September attracts major upsets

Sep 21, 2004 1:13 AM

There’s a reason they play these football games. Upsets happen, and we have seen plenty already this September.

This is nothing surprising, either, and it’s often evident early in the pro and college football seasons because some teams are very different from year to year. It’s most noticeable with top-ranked teams. Defending champion LSU was lucky to squeeze out a 22-21 victory over Oregon State in its opener a few weeks back, only because the Beaver kicker missed three extra points!

Those who had 17-point dog Oregon State didn’t sweat their bet the entire game. LSU’s offense is not the same without QB Matt Mauck, as coach Nick Saban rotated ineffective QBs JaMarcus Russell and Marcus Randall. Most teams are not the same from year to year and LSU shows why experienced QB play can be so important.

That game was not an upset, but it was a preview of what was to soon follow. Southern Miss travels to Nebraska and wins 21-17; Fresno State pounds No. 14 Kansas State 45-21; double-digit favorite No. 7 Michigan lays an egg in South Bend in a 28-20 Notre Dame victory; Indiana flies to No. 25 Oregon as a +20 dog and wins outright, 30-24.

So what is going on? It’s September, folks, and this craziness is nothing new. Oddsmakers are more in the dark now than at anytime during the football season. They have to go by last year’s stats along with offseason player and coaching moves. However, the performance of a team last fall doesn’t mean similar results the following year. Now is a great time for savvy handicappers to pounce on soft lines and live dogs.

The old saying "Hope springs eternal" is evident in September. Late in the season, some teams are working on 2-6 campaigns with no hope of a winning record or bowl game. That’s the time when some teams, both pro and college, can pack it in. But on the opening kickoff of each season, every team is undefeated. Look no further than Troy State, coming from 14 points behind on national television to stun double-digit favorite Missouri, 24-14. Troy was coming off seasons of 6-6 and 4-8, but played fierce football in the big upset of the Tigers.

Now is when dogs bark loudest, despite the favorites going 23-16 ATS the first week and the dogs posting a 21-20 ATS mark in Week 2. A year ago, the dogs were 20-7-1 ATS the first week and 24-19 ATS beginning 2002.

Fresno’s start is reminiscent of 2001, when Coach Pat Hill had QB David Carr. The Bulldogs roared out of the gate upsetting Colorado 24-22 as a +8 dog, whipping Oregon State 44-24 as a +3 dog and winning 32-20 at Wisconsin as a +4 dog. Sometimes live dogs are right in front of your face like that.

Fresno has a lot of returning talent and was very strong a year ago when starting 3-0 ATS despite facing Tennessee, Oregon State and No. 1 Oklahoma. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Fresno State is now 18-9 ATS as a dog since 1999.

While teams like Fresno have a lot of returning talent, others get one or two star freshmen or a new coaching staff that revitalizes a program. Other factors such as key injuries or bad luck can come into play.

When these things happen, you need to identify the key changes and update your power ratings accordingly. The next step is to see if the linemaker has also made the adjustment. Sometimes it takes several weeks and games for the line to catch up, especially with smaller schools often on the added board.

Maryland was a great example when they hired Ralph Friedgen, going 26-12 ATS the last three years. The Terrapins are also 19-1 SU, 15-3 ATS at home under his guidance. Illinois enjoyed a 10-2 season in 2001 that took them to the Sugar Bowl. Then the Illini lost their best players have since gone 7-19 SU and 8-16 ATS.

For money-line players looking to cash in with big underdogs winning straight up, now is a good time of year for upsets. Remember, all seasons are not created equal. Dogs often bark loudly in September, so beware!