Success or failure: See who’s home

Oct 19, 2004 1:11 AM

There’s no place like home.

There is often a considerable difference between how a team plays at home compared to the road. In the first Sunday night NFL game this season (Dallas at Minnesota), the Vikings looked outstanding and dominating from start to finish in a 35-17 win. A week later in Philadelphia, a bumbling Vikings team fell 27-16.

Sherlock Holmes one week, Inspector Clouseau the next.

This happens in college, too. In the opener, Florida State traveled to Miami and fell apart in a 16-10 ACC loss. The next week at Syracuse, the Seminoles again struggled in barely escaping with a 17-13 win as a 19-point dog. However at home, FSU is 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS.

Naturally teams want to play better in front of the home folks. Part of it is pride and part is that the fans are paying good money for entertainment. Green Bay fans booed their team last Monday night in a 48-27 loss to Tennessee.

Another part of the equation is travel. Visiting teams have to spend time in airports, sleep in unfamiliar hotel rooms and have their sleeping patterns disrupted. Home teams get to spend the week working at their own practice facilities, sleeping in their own bed, eating home cooked meals and driving to the stadium on a familiar roads.

Look at the Iowa Hawkeyes. From 2001-03, the Iowa football team went 8-7 SU and ATS on the road, yet was almost perfect (18-2 SU, 17-3 ATS (at home). Maryland had a very impressive road record during the same span (10-5 SU, 9-6 ATS) under Coach Ralph Friedgen, but were 19-1 SU and 15-3 ATS at home.

Not every team is so distinct, of course, and performance doesn’t always carry over from season to season so clearly. However, professional and college athletes are more comfortable at home than on the road and this can be reflected in their play.

Sometimes the playing surface can have an impact. The Missouri Tigers play their home games on artificial turf, which helps the speed of elusive QB Brad Smith. Notice that Missouri began this season 1-1 SU and 0-1 ATS on the road, which included a 24-14 upset loss at Troy State as a 10-point favorite. Yet at home, Missouri is 3-0 SU/2-1 ATS. The offense is averaging 39 points per game at home and just 22 per contest on the road.

You think that sample is too small? In 2003, the Tigers averaged 41 points per game at home and 19 away. From 2002-03, Missouri went 9-3 SU/8-3 ATS at home, 2-8 SU/5-5 ATS away. Same team, players and coaches. Yet, offensive production, wins and losses are very different.

Of course, not all teams have this kind of disparity. Coaching is also a factor. Good coaches can get their teams to play at a high level, regardless of whether they’re home or away. Some weak coaches can often only inspire the troops to play well at home.

Northern Illinois of the MAC has a strong coaching staff under Joe Novak, but even he can find it difficult on the road: The Huskies are 19-3 SU at home since 2001 and 9-10 SU on the road. This season NIU started 3-0 SU/2-0 ATS at home, 1-2 SU/ATS away.

Like Missouri, Hawaii’s passing offense is in a unique situation playing at home on artificial turf. The Rainbow Warriors have long road trips to the mainland, while teams traveling to Hawaii have a far longer flight than normal. Since 2000, Hawaii is 25-11 SU/18-15 ATS at Aloha Stadium, but 7-12 SU/8-11 ATS on the road. No different this year. Hawaii is 2-1 SU/ATS at home, outscoring opponents by a 40-26 average.

Arizona State got off to an impressive 5-0 SU/ATS start, winning and covering both home and away. It will be interesting to the Sun Devils, who are 23-12 SU/21-11-1 ATS at home since 1999 and a disappointing 11-17 SU/ATS on the road.

It’s no wonder that NFL teams play hard to secure the home field edge for the playoffs. At stake could be advancing to the Super Bowl or going home and wondering what might have been.