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Sifting out teams that have
quit on grid season

Nov 18, 2003 4:20 AM

The college football season is winding down and this is the time of year when some teams are more emotionally charged up, while others have packed it in. This is something for sports bettors to pay attention to.

This begins to happen in October with homecoming and rivalry games. Many times athletic directors will schedule homecoming games when they’re playing some cream puff team, a game they know will be a blowout win. With a rah-rah atmosphere and the college campus buzzing all weekend from homecoming activities, there’s nothing worse than having the football team lay an egg with a loss. ADs want to send the visiting alumni home with a win.

This can mean a homecoming team is more fired up than usual for a game. Emotion is such a huge factor in college athletics, and we all recognize that teams and individual players can’t be 100% sky high for every game. Sometimes a team is a little flat after a big win or a tough loss.

Rivalry and revenge spots also can find teams with very different emotional levels. Oklahoma has been on a tear all season, after losing two games a year ago. Those two losses? The Sooners were double-digit favorites to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, yet lost both games straight up. Is it so surprising that Oklahoma’s two biggest wins this season were against those teams? The Sooners flattened Oklahoma State 52-9 and Texas A&M 77-0, covering as 15 and 31 point favorites! Do you think emotion and revenge had something to do with it?

This weekend there will be several rivalry/bragging rights games in college football, including Alabama/Auburn, Clemson/South Carolina, Michigan/Ohio State, Washington/Washington State and USC/UCLA. Whether a team has had a good season or a bad one, those rivalry games are still different from every other game all season.

Another factor that can rear its head this time of year is interest. That is, is a team even interested in playing hard, or have they packed the season in? Handicappers utilize this angle especially as the season begins to wind down. Some teams are fighting for BCS rankings, bowl bids and conference championships. Other teams have yet to win a league game or can’t wait for the football schedule to end.

Mississippi State plays Arkansas this weekend in an SEC battle. The Bulldogs defense has been brutal for two years now and they appear to be just riding out the season knowing that longtime coach Jackie Sherrill is history. In Mississippi State’s last home game they lost 38-0 to Alabama as a +10 home dog. That was the Bulldogs third loss in a row since Sherrill announced his retirement. In fact, Mississippi State went 0-3 against the spread and was outscored 125-30 after the winningest coach in school history decided to end his 13-year tenure. Win one for the exiting coach? More likely, a dispirited team packing it in.

Keep a close tab on conference standings. There is still a battle in the SEC East between Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, and in the Big 10 with Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan fighting it out. Wins and losses can not only decide league titles, but also influence bowl positioning and BCS rankings.

In the middle of the spectrum, so to speak, there are .500 teams motivated to creep over that mark for winning seasons. Good handicappers are always on the lookout for motivated teams, especially when matched against an opponent that is just playing out the season.

Still other teams can take an emotional beating late in the season, which can linger. A year ago you may recall Philip Rivers and NC State. The Wolfpack started 9-0 SU/6-1 ATS and were focused on an unbeaten season, but that ended with a 24-17 home loss to Georgia Tech. That triggered a surprising three-game losing skid, including a 14-9 loss at Virginia as a 6-point favorite.

Clearly, NC State reacted differently to that Georgia Tech defeat than, say, Oklahoma State did late in the 2002 season after a 49-24 loss at Texas Tech. The Cowboys were 4-5 after that game and - fired up for a winning season and a possible bowl game - they went 4-0 SU/ATS the rest of the way, which included a 38-28 upset of Oklahoma as a +15 dog and a win over Southern Miss in the Houston bowl. Keep your eyes and ears focused on standings, emotion and motivation, because this is the time of year when savvy prophets can turn a profit.