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by Bryan Leonard - 11/14/2006
I'm a strong proponent of situational handicapping, which examines factors beyond match-ups. This doesn't mean I ignore match-ups. Quite the contrary, I look at match-ups and situations equally. Combining the two can make for outstanding point spread opportunities.
This is the time of the college football season when situational handicapping can come on very strong. Situations like rivalry games, emotional let-downs, revenge-factor, national TV games, and potential bowl bid games make this a great time of year.
We had two games like this the last two Thursday's involving the same team: Louisville. Last week's West Virginia/Louisville showdown was a unique late-season clash of undefeated conference powers, a game the Cardinals won and covered 34-24. Incredibly, this week Louisville was involved in an identical game, another undefeated showdown with Rutgers.
The situations were similar in both: A conference title at stake, a BCS bowl bid on the line, revenge, and prime time TV. Home field and revenge were two situations in Louisville's corner last week. The Cardinals had lost a wild 46-44 triple overtime game at West Virginia in 2005, a defeat that hurt as they had a 24-7 fourth quarter lead. In fact, the Louisville players and coaches were talking about that defeat right up until playing the Mountaineers last week. When you find players and coaches talking about how much last year's defeat stung, you can be sure from a situational handicapping perspective that they will be sky-high for the rematch.
Louisville also had home field in its corner, and they have been terrific in Papa John Stadium. They are 13-2 ATS at home the past three seasons and they used all those factors to help top West Virginia. However, everything flip-flopped for them this week. They had to come off that emotional win and now go on the road to face a revenge-minded Rutgers squad that had lost by 51 points to them in 2005. And Louisville is not a strong team when they have to take to the road.
They have played just five quality teams on the road the last four years, losing every game in straight up fashion. In 2003 they lost 31-28 at South Florida and 31-28 at TCU. In 2004 they lost 41-38 at Miami Florida. Last year they lost 45-14 at South Florida and the 46-44 defeat at West Virginia. This year their road games have been at Temple, Kansas State and Syracuse. Rutgers is far better than any of those teams.
The situational scales had suddenly tipped to the underdog Scarlet Knights. This was the biggest game in Rutgers football history. It was a night game against the No. 3 team in the nation. It was also a major revenge spot for the host who was pounded 56-5 at Louisville last year. The Scarlet Knights are on the verge of a top 10 ranking and a win will make them the team to beat in the conference.
Understand that a team can't get sky-high emotionally for EVERY game. Players are people, and they can burn out if wound up too much week after week. Let downs in sports are common. I couldn't see the Cardinals getting up for this game like they did last week against West Virginia. In addition, the Louisville offense which averaged 49.8 and 43.4 points per game the last two years has regressed this season largely because of injuries. In the last six games they have averaged only 32.3 points per game. Their high production on the road when not playing Temple is just 28 points at Syracuse.
And I saw last week that a good running game could give the Cardinals trouble. Rutgers has a far better defense than that of the Mountaineers. Bringing many factors together is the best way to handicap a contest, and situational handicapping can showcases many edges to help turn a profit against the number!