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Football Situational Handicapping

   by Bryan Leonard - 11/02/2007

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.

There was a game like this recently when Nebraska was playing at Texas. The Longhorns were a big favorite because Nebraska was on a 3-game skid where the defense was getting run all over. But in a big rivalry game, the Huskers played an attacking, blitzing defense and played with fire the whole game, nearly winning, and getting the cover easily as a 20-point dog. There was more to that game than just match-ups.

I recall pair of games a year ago at this time involving the same team: Louisville. A West Virginia/Louisville showdown was a unique late-season clash of undefeated conference powers, a game the Cardinals won and covered 34-24. Incredibly, the next 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. 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 had been terrific in Papa John Stadium at 13-2 ATS coming into that game. They used all those factors to help top West Virginia. However, everything flip-flopped for them the next week. They had to come off that emotional win then went 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 had 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. In 2005 they lost 45-14 at South Florida and the 46-44 defeat at West Virginia. Last year their road games had been at Temple, Kansas State and Syracuse. Rutgers was 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 the previous year. The Scarlet Knights were on the verge of a top 10 ranking and a win would 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. Letdowns in sports are common. Bringing many factors together is the best way to handicap a contest, and situational handicapping can showcase many edges to help turn a profit against the number!

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