Give thanks for
Turkey reversals

Nov 21, 2006 4:06 AM

Late season college football games mean Turkey Day action, hot races for conference titles and bowl berths, plus rivalries that span decades.

These games can have far more importance for players than September/October clashes. Oklahoma/Nebraska, USC/Notre Dame, Florida/FSU and Texas/Texas A&M bring out extra intensity and emotion.

Remember last year when unbeaten Texas was a 27-point favorite at Texas A&M? The Aggies had one of the worst defenses in the nation in 2005, but Dennis Franchione’s kids played an inspired game, leading in the third quarter and down just 34-29 going into the fourth. The maligned Aggie defense actually played well and A&M finished with an edge in yards over eventual national champion Texas, 398-336.

Athletes might not always admit it, but playing on national television can help raise their game a notch, such as Thanksgiving week and conference title matchups in early December. There have also been many memorable surprises and upsets. In 2001, 12 college and NFL games were played on Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. The underdog was 11-1 against the spread. Five dogs won straight up, including Colorado as a 10-point dog smashing No. 2 ranked Nebraska 62-36.

Another unforgettable game occurred 22 years ago. By a scheduling quirk, Boston College/Miami was moved from September to the day after Thanksgiving to showcase star quarterbacks Bernie Kosar and Doug Flutie. Kosar had helped Miami win the national championship the year before as a freshman, while the dynamic Flutie was a senior.

The two didn’t disappoint, electrifying the nation in a back and forth thriller. Kosar passed for over 400 yards, while Flutie was 34-of-46 for 472. The game came down to the final play, with Flutie connecting on a 48-yard TD pass in a 47-45 win at the buzzer, cementing his Heisman Trophy.

One thing that stands out from this list is the number of "public teams" like Notre Dame and Nebraska that got upset. This is an example of how oddsmakers have to add a few extra points to popular teams, as well as how smaller schools can get fired up to face high profile opponents.

It doesn’t always help to be one of the top teams in the polls. Opponents are sure to be gunning for you.

We saw this just a few weeks ago when No. 1 Ohio State won 17-10 at Illinois as a 25-point favorite. In a sense, it was Illinois’ bowl game with its season winding down, so players went all out. That same day, No. 2 Michigan had to hold on as a 32-point favorite in a 34-26 win against Ball State. Two results that nearly disrupted the national title picture, not to mention last Saturday’s Big 10 showdown.

Not only can the opponent be fired up, but the big favorite might not be taking the game seriously. After the Ball State game, Michigan quarterback Chad Henne said, "I think that is a lot of the reason why we weren’t focused. Coming into the game, people were reading too many press clippings."

This is nothing new. Going way back to one of the biggest upsets, in late November of 1942, BC was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the nation in college football, closing in on the school’s first national championship. In the final tune-up before the bowls, BC played a 4-4-1 Holy Cross team and was a 4-TD favorite.

Fired-up Holy Cross flattened the No. 1 ranked Eagles 55-12 in one of the biggest upsets in college football history. That’s a good example of how rivalries can force bettors to discount point spreads, or take a closer look at the dog and the dynamics involved in high-profile games this time of the year.

 

TURKEY DROPPINGS

1985 Oregon St (+36) tops Wash, 21-20

1985 UTEP (+36) over BYU, 23-16

1998 Temple (+35½) beats Va Tech, 28-24

1972 Missouri (+35) beat ND, 30-26

1974 Purdue (+34) at ND, 31-20

1992 Iowa S (+29) over Nebraska, 19-10

1969 San Jose St (+29) at Oregon, 36-34

1995 N’western (+28) over ND, 17-15

1942 Holy Cross (+28) beats BC, 55-12