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Home Field Finales

   by Scott Spreitzer - 11/14/2006

You'll be hearing a lot in these last few weeks of the college football season about teams getting up for their last home game of the season.

This is one of those things that occasionally is a big influence. Most of the time though, it has no bearing on the result. If you load up on all teams playing their home finales, you're unlikely to be happy with the results.

Why is it such a hyped factor by the media? Well, they've got to talk about something. Any newspaper writers or TV announcers previewing a game try to find angles to discuss. There are always seniors playing for the last time at home in their college careers. It's a very emotional game for them to be sure. Handicappers just have to remember that those emotions don't often turn into on field edges.

The problem is, when they do show up, it's such a big edge that it warps everyone's perceptions. We've all seen games where the home team puts on a show against an over-matched visitor. They win by five touchdowns, there’s a big group hug at the end, and viewers get the impression that playing in a home finale is a monster edge. It's easy to forget that there were five other games being played at the same time where the home team wasn't doing anything special.

Here are some tips for finding the right situations where this influence is most likely to impact the scoreboard:

*Look for teams with a lot of seniors. This one should be obvious. But I hear people all the time taking someone in their home finale without realizing that everyone who matters is going to be back the following season. You want to make sure the impact players are playing their last home games in front of family and friends.

*Look for hosts who are playing what I call lame duck visitors. A lot of what looks like a big home effort is actually just the road team laying down. Motivation is often lacking for visitors late in the season. If they've already locked up a bowl, they may be thinking about that. If they've already locked up a losing season, they're just not that motivated to bring a peak effort on the road. They'll do that against a longtime rival. That's about it. As with any other week in the season, a bet on a home team is actually a bet against a poor road team.

*Look for scenarios where that final home game is mixed in with other positive factors. It's like having a great kicker in poker. If a home team needs to win to clinch the conference title or needs to win to clinch a bowl bid, or has strong revenge after a loss to this opponent last year, then the emotions of a home finale help magnify the intensity. The players can clinch a title or bowl appearance and end their home careers on a high note. This is arguably the best way to take advantage of the home finale situation.

The bottom line is that the home finale works best when it's a key part of a bigger picture. It will always get hyped by the media because they try to find emotional stories. The emotion by itself is often not enough to really influence what happens on the field. But it can help add a touchdown or two in a blowout when those other factors have lined up properly.

If you've got a copy of the schedule handy, you can go through it now to find some prime nominees. All the home teams are already listed in each matchup, so the rest is easy.

*Put an asterisk by any home team that needs to win to clinch a conference championship or a bowl bid. There won't be many asterisks in this category. Most good teams have already clinched their bowl bids, but have officially fallen short of reaching a conference title.

*Put an asterisk by any home team that's playing a lame duck visitor. By that, I mean that the visitor has nothing significant at stake. These first two steps alone will help you find some nice emotional advantages.

*Put an asterisk by any home team that has a winning record, but lost straight up the prior week. A team like this is unlikely to play poorly in a home finale immediately after a loss.

*If you've got the time and resources, look up last year's results and put an asterisk by any home team with revenge.

*If you've got some of those preseason annuals laying around that you bought last summer, scan through the rosters to count up the number of senior starters on the home team. Most will have surprisingly few. Some will have a bunch. Put an asterisk by any home team that has a bunch.

If fate is smiling on you, there will be a few teams that have several asterisks by their name. These are games you'll may want to focus on. Any with more than one asterisk deserve your attention.

In the coming weeks, we'll hear the TV broadcasts talking about final home games a thousand times. Today's tips should help you focus your action on the handful of games where it's really going to matter.

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