|by Scott Spreitzer|
I wanted to write this up early in the month because weíll be seeing some in-state rivalry games this weekend (USC/California and Texas Tech/Texas for example), and because the majority of these showdowns will be here quickly.
The way the schedule falls this year, some teams are finishing their seasons as early as November 17th. Ohio State/Michigan is that day, as are other traditional Big Ten rivalries like Purdue/Indiana and Illinois/Northwestern. Of course, Ohio State/Michigan isnít a ďstateĒ rivalry. Itís even bigger!
Here are general keys you should follow when handicapping these types of games. They wonít lead to a winner every single time. But they will win more than they lose. And, if you get a combination of these kinds of factors pointing to the same team, youíll often have an easy winner.
*Look first to take the team with the worse record coming into the game. This could be a season-maker for the team with the lesser record. The better team could get caught thinking about a bowl matchup, or the BCS picture. Itís amazing how often this works. The public loves to bet on the better team, and they drive the line in the wrong direction.
*You want to take the team with the smaller historical profile in football. Whoís going to get more motivated for this kind of game? The team that has a history of success? Or, the team thatís sick and tired of hearing about the other teamís history of success?
*Look to take the team that lost straight up the prior season. Revenge is something that usually matters in big rivalries. Nobody wants to lose two years in a row to a rival. Some programs just donít have the horses to do anything about it. Most do, and they will find a way to bounce back from a prior loss.
*Look to take the more experienced team. Rivalries matter more to young athletes who have been playing in them awhile. Freshmen know how to talk the talk to the media. But honestly, a first year player doesnít have a complete understanding of why two programs hate each other. A fourth or fifth year player is already set to carry that hatred with him the rest of his life! Rivalries matter more to experienced teams, and to experienced quarterbacks.
*You want to take the team better suited to that dayís weather conditions. Of course, thatís always true. But in rivalry games, you often see a team with an edge keep pounding that advantage all day long. They donít just want to win, they want to win BIG. If bad weather is inhibiting a passing team, the run-heavy opponent is going to roll up a big victory margin. If the weather is beautiful, the pass-heavy team will be in position to win a rout. Many handicappers donít even think about this. Iíve seen it become more of a factor in recent seasons with several teams becoming too one-dimensional on offense. If the weather doesnít favor that dimension in an emotional game, theyíre in big trouble.
*Look at the underdog first. Now, the previous tips youíve read will spit out some favorites. And, itís okay to take those favorites when the emotions favor them. In the absence of other factors, history does favor the underdog in these kinds of games. Teams get fired up for rivals. When they see in the newspaper all week that theyíre supposed to lose the game, it even adds motivation. When a favorite sees that theyíre supposed to win, they sometimes lose a bit of fire.
*Look at teams who're playing their regular season finale if the other team still has a game left. This happens occasionally, particularly then one of the rivals involved will be playing in a conference championship game the next time out. Also, the TV networks are known to tinker with things before the season starts, which can lead to one team having an additional marquee matchup a week later than normal. You will also see teams schedule a late season game in Hawaii that could set up this scenario as well.
*Teams that has no chance to go to a bowl against one who is definitely going to a bowl. This rivalry showdown, in fact, becomes the bowl game for the lesser team. Youíre going to get peak intensity most of the time. The bowl bound players have less reason to go all out. To them, a bigger more important game is on the horizon.
I understand that Iíve listed a lot of guidelines. Obviously the factors will compete against each other in some of the rivalry matchups. Just pass those games and donít worry about it. The goal here is to find
the very best winning opportunities. Look for games where several of the elements have lined up on the same side. Those are going to be very strong selections. If youíve got an underdog, consider betting them on the moneyline to win outright. Rivalry games are famous for upsets! You only need look to last year's UCLA upset over USC for an example.
Donít think that itís too early to start studying rivalry scenarios. These games will be here before you know it!