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Football Notes: Who Cares?

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/22/2008

I'm not trying to be flippant, but a question that handicappers need to ask this time of year is “Who Really Cares?â€쳌 Ask it to certain college bowl teams and NFL ones, that is. Do college football teams care about the bowl there in? Or were they expecting a 10-2 season and a possible BCS bowl, but wound up closer to .500, like Notre Dame and Wisconsin? Some teams are delighted to go bowling, some see it as a snub.

I recall Nebraska late last season, with a defense that seems to have packed it in. Two Nebraska players debunked a television report saying that Husker coach Bill Callahan told the Nebraska football team that he had been asked to resign. One player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Callahan told the players that “people in the state are expecting me to resign.â€쳌 Whether it’s true o not, the real concern for handicappers is that rumors are swirling. Are players concentrating 100% on the field and in practice? Are the coaches looking over their shoulders rather than focusing on the task at hand? The Huskers then went out and had the most embarrassing loss in school history, a 76-39 defeat to Kansas.

Some coaches are leaving programs, such as Ball State coach Brady Hoke, even though they still have a bowl to play. Oregon State, for instance, is in a bowl, but lost the regular season finale to rival Oregon, costing them a shot at their first Rose Bowl since the 1960s.

I recall the 2006 Oregon State team that needed just a few more wins for a winning season. The whole team, and the whole stadium, was motivated with USC coming to town, the dominant Pac 10 power the last few years and No. 3 team in the nation. The Beavers were fired up for the game and pulled off the upset as a dog, 33-31.

It’s just as stark in the NFL, with some teams fighting for playoff positioning and others thinking about going on vacation in less than two weeks. It was interesting that Colts coach Tony Dungy said he was treating last week’s game against Jacksonville as a playoff game, where they sewed up the No. 5 playoff spot. But he also added he intended to rest players for the finale – admitting he cares little about the meaningless game. That wasn’t the case a year ago when the NY Giants had a meaningless regular season finale against the 15-0 Patriots, but Coach Tom Coughlin admitted he was playing all out to get a win.

Handicapper and oddsmakers must make adjustments on whether certain bowl or NFL teams care or not. Some pro players and coaches are not going to be with the same team next year, so they are fighting for jobs, either with their current team or when a future employer comes calling. There is a huge difference between a team that is motivated to play hard, and ones that are far less motivated.

Ask yourself each week: Are teams rallying around the coach? Or have they packed it in? Quotes from players and coaches can provide clues, as well as statistic, especially defensive ones. Teams that are playing hard, even bad teams, can put up a fight defensively each week, while dead teams will get run over often. Teams that care the most will win more often than not ATS!

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