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Football Emotion

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/27/2008

We all look at matchups and stats when assessing point spreads and potential winning angles. Another area most noticeable in college sports is emotion. Sometimes things happen on and off the field that can affect a team's attitude. Rivalry games, bounce-back spots, homecoming and revenge situations are several situations to keep close tabs on.

For instance, this past weekend Northern Illinois of the MAC was hosting rival Toledo. Northern Illinois had a lot of things in its favor that game: It was homecoming, the defense had been great, ranked 15th in the nation, and it was a revenge game. A year ago Toledo embarrassed the Huskies 70-21! Northern Illinois also was having a winning season with a first-year head coach, Jerry Kills, so they had turned over a new leaf and were motivated to have a shot at a winning season and a bowl game.

Redshirt freshman QB Chandler Harnish threw for three touchdowns to lead Northern Illinois to 38-7 victory over Toledo. Northern Illinois, ranked 15th in the nation in scoring defense, has now given up three touchdowns in its last five games. The Huskies have now won ten of their 11 homecoming games by an average of 22 points!

Another factor is emotion. A recall a year ago Kentucky and their fans were sky-high, which helped the Wildcats pull a 43-37 triple OT upset of then No. 1 LSU. That same week in the NFL, the Patriots used emotion in Week 2 to destroy the Chargers, as that was the week the spy-gate controversy happened. They banded together and were determined to rally around their coach and show the country they could win without video cameras.

This can happen on Monday night football, as well, especially with teams that aren’t used to playing in prime time. In 2007 the young Buffalo Bills played their first Monday night game in ages and played all out. Yes, they didn’t win, lost in shocking fashion actually to Dallas, but they did cover the number.

We saw this two years ago, too, when the Arizona Cardinals were fired up on Monday night against the Bears, as they hadn't been on national TV in a long time. It was the first time their new stadium was on display to the rest of the country and it was a game against an undefeated opponent. The Cardinals, a double digit dog, played with tremendous passion and should have won the game. Regardless of the bizarre finish, Arizona backers got the money with ease. That was a game that statistics said the Bears would roll, but there are times when emotion can trump stats, especially from a handicapping perspective.

Coaches who are emotional can play a big role in this. Coaches like Tom Landry, Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner, and Andy Reid are recognized as being more low-key guy, but coaches like Herm Edwards, Pete Carroll, Tom Coughlin, and Jon Gruden are fiery, emotional leaders.

I recall a game in 2006 where the Kansas City Chiefs got smoked at Pittsburgh 45-7 then got chewed out by coach Herm Edwards. The seeds for redemption were planted the next week, a 30-27 upset of San Diego. Edwards verbally shredded the entire team, not just for their performance, but because a handful of players socialized with Passion Party consultants (women who are host to all-female, sex-toy sales parties in their homes) at the Pittsburgh Airport Hyatt, the team hotel, the night before their game against the Steelers. That got Herm's attention! Then he got their attention and they responded on the field.

It doesn't just happen after a loss, either. One time it was reported that Patriots coach Bill Belichick was furious with a mid-week practice and let his team know it. They went through twice the normal practice on Thursday, after which players mentioned that they worked hard on improving the passing game, which hadn't been sharp. The Patriots then came out throwing the ball the next game against Buffalo and played crisp and sharp in a 28-6 rout.

It’s more common in college football, of course, especially with teams ranked high losing their first game. When USC lost its first game in 2006, 33-31 at Oregon State, the Trojans went out and covered by double digits the next game, a 42-0 shutout of Stanford. The same thing happened this season: After losing 27-21 at Oregon State, the Trojans covered the next game, winning 44-10 over Oregon as 16-point chalk.

Even if a team wins but loses positioning in the national polls, that can be a powerful motivator. When undefeated USC dropped to No. 2 behind Texas in the bowl championship series standings in 2005 after being No. 1 all season, that motivated them the following week. One player admitted, 'It's definitely something in the back of our minds. We just have to show them on the field.' They did, not only winning but covering as a 30-point favorite the next week, amassing a season-high 745 yards! It can even carry over a year later with respect to rivalries, something to keep in mind as college football rivalry time kicks in. Channeling emotion can be a big edge, on the field and at the betting window.

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