National exposure helps football's dogs

Nov 25, 2008 4:59 PM

Feist Facts by Jim Feist |

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

This juncture in 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-Okla State, USC-Notre Dame, Florida-Florida State and Auburn-Alabama bring out extra intensity and emotion.

Remember all the upsets late last season? Pitt got fired up to play West Virginia and won as a +28 dog, while Missouri knocked off unbeaten Kansas. Three years ago unbeaten Texas was a 27-point favorite at rival 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.

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. In 2001, there were 12 college and pro football games played Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, and the underdog was 11-1 against the spread.

In fact three of the six biggest upsets in college football since 1969 occurred last year. And a fourth (Pitt-West Virginia) made the Top 10:

• Stanford (+42) tops USC, 24-23

• Syracuse (+39) at Louisville, 38-35

• Appalachian St (+35) at Michigan, 34-32

• Pitt (+28) tops West Virginia, 13-9

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 can get fired up to face big-name schools, such as Toledo winning at Michigan this season.

Rivalries can force bettors to discount point spreads, or take a closer look at the dog, not to mention high-profile games this time of the year.