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Handicapping Rivalry Games

   by Scott Spreitzer - 11/04/2007

I wanted to write this up early in the month because we’ll be seeing
some in-state rivalry games this weekend (USC/California and Texas
Tech/Texas for example), and because the majority of these showdowns
will be here quickly.

The way the schedule falls this year, some teams are finishing their
seasons as early as November 17th. Ohio State/Michigan is that day, as
are other traditional Big Ten rivalries like Purdue/Indiana and
Illinois/Northwestern. Of course, Ohio State/Michigan isn’t a
“stateâ€쳌 rivalry. It’s even bigger!

Here are general keys you should follow when handicapping these types
of games. They won’t lead to a winner every single time. But they will
win more than they lose. And, if you get a combination of these kinds of
factors pointing to the same team, you’ll often have an easy winner.

RIVALRY MOTIVATION:

*Look first to take the team with the worse record coming into the game.
This could be a season-maker for the team with the lesser record. The
better team could get caught thinking about a bowl matchup, or the BCS
picture. It’s amazing how often this works. The public loves to bet
on the better team, and they drive the line in the wrong direction.

*You want to take the team with the smaller historical profile in
football. Who’s going to get more motivated for this kind of game?
The team that has a history of success? Or, the team that’s sick and
tired of hearing about the other team’s history of success?

*Look to take the team that lost straight up the prior season.
Revenge is something that usually matters in big rivalries. Nobody
wants to lose two years in a row to a rival. Some programs just don’t have
the horses to do anything about it. Most do, and they will find a way to
bounce back from a prior loss.

*Look to take the more experienced team. Rivalries matter more to
young athletes who have been playing in them awhile. Freshmen know how
to talk the talk to the media. But honestly, a first year player
doesn’t have a complete understanding of why two programs hate each
other. A fourth or fifth year player is already set to carry that
hatred with him the rest of his life! Rivalries matter more to experienced
teams, and to experienced quarterbacks.

*You want to take the team better suited to that day’s weather
conditions. Of course, that’s always true. But in rivalry games, you
often see a team with an edge keep pounding that advantage all day
long. They don’t just want to win, they want to win BIG. If bad weather is
inhibiting a passing team, the run-heavy opponent is going to roll up a
big victory margin. If the weather is beautiful, the pass-heavy team
will be in position to win a rout. Many handicappers don’t even think
about this. I’ve seen it become more of a factor in recent seasons
with several teams becoming too one-dimensional on offense. If the weather
doesn’t favor that dimension in an emotional game, they’re in big
trouble.

*Look at the underdog first. Now, the previous tips you’ve read
will spit out some favorites. And, it’s okay to take those favorites when
the emotions favor them. In the absence of other factors, history does
favor the underdog in these kinds of games. Teams get fired up for rivals.
When they see in the newspaper all week that they’re supposed to lose
the game, it even adds motivation. When a favorite sees that they’re
supposed to win, they sometimes lose a bit of fire.

*Look at teams who're playing their regular season finale if the other
team still has a game left. This happens occasionally, particularly
when one of the rivals involved will be playing in a conference championship
game the next time out. Also, the TV networks are known to tinker with
things before the season starts, which can lead to one team having an
additional marquee matchup a week later than normal. You will also see
teams schedule a late season game in Hawaii that could set up this
scenario as well.

*Teams that has no chance to go to a bowl against one
who is definitely going to a bowl. This rivalry showdown, in fact,
becomes the bowl game for the lesser team. You’re going to get peak
intensity most of the time. The bowl bound players have less reason to
go all out. To them, a bigger more important game is on the horizon.

I understand that I’ve listed a lot of guidelines. Obviously the
factors will compete against each other in some of the rivalry matchups. Just
pass those games and don’t worry about it. The goal here is to find
the very best winning opportunities. Look for games where several of the
elements have lined up on the same side. Those are going to be very
strong selections. If you’ve got an underdog, consider betting them
on the moneyline to win outright. Rivalry games are famous for upsets!
You only need look to last year's UCLA upset over USC for an example.

Don’t think that it’s too early to start studying rivalry
scenarios. These games will be here before you know it!

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