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Modesti: The money, smart or not, is on USC football

Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday Aug. 17 edition of the Game Day with Kevin Modesti newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. USC football fans will want to read a conversation I had about the difference of opinion between preseason poll voters and national-championship bettors over howmuch the Trojans have improved.

Before we get to that, here are the highlights of today’s sports coverage. Big news from the Chargers this morning, Derwin James becoming the NFL’s highest-paid safety. Elliott Teaford is on top of it. LAFC is the hottest team in Southern California, the MLS leader winning its seventh game in a row, 1-0 over DC United. Josh Gross reports. The Dodgers aren’t the hottest team in town anymore after Craig Kimbrel blew another save on “Top Gun” night in Milwaukee. Bill Plunkett got a good lede out of that, which is what counts. Jose Suarez was let down by the Angels’ bullpen and batting order. Jeff Fletcher watched. In action off the field, the UC Board of Regents is set today to discuss UCLA’s move to the Big Ten. Jon Wilner writes, “UCLA’s divorce proceedings have the potential to turn ugly.”

Now, USC.

Preseason college football rankings for 2022 were released in recent days, and USC is in the top 25 for the first time since earlyin the 2021 season. The Trojans are No. 14 in the writers’ poll put out by the Associated Press, No. 15 in the coaches’ poll published by USA Today. Good, but not national-championship contenders.

Interesting, because in another “poll” of sorts, the national-championship futures betting that has been going on for months, USC shows up at No. 5 on the odds list, behind only Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson. The Trojans are +2180 to win the national title in’s consensus of sportsbooks. In other words, about 21-1.

Why are bettors so much more optimistic about USC’s chances of shooting right back to the top after the hiring of a well-proven new coach and the additions of a star quarterback and wide receiver?

I got in touch with John Murray, executive director of the Westgate hotel SuperBook in Las Vegas. He understands the difference between poll voters’ and bettors’ thinking.

“I think that maybe the people voting in the polls are looking more at last season,” Murray said. “Bettors are always looking for alongshot. They’re always looking for a team that they put down a small amount of money and win a big amount of money. They don’t want to bet on Alabama at 3-2 or Ohio State at 3-1. They want to bet on a team like USC at 40-1, Miami at long odds, Texas at long odds.

“It’s pretty common for the bettors to back a very prestigious program, that they’ve seen win before, at longer odds, and they don’t care about last season. Especially with all the new players the Trojans have.”

As money has come in on USC, the Westgate has dropped the Trojans’ odds from 40-1 to 30-1 to 25-1, Murray said. The only team on which the SuperBook has more financial liability is LSU.

“When you have an offseason where you bring in (coach) Lincoln Riley, (quarterback) Caleb Williams and (wide receiver) Jordan Addison, they’re a very popular team at the betting window and they’re going to be a very popular team at the betting window all season long, as long as they’re winning,” Murray said.

History says that when poll voters and bettors disagree, the bettors are slightly more accurate predictors. In 2021, eventual national champion Georgia was No. 5 in the preseason polls but co-No. 3 in preseason odds, according to In 2020, eventual champion Alabama started at No. 3 in the polls but No. 2 in the odds.

But Murray thinks USC bettors might be getting ahead of themselves.

“The public bettors, especially here with our proximity to L.A., they’re all in on USC already,” Murray said on the phone from Las Vegas 18 days before the Trojans open the season Sept. 3 against Rice. “They see all the big names, they know Lincoln Riley, and they’re all sold on USC before they even take the field.

“The more advanced (bettors), the experts, the ‘sharps,’ we call them, are going to take a wait and see approach. They’re going to make USC prove it to them. They’re not going to believe in them before they actually go out there on the field and win and beat good teams.”

Murray’s own view of the Trojans?

“Love the coach. Love the quarterback. I think Addison’s probably the best receiver in college football. I think it gives them a real chance at a great regular season playing in the Pac-12,” he said. “But where I stop the optimism is I don’t think it’s realistic to think that USC could get into a college football playoff and beat Alabama, Ohio State and teamslike that.

“It’s going to take several years of recruiting for Lincoln Riley and his staff before they can be a serious national-championship contender. There’s a big gap, when you start talking about teams like Alabama and Georgia, the talent level there. USC’s not there yet.”


Angels host the Mariners (1:07 p.m., YouTube). Touki Toussaint tries to repeat his successful first start with L.A.

Dodgers play the third of four against the Brewers in Milwaukee (5:10 p.m., SNLA). Tony Gonsolin can improve on his 14-1 record.


How far can USC go in its first season under coach Lincoln Riley? Share your opinion by emailing me at [email protected].


1,000 WORDS

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Victor Caratini, left, is mobbed by teammates after hitting a two-run walk-off single during the 11th inning of their 5-4 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday night in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)


Thanks for reading. I welcome questions, comments and suggestions about this newsletter and any sports topic. Reach me by email at [email protected].

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the Game Day with Kevin Modesti newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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