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Handicapping College Football Attrition

   by Scott Spreitzer - 11/03/2008

When November rolls around in college football, I start paying special attention to potential fatigue situations for defenses. Several factors are in play that can lead to some defenses just disappearing right before your very eyes:

*The cumulative fatigue of a long season. Everyone is two-thirds of their way through the campaign now. The legs start to go. Many players are battling bumps, bruises, and minor injuries. It’s natural for young athletes to wear down, particularly those on undersized programs.

*Fatigue from a recent string of big games. During conference action, teams often play a few heated battles in a row (see UNLV heading into TCU). Two or three of these without a break is enough to wear a defense down. College kids play with such intensity. Sometimes one epic battle will do that all by itself.

*The weather! This has to be one of the warmest and nicest football seasons we’ve ever had. There’s still time for things to get ugly. It’s amazing that there can be a virtual blizzard during baseball’s World Series while football keeps playing in great weather at the same time. That’s what we’ve seen. Teams in the South played in hot temperatures for two months, and it was still warm this past weekend. Northern teams have been playing about 10-20 degrees warmer than normal in many spots. The hotter the weather, the more likely fatigue is going to be an issue after a string of games.

*Spread offenses! More teams are using this wide open approach. That creates shootouts which lengthen games and wear out defenses. It’s like playing five quarters instead of four. And it’s five quarters with the defenses scampering all over the field.

Any of those by themselves would cause fatigue. We’re seeing some programs that have to deal with MULTIPLE fatigue influences at the same time. Think about CUSA defenses who just played a few up tempo games in a row in warm temperatures. Think about SEC teams who just played a few very physical battles in a row in hot temperatures. What about the Big 12? They’re CUSA on steroids this year with arena-style football featuring great quarterbacks. And, half the conference is in very hot Oklahoma or Texas.

I think recognizing defensive fatigue is going to be one of the most important handicapping factors the rest of the season. You have to sense when a team is about to hit a wall, or recognize when it’s already happened. Las Vegas lines are generally based on perceptions about what’s been happening all season. Simply put, they’re based on what was happening when defenses were fresh! You can get light years ahead of the curve by studying this key element and acting appropriately.

Here are some tips:

*Look at each team’s schedule and note when its most recent bye week was. Some teams haven’t had an off-week since September. You know attrition will hit a team that’s played six or seven straight games the hardest.

*Grade each recent game based on the toll it probably took on the defense. A bye week counts zero. Really going to war, or playing fast break football in the heat, counts as a 10. Grade every game from 0-10 on that scale. Add up the totals for each team over the last two weeks, four weeks, and since their most recent bye. You’ll be surprised how many great plays jump out at you this way. It’s not hard to spot tired teams if you’re looking for them. This is something that’s very easy to miss though if you’re just looking at power ratings or statistics.

*Chart the yards allowed by each defense on a per-game basis rather than looking at seasonal averages. You’ll spot some trends that are literally announcing that a defense is wearing out. Imagine there’s a team that gets 50 yards worse each week as they get tired. Over the last month, they’ve allowed 300, 350, 400, and 450 yards. The next number in the sequence should be 500, even though the average of the four games is just 375. If you’re looking at averages, you’ll miss some obvious fatigue trends.

*Monitor the weather forecasts to see which teams are still playing in warmer than normal weather. The last thing a tired defense wants to see is a hot afternoon.

*Look for matchups where “freshâ€쳌 physical teams who had a recent bye week are facing “finesseâ€쳌 teams who are undersized and dealing with fatigue. These are very likely to be blowouts. Some won’t be priced like blowouts in the Vegas numbers.

Of course, since we’re into the third month of the season, you might be dealing with your own fatigue! Make sure YOU have the energy to do the right handicapping work. The worst thing you can do right now is to skim over games because you think you’ve got everyone figured out. Player fatigue can make everything you “thinkâ€쳌 you know meaningless.

And remember that nothing gets the juices flowing more than picking a bunch of winners!

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