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by Scott Spreitzer - 10/31/2006
I'm always surprised every year by how many football bettors completely lose track of what makes college kids tick in the final month of the season.
You see, everyone gets in the habit of relying too much on their power ratings. They spend too much time on the numbers, and ultimately develop a "national" mindset about where everyone stands in the big picture. All the hype about the BCS race doesn't help matters either. You'll hear all sorts of arguments among sports fans about where all the one-loss teams stand in relation to each other. Everybody's thinking about what's important to a handful of teams at the top of the rankings.
This opens up some great opportunities for those of us who pay attention to the totality of the board. For many decent college football teams, a national championship is out of the question. Maybe they've got two or three losses already. Maybe they know they don't have the horses to make the BCS. These teams haven't thrown in the towel. They've still got goals they're tying to reach.
If you can figure out what these goals are, and which games are being prioritized, you can find some great wagering opportunities in the final month of the season. You'll be backing good (but not great) teams when they're ready to bring peak intensity and enthusiasm. Often, the opponent will be a lesser team that's just playing out the string. You get that combination, and it's pure gold!
What should you look for?
*First, look at the conference races. There are many teams that you're not thinking about right now who actually have a shot to win a division in their conference. This is true in the ACC, where it seems like three-fourths of the league is still in the running. This is certainly true in the MAC and CUSA, leagues many don't monitor.
Even in the major conferences, there are teams who are still technically alive to do something big. You can be skeptical about those chances. But if the kids themselves believe, they're going to have at least one huge effort in a big game this month. That might mean a big upset against a power. That might mean a blowout against a patsy. Either way, it's going to be a huge cover.
I can assure you, if you make an effort to read through all the conference standings in the board leagues, you'll see many items you didn't realize. Then, if you try to look at that data through the eyes of college players, you will get a sense of the dreams they're dreaming, and the games they're going to be focused on.
*Second, look at bowl eligibility. Everyone wants to get to six wins so they've got a chance to play in a postseason game. This can become an influence earlier than you think. Coaches have done a good job of getting players to strive for that magic number even if there are a few games left in the season. "If we win this game, we're going to a bowl," means something to college kids.
With that in mind, look at everyone's overall record for the season to see which teams are closing in on that goal. You can throw out the top 25 teams. They're going to make it anyway. The next 50 on the list are all thinking about it. Half of them will get there. You'd be surprised how often there are peak games from teams on the bubble in the final month when they get matched up against a patsy throwing in the towel. The oddsmakers make them a small to medium favorite, and they win by a few touchdowns.
*Third, make a list of all the teams you see in the standings who are already out of the conference race and the bowl picture. There are quite a few already. And, the list will grow with each passing week. Check their schedules to see if there's still a rivalry game ahead. Chances are very good that these struggling teams will still get up for that one meaningful game. You can go against them until then, and take a shot on them as underdogs against a rival that may take them lightly.
Understanding the motivation of teams is the key to November handicapping. Many analysts don't realize the magnitude of the motivations that are in place beyond the BCS picture. The wagering public is seemingly oblivious to all the opportunities on the typical November card.
A lot of games that seem meaningless to you may be extremely important to one of the teams involved. And that importance may be worth 2-3 touchdowns to the team in the right spot at the right time.