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Rivalry Hype

   by Scott Spreitzer - 11/20/2006

Over the upcoming holiday weekend, there are going to be several "bragging rights" games where prominent teams from the same state go head-to-head.

The local media loves these games. Residents of the state often went to one institution or the other, and they care a lot about what happens.

The national media loves some of the games too. In the TV era many universities have developed national followings. And, these late season rivalry games have become TV traditions. You don't have to live in Texas to have an interest in the Texas/Texas A&M game. Florida/Florida State used to be a monster before FSU fell on hard times this season.

Because the games get so much coverage, the same kinds of factors find their way into the public mindset about the matchups:

*You can throw out the stats and records because all the teams are going to show up with peak intensity.

*These games are very important to the head coaches because they know it's easier to keep their job if they beat their chief rival.

*These games are very important in recruiting the best athletes in the surrounding area.

Check out some of these scores from last year in matchups that are on tap this weekend:
*Virginia Tech (-8) beat Virginia 52-14
* Florida (-3) beat Florida State 34-7
* Oregon (-13) beat Oregon State 56-14
* North Carolina (-23) beat Duke 24-21

Not exactly wild rides were they? Well, North Carolina/Duke was supposed to be a yawner but turned into a wild ride that the Tar Heels were lucky to survive.

You see, the players themselves don't always buy into all the hoopla. They're kids. They don't have years-and-years of grudges built up the way the coaching staff or alumni do. They may be drained of energy both physically and mentally because of what's happened on the field the prior few weeks. They may be more excited about the bowl game coming (or in some cases a conference championship game) than they are about some media creation.

Bottom line: you don't always get peak efforts from all the players. The hype sells newspapers and generates TV ratings. It doesn't influence the players nearly as much. As handicappers, you've got to take this opportunity to look for great wagering opportunities. I cherry-picked some big covers from last season. You saw some on your own this past weekend in state rivalry games. A trip through the history books would show that late season pointspread blowouts like this are very common.

Some underdogs pull no-shows and get routed. Some big favorites no-show and squeak out close wins or get upset. If you're looking for the right things you can see these easy covers coming. You can get a motivated 14-point favorite that's in the mood to run up the score against a worn out state rival. You can get a live dog ready to spring an upset over a state school that isn't taking them seriously anymore.

Here are some tips for finding teams in position to play well or poorly. Get our your handy schedules and grab a pencil!

*Put a plus sign by any team coming in off a bye week.
*Put a minus sign by any team that's played at least four games in a row without a week off.
*Put another minus sign by any team that's coming off one or two tight games that might have worn them down physically or emotionally. Put an additional minus sign by that team if they've got a bad run defense.
*Put a minus sign by any team that's coming in off a string of blowout victories. These are the big favorites likely to take their opponent too lightly because of overconfidence.
*Put a plus sign by the team that has revenge from last year's meeting.
*Put a minus sign by any team that will be playing in its conference championship in the next game.
*Put a plus sign by any team that needs a win to become bowl eligible.
*Put a plus sign by any team with a winning record that is coming in off of a loss.
*Put a plus sign by the underdog if the weather is going to be bad.

Now…run through all the games and see if you've got any clusters of plusses or minuses. Ideally, you'll find a few games where everything's lined up perfectly. But, even if that doesn’t happen, you'll find some games where one team clearly is in a better spot to play well than the other. That's all you need for an edge against the Vegas numbers. Those edges, when they do show up, can be huge.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving! Best wishes for a pleasant and profitable holiday weekend!

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