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Bite on ‘sandwiches’

Sep 25, 2007 3:37 AM

A good handicapper doesn’t just look at individual or team matchups in college and pro football.

Other factors surrounding a game that can be equally important to identifying a winning spread cover, such as scheduling and road travel.

The first week of college football last year saw Tennessee a home dog to No. 9 Cal. It was an interesting matchup of successful coaches and recent powerhouse programs that turned into a one-sided game as Tennessee jumped to a 35-0 lead on the way to a 35-18 victory.

There were far more factors involved than individual matchups and two big-name coaches trying to out-duel each other. The Volunteers were off a losing season, one where they missed a bowl game for the first time since 1988. Players and coaches were all talking about bringing Tennessee football back to where it belonged.

Tennessee dominated Cal, with an edge in total yards 514-336 and rushing 216-64. Individual matchups were skewed, in a sense, because of the emotional energy and focus that Tennessee put into that game, plus the long road trip for Cal.

The two teams again met in the opener this season, only this time on the West Coast. Tennessee was now the team traveling 3,000 miles, changing time zones on the long trip. Factor in the revenge-angle for Cal, and matchups were less important again. The Golden Bears won and covered, 45-31.

The schedule hurt both road teams. Motivation was a factor, too, with Tennessee rebounding from a poor 2005 season last year and Cal out for revenge in 2007. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but even the best pro and college football teams don’t always have 100 percent focus.

Back in 2006, the Vols were then a 20-point home favorite over Air Force, yet struggled mightily in a 31-30 victory. Several things happened. One is that Tennessee was on a high from that emotional opening day win. Two, the team had put so much focus on beating Cal that it left little time to prepare for Air Force’s unique option offense, which is tough to defend even for talented defenses. Three, Tennessee had a more important game on deck the next week against rival Florida, their SEC opener, making the Air Force game a "sandwich" spot.

A few weeks ago after getting whipped by Cal, the Volunteers were not in a good mood when playing the next week. They covered by double digits in a 39-19 win over Southern Miss. Being able to identify teams that are completely focused, bad scheduling spots, and bounce back opportunities can give bettors a key edge.

This appeared to happen to San Diego. The Chargers opened at home this season against the Bears, the defending NFC Champs, while introducing a new coach in Norv Turner. It was an emotional, physical game, and the Chargers needed a second half rally to pull out a 14-3 victory.

The next week the team flew 3,000 miles to New England to play another talented, physical defense. As a +4 dog, the Chargers were whipped 38-14. They also ran into an angry Patriots team that had been ripped all week in the national media regarding an embarrassing videotape scandal.

A few years ago the Miami Hurricanes had ACC games against Georgia Tech and NC State sandwiched around a Thursday night battle against Louisville. Look what the Miami players were saying the day before that game:

"Louisville is a good team," said then Miami CB Andre Rolle. "But we go in there expecting to shut people out. We’re trying to shoot for a national title." When told that the Cardinals felt they were ripe for the upset, Rolle said, "They can think what they want. Personally, I don’t think that’s going to be possible."

You’re not supposed to give fodder for the enemy like that. I wonder what Rolle thought a few days later when Louisville led 24-7 at the half as a 9-point underdog. Before the game Cardinals WR J.R. Russell said, "We look at the game as life or death. It’s very important."

Miami appeared not to have given as much attention to this non-conference sandwich game as the visitor. Studying individual game matchups are essential, but remember that other factors equally important can surround a game. Look-ahead spots, and sandwich games can influence a team’s focus.