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College FB's Late Season Lines Myth

   by Scott Spreitzer - 11/19/2007


You’ve probably heard the gambling myth that college football
pointspreads get stronger as the season progresses. Once all the teams
have played 10 or 11 games, there supposodedly aren’t any secrets
left.

I do agree that everybody knows the teams better. So, in that sense
November lines are more accurate than September lines. But, oddsmakers
have shown over the years that they haven’t been able to properly
capture all the emotions that go into late season football. And, these
emotional factors are so great that they lead to some of the easiest
pointspreads covers of the entire season.

In a sense, the lines are better and worse at the same time! Late
season pointspreads capture the stat and personnel differences pretty well.
But, they do a horrible job of factoring in the emotions properly.
I’d argue that these lines are WORSE (thanks to faulty public perception)
than those we see in September!

Let me show you some examples from games played after Thanksgiving last
season. These are obviously “late seasonâ€쳌 games if they’re after
Turkey Day.

Texas A&M (+13) beat Texas outright 12-7
South Florida (+21) beat West Virginia outright 24-19
South Carolina (+5) beat Clemson outright 31-28
Wake Forest (+1) beat Maryland outright 38-24
Purdue (+18) lost a heartbreaker to Hawaii 42-35
UCLA (+11) beat USC outright 13-9
Oregon State (+9) beat Hawaii outright 38-35
Rutgers (+10) lost a heartbreaker to West Virginia 41-39

All of those underdogs put up great performances. The list includes
four dogs of more than a TD that won outright, and a couple of others who
just missed. It also includes some very big name favorites, like USC,
Texas, and West Virginia (twice). The public really took a bath in the Purdue
contest.

But don’t get the idea that late season football is only about
upsets:

Nebraska (-13) crushed Colorado 37-14
Rutgers (-16) slaughtered Syracuse 38-7
Louisville (-11) pounded Pittsburgh 48-24
Boise State (-2) nailed Nevada 38-7

Those were all double digit covers for motivated favorites against
teams who lacked competitive fire.

You see, that’s the whole key to handicapping late season college
football action. Which team is going to have competitive fire? Which
team is going to be flat because they’re looking ahead to a bigger
game down the road, or because they’ve already mentally finished their
seasons. These edges can be worth two or even three touchdowns.

And there’s nothing the oddsmaker can do about it! They’re trying
to balance the books based on how the public is going to bet anyway. The
public bets based on what they know about the teams rather than the
possible influences of competitive fire. As a result, late season
college football lines will ALWAYS be way off. Yet, the books continue to cash
the majority of "John Q. Public's" wagers.

Here are keys to look for when trying to find the team with competitive
fire in late season games:

*Favorites who have already clinched what they need to clinch will
often be flat in these late season games. They’ll be priced as champions,
but they’re likely to have one of their least motivated efforts of the
season. They’re thinking about a conference championship game coming
up, or the bowl they’ve already clinched.

*Favorites who have something to play for, but are facing a bowl
caliber opponent will often have trouble living up to expectations. They
won’t necessarily be flat. But they will play a bit too nervous and
conservative for their own good. Their opponents will have a ton of
competitive fire because they’ll have a chance to play spoiler
against a big name team. Look at how many of those upsets last year featured bowl
bound underdogs. A&M beat Texas on the road. South Florida beat West
Virginia on the road.

*Favorites who have a history of running up the score on weak
opposition will run away and hide from non-bowl teams late in the year. The lesser
teams get demoralized early in the game, and just throw in the towel.
The favorites will keep piling on the points, particularly if it’s
“senior dayâ€쳌 in a home finale.

It’s all about competitive fire. In some games you’ll uncover dogs
who are ready to spring an upset and throw a monkey wrench in the BCS
process. In other games, you’ll find favorites who might have a high
spread covered by halftime on the way to a rout. If you look to go
against distracted favorites, while backing talented underdogs,
you’ll have no trouble finding these games

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