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Getting embarrassed by Stanford was the last straw for USC athletic director Mike Bohn. Citing the need for a change in leadership, Bohn fired Clay Helton, who had been the head coach of the Trojans since 2015. Expectations are justifiably high at a place like USC and the team had met too few of them on Helton’s watch.
Bettors were extremely skeptical of Helton for several seasons leading up to his firing. Many shied away from taking USC, especially in games in which the Trojans were facing a perceived coaching disadvantage, like Saturday night. The talent level in the program also took a dive with some lackluster recruiting classes that pushed the power rating for oddsmakers and handicappers down year after year.
But does Helton’s firing have any impact this week in the minds of those that set the lines?
“No move,” said Matthew Metcalf, the director of Circa Sports. “We wouldn’t even know what to do with the line, but it feels like a positive.”
Donte Williams takes over as the interim head coach for Saturday's game against Washington State. The home underdog Cougars have taken a little bit of money, pushing USC down to a consensus 8.5-point favorite; the line had opened at -10.
Lead trader Matt Lindeman at WynnBET also didn’t feel the need to move the line. “I don’t think that move [in the line] is related to Helton,” Lindeman added. “Washington State had some QB injuries and maybe that situation is getting a little bit better.”
In essence, Helton’s firing has had no impact on this week’s line or the fact that the line has been bet down.
What about an adjustment to USC’s National Championship futures odds or the odds to win the Pac-12?
“I don’t think that losing Helton is a big drop-off,” Lindeman added. “They’ve always been one bad loss away from him leaving. Now you’ve got a team that is maybe playing with a little less pressure, so that could help.”
The 42-28 loss to Stanford (as a 17.5-point favorite, no less) had a much larger impact on USC’s future hopes than the Helton firing. The damage was already done before Bohn’s decision. The Trojans were 50-1 at BetMGM in early August, but now sit at 66-1.
What will be more interesting than the immediate impact is the long-term picture. A dynamic hire could vault USC back into being a team with some of the shortest odds to win the title.
For this season, bettors and oddsmakers will just take a wait-and-see approach based on how this week and the next couple of weeks go without Helton on the sidelines.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.