If I were a betting man -- and, heaven knows, I'm gambling every morning that I wake up hoping that something good happens before midnight -- I would take a large chunk of savings and wager on the semipro athlete-scholars representing the University of Southern California on the football field every Saturday.
It pains me to say this -- because my father went to UCLA and taught me that USC stands for the University of Spoiled Children -- but Pete Carroll's team is just too remarkably, relentlessly and ridiculously good. Each week, the other guys are overpowered.
It's like watching Kramer dominating those 9-year-olds in karate on that "Seinfeld" episode.
On Saturday, USC beat Arizona, 42-21, for its 27th straight victory, amassing 39 first downs and 724 yards of offense. In five games this season, USC has not scored less than 38 points.
But more than just beating down the opposition, USC keeps beating the point spread -- big point spreads that would choke a horse but not a Trojan.
(Before I give you USC's against-the-spread credentials, let me give you mine. I have not made a sports bet since August 1984, when I wagered on one baseball game every day for a week, doubling my bet each time -- and lost every single game. This left me -- how shall I say? -- "financially crippled" at week's end.)
(Then, for 12 years I wrote an NFL picks column. Many people assumed I was betting on those games; rather, I flipped a coin on every one to make my selections against the point spread. It was the smartest decision I ever made: I had resolved that a random coin could outperform me. And I was right -- I even use the coin now for professional, shopping and marital decisions.)
(By the way, before I get back to celebrating the Trojans, let me just say that I am tired of hearing about USC's bid for a "three-peat," or "three-Pete." The BCS has decided the national champion since 1998, and USC did not win the BCS title in 2003; the Trojans were No. 1 in the coaches' and media polls. So, at best, USC was a split national champion; thus, at best, the Trojans are going for a "two-and-a-half-peat.")
Your best shot of beating the Trojans is if you catch them on a week in which Heisman quarterback Matt Leinart has a tough midterm in his ballroom dancing class.
Last year I made the mistake of stumbling upon USC's games against Stanford and Cal. At halftime, Stanford and Cal were ahead. At halftime, the announcers kept talking about Stanford's and Cal's stellar play. At halftime, I decided to crack open a perky pinot grigio and watch Southern Cal go down good and hard.
USC has gotten so cocky, some of its starters are still in study hall until early in the third quarter.
You can never feel good rooting -- or betting -- against USC. The Trojans typically struggle in the first half, and you start to feel comfortable. Then you wander into the kitchen to get some Pringles, and before the tube is even open, USC has scored 17 points and is driving again. Suddenly, you've lost your taste for Pringles.
Let's say you bet on Oregon last month, getting 191/2 points at home against USC. And the Ducks go ahead 13-0 in the second quarter. Repeat: Oregon 13, USC 0. Final score: Oregon 13, USC 45.
Bye-bye layaway for that leather ottoman.
USC, in its three-year run of supremacy, has covered the point spread in 20 of 29 games.
Eight times in the last two seasons, the Trojans have covered spreads of 24 points or more. Last year, minus-37 against Washington, USC won, 38-0; minus-35 against Arizona, USC won, 49-9. This season, minus-35 at Hawaii, USC won, 63-17; minus-29 against Arkansas, USC won 70-17.
You may recall in last season's BCS title game -- pick 'em versus Oklahoma -- USC won by, uh, 55-19 or thereabouts.
At this point, if I were a betting man, I would have to take USC minus 231/2 against a UFO.
Of course, when USC plays Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend, I'm taking the Irish and the points.
Ask The Slouch
Q. So where were you for the NHL's opening night this season? (Pat Kirby; Rock Hill, S.C.)
A. Like most of Los Angeles -- which registered a 0.0 rating for OLN's first hockey telecast -- I was watching the sun set over the haze in Malibu while waiting for Shannon Elizabeth to call me back.
Q. Does anyone get five good minutes with Tony Kornheiser outside of a television studio? (Jeff Rapaport; Chicago)
A. They may not be "good minutes," but his therapist gets 50 of 'em every Tuesday and Friday.
Q. What does an NFL quality control coach do? (Mike Leon; McHenry, Ill.)
A. In Baltimore, he follows the head coach around and says, "That sounds pretty smart, Mr. Billick."
Q. Isn't ESPN's weekly airing of a new "ULTIMATE Highlight" the same as your vowing "till death do you part" every 5-10 years? (Jerry O'Brien; Irwin, Pa.)
A. Shirley, pay Mr. Smarty Pants.
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