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Scheduling, focus leads to $ openings

Oct 26, 2004 12:23 AM

College football offers a variety of great matchups every Saturday.

Recently, undefeated USC took on unbeaten Arizona State at the Coliseum in a college football Saturday showdown. It came a week after No. 1 USC had come close to being beaten by California. Before the game with the Sun Devils, there was fire in the eyes and determination in the hearts and minds of several USC players.

Trojans RB LenDale White said, "Last year, the offensive line wanted it more than anyone against Arizona State. This year, I think we’re ready to go." WR Chris McFoy said, "This game will give all of us opportunities to show what we can do."

Arizona State was an important game for USC, which played poorly against Virginia Tech, Stanford and Cal despite that No. 1 ranking. The players were particularly focused, aware that many were wondering if USC was overrated with an unbeaten Pac 10 team coming to town.

The focus showed as USC destroyed Arizona State as an 11-point favorite, 45-7. The Trojans led 42-7 at the half and finished with a 446-223 edge in total yards. It was a game where the better team gave a super all-out effort. This doesn’t happen all the time, however, as various circumstances can influence a team’s performance. Even the best teams in pro and college football don’t always have 100 percent focus.

Other times, scheduling can get in the way of whether a team is 100 percent focused. This was evident recently at Florida State. The Seminoles had key ACC games against Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia sandwiched around a trip to Syracuse of the Big East. This out-of-conference "sandwich" game at Syracuse was not as important as the others and it showed.

Florida State was a 19-point favorite at Syracuse, yet needed a last second defensive stop just to win the game in a sloppy 17-13 victory. After that, FSU crushed Virginia, 36-3, as a 3-point home favorite in a key conference game that they appeared supremely focused on.

This was evident, too, with Miami, which joined the ACC this season. The Hurricanes, led by QB Brock Berlin, had games against Georgia Tech and NC State sandwiched around a Thursday battle with Louisville of Conference USA. Look what the Miami players were saying the day before the game:

"Louisville is a good team," said Miami CB Andre Rolle. "But we go in there expecting to shut people out. We’re trying to shoot for a national title."

When told that the Cardinals felt they were ripe for the upset, Rolle said, "They can think what they want. Personally, I don’t think that’s going to be possible."

I wonder what he thought when Louisville led 24-7 at the half as a nine-point underdog. Notice that before the game Cardinals wideout J.R. Russell said, "We look at the game as life or death. It’s very important." Miami appeared not to have given as much attention to this non-conference sandwich game as the visitor.

Other times a team can be so focused for a big game that they are spent emotionally for the next contest.

Georgia had a huge revenge game against defending national champion LSU on October 2. The Bulldogs played their best game of the season in a 45-16 rout, after losing twice to LSU in 2003. The next week, a flat Georgia bunch lost 19-14 at home to Tennessee as 13-point home chalk. It wasn’t a surprise to see the Bulldogs bounce back from that tough home defeat by winning, and covering, in a 33-3 rout of Vanderbilt.

Missouri had an easy game scheduled against Baylor the week before taking on Big 12 rival Texas. The Tigers, a 20-point favorite, led Baylor just 13-3 at the half on the way to an eventual win but non-cover.

Studying individual game matchups are essential, but remember that other equally important factors can surround a game. Look-ahead spots and sandwich games can influence a team’s focus.