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Dogs do bark on Thanksgiving

Nov 19, 2007 5:19 AM

It’s Thanksgiving week, which means the middle of the NFL campaign and winding down the college football regular season.

Late season college football means heated 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/Florida State and Texas/Texas A&M bring out extra intensity and emotion.

Two years ago unbeaten Texas was a 27-point favorite at Texas A&M. The Aggies had one of the worst defenses in the nation, but Dennis Franchione’s boys played an inspired game, leading in the third quarter and down just 34-29 going into the fourth. The maligned Aggies defense played well and A&M finished with an edge in yards over No. 2 Texas, 398-336.

Athletes might not always admit it, but playing on national television can help raise their games a notch, such as Thanksgiving week and conference title tilts in December. There have been many memorable upsets.

In 2001, there were 12 college and pro football games played Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving weekend with the underdog going 11-1 against the spread. Five dogs won straight up, including Colorado as a 10-point dog smashing Nebraska 62-36, the No. 2 ranked team in the nation.

This has certainly been the year of upsets in college football: Michigan losing to Appalachian State, Louisville falling to Syracuse, No. 1 LSU bowing in three overtimes to Kentucky, No. 1 USC (a 42-point chalk) upended by Stanford and No. 1 Ohio State losing at home as a 15-point favorite to Illinois. These upsets all shocked and muddled the BCS picture.

It’s been a historic year in college football (and we’re not done yet), with three of the biggest upsets ever, including the top two. One thing that stands out is the number of "public teams" like Notre Dame, Nebraska and Michigan that got upset. This is an example of how oddsmakers have to add points to public teams, as well as how smaller schools will get fired up to face big-name schools.

It doesn’t always help to be one of the top teams in the polls. Opponents can be gunning for you, which has been the case all season. Everyone is familiar with No. 1 Ohio State going down two weeks ago as Illinois surprised them, 28-21. Few recall that one year ago Ohio State was also No. 1 in the nation and as a 25-point favorite at Illinois, the Buckeyes had to hang on for dear life in a 17-10 win. The Illini was gunning for No. 1 for a signature win. Last year they came close, this year they got it.

In a sense, it was Illinois’ bowl game in 2006 with their season winding down, so they played all out. That same day, No. 2 Michigan had to hold on as a 32-point favorite against Ball State, a 34-26 win. Two games that nearly disrupted their No. 1 vs. No. 2 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."

Boston College has had a fine season, even getting to No. 2 in the polls at one point, their highest ranking since 1942. In late November 1942, BC was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the nation, 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.

It was a rivalry game and fired-up Holy Cross flattened the No. 1 ranked Eagles 55-12 in one of the biggest upsets ever. 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 high-profile games.

ALL-TIME UPSETS

2007 Stanford (+42) tops USC, 24-23
2007 Syracuse (+39) at Louisville, 38-35
1985 Oregon St (+36) tops Wash, 21-20
1985 UTEP (+36) over BYU, 23-16
1998 Temple (+35½) beats Va Tech, 28-24
2007 Appalachian St (+35) at Michigan, 34-32
1972 Missouri (+35) beat Notre Dame, 30-26
1974 Purdue (+34) at Notre Dame, 31-20
1992 Iowa St (+29) over Nebraska, 19-10
1969 San Jose St (+29) at Oregon, 36-34
1995 Northwestern (+28) over N. Dame, 17-15
1942 Holy Cross (+28) beats BC, 55-12