College and pro football offer a variety of great matchups every weekend. A good handicapper, though, doesn’t just look at individual and team matchups. There are other factors surrounding a game that can be equally important to identifying a winning spread cover, such as scheduling and road travel.
For instance, both Iowa and Iowa State opened the season against smaller schools before they played each other in their annual Big 10/Big 12 state rivalry game, a classic look-ahead spot.
Iowa didn’t look sharp in games against Northern Illinois and Missouri State (0-2 ATS), while Iowa State lost as a 9-point favorite to Northern Iowa. The last two years both big schools failed to cover in similar look-ahead situations.
Clearly the rivalry game on deck was more important than the openers, with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz even admitting he rested players in the second half. A similar scheduling instance is a sandwich spot, with two important games surrounding a less than stellar matchup. For example, South Carolina at Central Florida next week, sandwiched between two conference games (Vanderbilt, Kentucky).
Several teams have already had super-long road trips. Boston College was at USC in Week 3, a 3,000 mile loss both SU and ATS, then had to come home to face No. 10 Florida State, a conference game. USC opened the season at Hawaii, crossing several time zones, then came home and lost to Washington State as a 16-point favorite, 10-7.
Three years ago Pitt opened the season at Utah and Cincinnati headed way out to Fresno, a 28-14 defeat, getting only 234 total yards. This is where schedule-makers get the complete attention of oddsmakers.
One recent season in September in college football saw Cal of the Pac 10 traveling 3,000 miles across the country to face Maryland. As a double digit dog, Maryland jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead and held Cal without a TD until late in the game, a 35-27 upset. It really wasn’t that close. For three quarters, California appeared to be sleepwalking, which can happen when you have a noon kickoff after such a long trip.
As a footnote, the next week Cal flattened Colorado State, 42-7. Those examples encompass so much of things beyond match-ups in college football: scheduling, emotion, revenge, even respect. After the game, one Maryland player was angry about how people were downplaying ACC football.
When Maryland and Cal played the rematch the next season, Cal had home field, so the Terrapins were the team traveling 3,000 miles. They looked very sluggish in a 52-13 Cal rout. Cal was involved in a pair of similar games in 2006 and ‘07. Tennessee was a home dog to No. 9 Cal and the Vols jumped to a 35-0 lead on the way to a 35-18 victory.
All of these aspects of handicapping can give bettors a key edge: like identifying teams that are completely focused, bad scheduling spots, and bounce back opportunities.
Studying individual game match-ups are essential, but other factors equally important can surround a game, including look-ahead spots, sandwich games, and factors that can influence a team’s focus.
Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Follow him on twitter: @JimFeistSports . Reach him at [email protected]