The Pac-12 Crown is on the line Saturday night in Santa Clara, California as the Stanford Cardinal take on the University of Southern California Trojans. USC leads the all-time series with a record of 60-30-3 over the Cardinal. This is the first time the two teams will meet on a neutral field. Recent history has the Cardinal slightly ahead of the Trojans as Stanford has taken 6 of the previous 10 match ups.
Earlier this season, an unranked Stanford defeated #6 USC 41-31 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
A lot has changed for USC since then, most notably, a new head coach -- Clay Helton.
What will happen this time around? Well, lets take a look at what the bookies and computers think.
LINES AND ODDS
The sports books opened USC vs. Stanford with the Cardinal favored by 4 points and has sense moved to Stanford by 4 1/2. The change in the line reflects that early betters have laid their money down slightly more on Stanford.
Vegas lines and odds aren't meant to be predictive. They are made to entice betting in equal portions on each side of the spread. However, combining the line and the over/under usually ends up close to some computer models. After all, Vegas is very good at this and it is a lot of fun.
Combining the line and the over/under, the Vegas combo has Stanford winning 30-26.
Some computer rankings are designed to provide a built-in predictive element by comparing the ratings of two teams.
Some of the best ratings out there come from Football Outsiders. The most famous is Jeff Sagarin's for USA Today, previously used in the BCS computer rankings. I've included a couple others from around the web as well.
FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS F/+
F/+ is a combination of Bill Connelly's S&P+ and Brian Fremeau's FEI ratings. The ratings are usually pretty solid in factoring all the many variables involved in ranking college football teams that have a relatively low level of common opponents.
The F/+ ratings list Stanford #10 (-1) and USC #16.
Bill's S&P+ picks have Stanford by 2 (34.0-32.4). However the computers give Stanford a win probability of 53.7%. Connelly picks USC to cover the Vegas spread.
Bill's S&P+ picks yielding a win probability between 50-59% have gone 81-73 this season. That's a 52.6% win rate.
Stanford is ranked #8 (-1) with a rating of 88.04.
USC is ranked #12 with a rating of 86.28.
Sagarin’s formula currently values home field advantage as worth 2.68 points. However, this game is played on a neutral field. So subtracting the difference between the ratings, Sagarin has Stanford favored by 2 points (1.76).
Billingsley's ranking was also previously used by the BCS. With the BCS restriction to remove margin of victory no longer a consideration, Billingsley has created a version of his formula that accounts for margin of victory.
Stanford is ranked #9 (-1) with a rating of 113.891.
USC is ranked #15 with a rating of 111.906.
The difference is 2 (rounded up from 1.985) points on a neutral field meaning that Billingsley has Stanford by 2 points.
Donchess boils down the ratings directly into digestible scores and probabilities, no math required.
Donchess predicts a Stanford win 27-25 and gives Stanford a win probability of 54.3%.
Ashby's Accurating provides a point spread value for each team, which is subtracted from each other after adding 3 points to the home team. Accurating also provides an over/under value for each team, which are added together for the game's over/under.
Stanford is ranked #6 (+1) with a point spread value of 68 and over/under value of 28.
USC ranked #19 with a point spread value of 66 and over/under value of 29.
On a neutral field, Stanford is favored by 5 with an expected score of Stanford 30 USC 28.
There are a lot of computer ratings that aren’t packaged with a predictive ability. There are also a ton of computer ratings, period. Kenneth Massey, whose ratings were also part of the old BCS computer formula, hosts on his site a composite ranking of 106 computer ratings across the internet.
In that composite, Stanford ranks #6 (+3) and USC ranks #20.
A trip to the "Granddaddy of Them All" is on the line. This week, it appears that both Las Vegas betters and line makers are in agreement with the computers predictors. Although the Vegas line is higher than all the computers. One thing everyone seems to agree on. The Pac-12 Championsh is going to be a close shave for both teams.