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Underdog USC finds itself in unfamiliar role

- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If there was still any doubt the days of Southern California dominating the Pac-10 are over _ at least for the near future _ there's proof positive this week.

USC is a 9 1/2-point underdog at Stanford on Saturday.

It's just the third time since 2004 that USC has been an underdog, according to the odds maker RJ Bell of Pregame.com. The last time was when USC played at Oregon in 2007. The Trojans were three-point underdogs to the Ducks that day and lost 24-17 in quarterback Mark Sanchez's third career start. He was replacing an injured John David Booty.

The last time the Trojans were a double-digit underdog was 1998 _ pre-Pete Carroll _ when they were getting 14 points at Florida State. Considering the Cardinal crushed USC 55-21 at the Coliseum last season, maybe Stanford should be favored by more this week.

Both the Trojans and Cardinal are coming off Pac-10 losses. USC lost to Washington on a last-second field goal for the second straight season and Stanford couldn't contain Oregon, losing 52-31 after holding an early 18-point lead.

Behind Toby Gerhart, the Cardinal ripped up USC's defense last season. Gerhart is gone, but quarterback Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense have been just as potent and powerful in 2010. Meanwhile, the USC defense has gotten even worse, allowing 418 yards per game.

What's your deal, Trojans?

That's not just the question this year, it was last year's, too. After Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh went for a 2-point conversion with the outcome decided last year, Carroll asked his counterpart, "What's your deal?" during a chilly postgame meeting at midfield. Harbaugh responded, "What's YOUR deal?"

Clearly, no Christmas cards were swapped between the Carroll and Harbaugh families.

Carroll is gone for the NFL but new USC coach Lane Kiffin practically owes his career to the man he replaced and once worked under. Both coaches, of course, brushed off any lingering, "What's your deal?" tension.

"That horse has been beaten pretty well," Harbaugh said. "I think it couldn't be any more irrelevant to what's going on this weekend and what we're trying to accomplish."

Kiffin put it this way: "I think it's irrelevant unless they have the Seahawks on the schedule."

Irrelevant? Maybe. But Stanford never misses an opportunity to be irreverent. The athletic department has been offering a "What's your deal?" ticket plan this season that includes the USC game.

The picks:

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THURSDAY

No. 7 Nebraska (minus 12) at Kansas State

Daniel Thomas can become a legit Heisman contender with big game in K-State victory ... NEBRASKA 31-14.

FRIDAY

No. 22 Oklahoma State (minus 24) at Louisiana-Lafayette

T. Boone Pickens couldn't buy the Cowboys out of this trip? ... OKLAHOMA STATE 49-20.

SATURDAY

No. 1 Alabama (minus 6 1/2) at No. 19 South Carolina

Stephen Garcia, Giant Killer. Can't say it with a straight face, can you? ... ALABAMA 33-21.

Indiana (plus 22 1/2) at No. 2 Ohio State

If Buckeyes need to protect Terrelle Pryor, this is the team to do it against ... OHIO STATE 42-17.

No. 3 Oregon (minus 36) at Washington State

Ducks have already had one 70-point game. Maybe another? ... OREGON 60-14.

Toledo (plus 38 1/2) at No. 4 Boise State

Broncos will try to keep pace with Oregon ... BOISE STATE 60-14.

Wyoming (plus 34 1/2) at No. 5 TCU

Horned Frogs need to make some statements, too ... TCU 48-10.

No. 8 Auburn (minus 6) at Kentucky

Wildcats won 21-14 at Auburn last year. Two in a row? .... KENTUCKY 31-24.

Oregon State (plus 7 1/2) at No. 9 Arizona

Before last season's Wildcats win, Beavers had won nine of 10 in series ... ARIZONA 34-24.

No. 10 Utah (minus 6) at Iowa State

Cyclones coming off big win, but .... UTAH 31-21.

BEST BET

No. 11 Arkansas (minus 6) vs. Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas

Stats say A&M defense is improved. Ryan Mallett will be judge of that ... ARKANSAS 42-24.

No. 12 LSU (plus 6 1/2) at No. 14 Florida

Can Les Miles pull another one out of his hat? ... FLORIDA 20-10.

No. 23 Florida State (plus 6) at No. 13 Miami

Most interesting 'Noles-'Canes game in a while, with both trending in right direction ... MIAMI 38-28.

Southern California (plus 9 1/2) at No. 16 Stanford

Here's the deal: Cardinal poised for another romp through Trojans ... STANFORD 45-28.

UPSET SPECIAL

No. 17 Michigan State (plus 4 1/2) at No. 18 Michigan

Denard Robinson will have to score every time he has the ball. Not saying he can't, but .... MICHIGAN STATE 48-38.

Minnesota (plus 22) at No. 20 Wisconsin

Gophers have lost six straight in series overall and seven in a row in Madison ... WISCONSIN 45-14.

San Jose State (plus 39) at No. 21 Nevada

Wolf Pack had NCAA-record four players top 100 yards rushing vs. SJST last season ... NEVADA 58-14.

Colorado (plus 13) at No. 24 Missouri

Time to find out if Buffaloes are really ready for turnaround season ... MISSOURI 38-21.

Colorado State (plus 25) at No. 25 Air Force

AFA has won four straight Ram-Falcon Trophy games ... AIR FORCE 35-17.

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Last week: 11-4 (straight); 7-8 (vs. points).

Season: 82-14 (straight); 44-39-3 (vs. points).

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