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Motivational Handicapping

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/29/2007

Professional handicappers are always in tune with potential emotional situations. This time of the football season offers more avenues than usual, such as a team off a bad game looking to bounce back, or college football bowl games and NFL divisional games.

Florida Atlantic was a good example, rolling over Memphis 44-27 in the second bowl game of the season. Florida Atlantic was only in its seventh season of football, and no college program had ever reached (or won) a bowl game quicker than the largely overlooked school from Boca Raton. The school is coached by Howard Schnellenberger, a coach who always has something to prove. He took upstart Miami from seemingly nowhere and won the 1983 national championship, shocking No. 1 Nebraska, 31-30, in the Orange bowl as a 17-point dog.

“This has transformed FAU football into something of a rising star,â€쳌 said Schnellenberger. “This was a great opportunity for our players to have their football lives have great meaning. I think we can compete with America. We take on Texas to open next year, and we expect to win.â€쳌 Do you think this was just another game for that school? Of course not. Memphis, on the other hand, has been to 4 bowls over the last 5 years.

You can even find players and coaches talking about emotion the week before a game. “We get to leave with this legacy,â€쳌 Florida Atlantic senior running back B.J. Manley said a few days before the bowl. “This is history. This is forever.â€쳌

I used information like that a year ago when North Carolina football rivals UNC and NC State met. It was a classic case of a late season game featuring one team on the decline and another one playing with fire. At the time, NC State under Chuck Amato had gone from a 10 win season in 2002 steadily down to the 3-7 mark. They were a typical example of a team that has packed in the season and here they were FAVORED against a conference and state rival.

Look at the facts going into the game: NC State had lost EVERY road game played this year by 6 points or more. They hadn't scored more than 24 points in any game that season. They had been outrushed 8 of the last 9 games. The Wolfpack did not deserve to be favored on the road to anyone and under Amato NC State was 1-11 against the spread as a favorite!

The dog is 10-4 ATS in the series and the Tar Heels had won 10 of 13 games in straight up fashion. I expected a supreme effort from the home team and once again the Heels won the game as a dog.

This can happen in the NFL, too, especially with divisional games late in the season. All head coaches in the NFL stress to their players how important division games are, even if they don't admit it publicly.

Other times, playoff bound teams are searching for seeding and division titles. The Steelers finally won a crucial game on the road, in a 41-24 victory at St. Louis. The Rams are going nowhere, while the Steelers are battling the Browns for the division title. They played with extra emotion and determination with so much at stake. You can find all kinds of motivational angles with bowl games and late season NFL action.

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