Handicapper looks beyond

Sep 16, 2008 7:00 PM

Feist Facts by Jim Feist | College and NFL football can offer a variety of great matchups every weekend.

A good handicapper, though, doesnít just look at individuals and teams. There are other factors equally important to identifying a winning spread cover.

In the first week of this college football season, Tennessee was a TD favorite at UCLA. The Volunteers were chalk largely due to a large number of returning starts. UCLA had a new head coach, offensive coordinator and had lost two QBs already. The starting job went to Kevin Craft, who was at Mount San Antonio Community College a year ago.

Despite four interceptions in the first half, UCLA rallied to force OT and win as a big home dog.

What was overlooked by many in the betting public was that Tennessee also had a new offensive coordinator as well as a new starting QB. They had lost QB Erik Ainge, a four-year starter, from their 2007 team. Thatís a significant loss at the most important position on the gridiron. Throw in the fact that is was a 3,000 mile road trip for Tennessee, changing three time zones, and it was a very difficult opening scheduling spot.

Contrast that game with how Tennessee opened two years ago. The Vols were a home dog to No. 9 Cal. It was an interesting matchup of successful coaches and recent powerhouse programs that turned into a completely one-sided game. Tennessee jumped to a 35-0 lead on the way to a 35-18 victory.

Tennessee dominated Cal in total yards (514-336) and rushing (216-64). Individual matchups for a game like this were skewed because of the emotional energy and focus that a team like Tennessee put into that game. Even the best teams in pro and college football donít always have 100 percent focus.

In the second game, Tennessee was a 20-point home favorite over Air Force, yet struggled mightily in a 31-30 victory. The Vols were on a high from that emotional opening day win over Cal that it left little time to prepare for Air Forceís unique option offense.

In Week 3, Tennessee faced rival Florida in the SEC opener. That made the Air Force game a difficult "sandwich" spot. All of these are aspects of handicapping that can give bettors a key edge.

Scheduling can be a significant handicapping angle. A few years ago, Miami had ACC games against Georgia Tech and NC State sandwiched around a Thursday night battle against Louisville. Miami players didnít think any talk of a Louisville upset was possible. A few days later Louisville led 24-7 at the half as a 9-point underdog.

Other times a team can be so focused for a big game that they are spent emotionally for the next contest. National TV games, especially for smaller schools that rarely get on TV, can be a big deal.