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CFB Conference Capping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 09/22/2008

We're coming to the point in the season where most board games will be conference matchups. There are still some interconference games to be played. But, 21 games this weekend are of the conference variety, including all three prime time weeknight games (USC at Oregon State, SMU at Tulane, and Connecticut at Louisville). When October arrives, the vast majority of matchups will be conference games.

I always make sure at this point of the season that I've gone through everyone's schedule and circled the top priority games. I think this is probably the single biggest key to handicapping conference matchups. The media and the coaches will talk about how every league game matters because they're "playing for championships." In actual practice, there are high priority and low priority games for every team. That's the nature of emotion, and the short attention spans of today's youth!

Some examples of how games are prioritized by the players:

*Revenge games may generate more fire than matchups against teams that you defeated the prior season.

*Games within your own division create more fire than games outside your division in the SEC, Big 12, and ACC. We've seen time and time again that many "upsets" come when big name teams are in a sandwich spot between divisional rivals.

*Games at home can carry a greater intensity than games on the road. This is particularly true for lesser teams who are hoping to spring an upset against a big name foe in front of the home folks. On the road, they're overmatched and prone to get blown out.

*Games on national TV carry more weight than games that are only on regional TV or not televised. A mid-level SEC team hosting Florida or LSU on national TV is going to have a rabid crowd. They will be sky high for the chance to put on a show and hopefully celebrate a headline making result. I should add the qualifier here that these games carry even MORE weight for teams who aren't on TV that much. Some powers are on a CBS or ESPN almost every week, and the exposure becomes old hat to them.

*Games after a midseason or late season bye will see a peak performance because the players had a chance to rest up and get healthy.

*Games that come after consecutive weeks of big showdowns will see flat efforts. There's just no gas left in the tank. A team needing a bye doesn't have one scheduled, and they can't bring peak intensity each and every game.

I'm not saying that you should ignore stats, or the strengths and weaknesses of the teams. Those will always be part of the mix. In fact, if there aren't motivational differences between the teams, that's what will determine who wins and covers! Just be aware that motivational mismatches do occur. In THOSE games, the stats don't really mean much. A top notch team isn't going to play to their normal level. A bottom rung team will play over their heads. This is at the heart of virtually all the "surprises" the media talks about every season. If you're paying attention, you won't be surprised!

What else matters in conference play?

*I pay attention to series histories. Some schematic approaches have clear edges over others, and you'll see repeated success over the years when they square off against each other. Announcers will talk about one team "having the other's number." It's really a case of a run-heavy team matching up against a defense that's always great against the run, or something like that.

*I always remember that teams who fare well in non-conference action because of their unique attacks lose that edge in league play. Air Force has to play a bunch of opponents who play Air Force every season. That takes away much of the confusion their option attack causes against non-league opponents. The spread offenses of the ACC have struggled in recent years in league play because the defenses have come up with ways to counteract the spread.

*I mentioned revenge already, but it's worth repeating that college kids do remember what happened in last year's meeting. You particularly want to pay attention when the SUPERIOR team is the one that lost last season. A good team with chip on its shoulder is usually a sound investment.

*I follow the polls. That may sound odd since we're talking about conference games. The polls don't determine who wins a conference. But they do determine how motivated the opponents are! Lesser teams love playing spoiler when a highly ranked conference opponent comes to town. Highly ranked teams often get overconfident after reading about themselves in the newspaper too. I can't tell you how many live underdogs I've won money with in conference play just by going against favorites who had spent too much time patting themselves on the back. The chance to embarrass a conference team in the BCS race is a nice emotional kicker for a dog.

If you haven't been thinking about the conference races yet, now is the time to start. The bulk of the season is still ahead of us. Make sure you spend some time this week going through all the schedules and finding the high priority and low priority games for each team. Others will pop up later as the BCS race plays itself out. The work you do in this area week will pay off time and time again between now and December.

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