver last year with 48 catches, 750 yards, and 10 touchdowns. His production could drop just because the Gophers will run the ball much more in the new system. Junior Brandon Green missed most of last season with a knee injury but he will be the #2 receiver to replace Gray. Senior tight end Eric Lair had 39 catches, 526 yards, and 2 touchdowns and will get some targets as well.
The Gophers were decent against the pass giving up 200.8 yards a game but terrible against the run giving up 192.4 yards a game. Overall, Minnesota gave up 393.2 yards and 33 points a game. The defense returns 8 starters but must improve on a pass rush that was the worst in the country with only 9 sacks. The defense will be boosted by Florida transfer linebacker Brandon Beal and safety Kim Royston who returns after missing all of last season due to injury.
USC averaged 431.8 yards and 31 points a game last season. The Trojans return 6 starters from that unit. The offense will be led by future first round NFL pick junior Matt Barkley. Barkley completed 62.6% of his passes last year for 2,791 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The Trojans will be without leading rusher Marc Tyler for at least the Minnesota game after he made some controversial comments while drunk on the website TMZ. The Trojans will also be without junior running back Curtis McNeal who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. With Tyler and McNeal out, look for freshman D.J. Morgan and sophomore Dillon Baxter to get most of the carries. Baxter had 59 catches, 252 yards, and a touchdown last year. He also caught 11 passes last year. The Trojans best receiver Robert Woods is listed as probable with an elbow injury for the Minnesota game. Woods had 65 catches, 792 yards, and 6 touchdowns last season as a freshman. Senior Brandon Carswell and senior tight end Rhett Ellion are also dangerous receivers for the Trojans.
Last season USC was awful at defending the pass giving up 259.5 yards a game. Overall, the Trojans gave up 402 yards, and 26.7 points a game. They return 9 starters so some improvement will happen. Junior free safety T.J. McDonald leads the secondary. He is very talented and will be playing in the NFL soon. However, the secondary still gave up 30 passing touchdowns last year. If they don’t improve on that, it could be a long season for the Trojans. DE Nick Perry, LB Devon Kennard, and CB Nickell Robey are also talented.
USC was 6-7 against the spread last year including 1-5 at home. The over/under was 7-6 including 4-2 at home. Minnesota was 6-6 ATS including 4-1 on the road last season. The over/under was 7-4-1 last season including 2-3 on the road. The Gophers are 5-1 ATS as a road underdog in their last 6. Minnesota is 1-4 ATS in their last 5 non-conference games and 0-5 in their last 5 against Pac 12 teams. USC is 10-1 ATS in their last 11 against Big 10 opponents. The Trojans are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 home games. Minnesota’s last 5 games on grass have gone under the total. Four of the Trojans’ last five home games have gone over.
Minnesota should be better this year, but they haven’t improved enough to beat a powerhouse like USC on the road. The Trojans do have some injury concerns but that hasn’t stopped the public from betting USC. The Trojans opened as a 20 point favorite and the line is up to -23 1/2 and climbing. Minnesota will try to control the clock with their running game, and could keep this closer than the spread would indicate.
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