USC football has a troubling record against the spread under Clay Helton

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC football 5-7 record in 2018 was a devastating dip for the Trojans, but Clay Helton’s record against the spread going back years has been questionable.

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There have been plenty of reasons to rail against Clay Helton’s management of USC football, both earned and unearned.

One area where the head coach has little room to stand on is playing against the odds. That is, unless you’re a bettor who has made a habit of betting against the Trojans.

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Chris Fallica of College GameDay pointed out the less-than-stellar record for Helton against the spread earlier this week.

Measuring a team’s success against the spread can be tricky. Spreads aren’t purely based on expected performance. They are influenced by betting patterns. Oddsmakers have been known to inflate spreads in order to entice people to bet one way or another. Popular teams like USC will often see their spreads inflated purely on reputation.

Moreover, when spreads are giant, failing to cover the spread can be pretty meaningless. When you’re favored by 35, a 31-point win is considered a “loss” even if it is a perfectly acceptable margin by which to win a game against an outmatched opponent.

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Unfortunately, that’s not what has been happening to USC in recent years.

Last year, the Trojans were favored by double digits just twice. They split those games ATS versus UNLV, a 22-point win failing to cover a 25-point spread, and Oregon State, a 17-point win covering a 15-point spread, per

In games in which they were favored by no more than seven points, USC was 2-4 against the spread and 3-3 outright.

In the three games where the Trojans were underdogs by no more than seven points, USC was 0-3 ATS and outright.

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Notre Dame is the one outlier as USC covered the 15-point spread in a seven-point loss. As Fallica pointed out, that “win” against the spread was the only one of USC’s 12 losses as an underdog by less than 10 points under Helton.

All told in 2018, USC was 4-8 against the spread.

Obviously, the 5-7 record matters more than any record against the spread. But the ATS numbers help explain the cognitive dissonance between Helton’s resume, which includes a Rose Bowl win and a Pac-12 title in addition to a solid 26-13 record over the past three seasons, and the vehement calls for his firing from inside and outside the fanbase.

USC’s performances, even in victory and especially in defeat, haven’t been good enough to give Helton much benefit of the doubt.

Since the exciting 2017 Rose Bowl triumph, “satisfying” victories have been few and far between for the Trojans.