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Emotions, Underdogs and Rivalries

   by Al McMordie - 11/27/2009


Yes, I'm a bit of an animal lover. I'm partial to dogs more than cats. Not because dogs can fetch the newspaper, but because they can fetch the money. Many times dogs can be worth a serious look, especially in college football where emotion, tradition and fan support are such key components. By the way, you can go to http://www.twitter.com/bigal_com to follow me on Twitter.

Northwestern was a home dog on Saturday against Wisconsin and didn't even need the points in a 33-31 upset. This was a good example of a team with a good offense playing at home, with the fans fired up and ready to explode. Kafka had his fifth 300-yard passing game of the season, going 26 of 40 for 326 yards. A purple mob rushed to the middle of Ryan Field, a home crowd celebrating the win. "It was definitely an emotional day, having your parents walk out on the field with you. But we were here to win the game," said one player. Certainly home field and emotion played key roles in the upset.

Other times a dog can offer great value when you know the opponent isn't going to be able to score points, either because of injuries, bad weather or they will be facing a good defense.

Letdown spots can also provide excellent spots to back an underdog. The Pac 10 has been littered this season with teams on roller coaster highs and lows. October 31st: Oregon destroys USC 47-20 in a huge win for the Ducks, knocking off a team that has won 8 straight Pac 10 titles and putting Oregon in the driver’s seat. The next week: Oregon is favored at Stanford, but the home dog wins with 51 points and 505 yards.

Toby Gerhart rushed for a school-record 223 yards and three scores. "This was definitely my biggest win since I've been here at Stanford," Gerhart said, ranking it ahead of the victory over No. 2 USC two years ago. “The students storming the field, that was an awesome feeling," added another player.

The next week Oregon covers in a bounce back spot, blowing out Arizona State, 44-21. That same day Stanford routed USC, on the road, only to lose Saturday as underdog Cal nipped them, 34-28 (unfortunately, we were on Stanford). "We've heard a lot of talk about, 'Oh, they're going to go to the Rose Bowl,' " Cal safety Mike Mohamed said. "We felt like they were overlooking us a little bit.” Don’t overlook talented teams that are dogs!

Late in the season, struggling teams can be looking for signature wins, while those off high flying upsets can be due for a letdown. Be careful when teams in let down spots are favored, particularly on the road.

Emotion plays an important role in college football performance and can add value to a dog. This is especially important late in the season, with rivalry and revenge games taking place the next two weeks, as well as winning seasons, conference titles and bowl berths in the balance.

I recall a few years ago when I had East Carolina in a matchup with then-Conference USA rival Army. East Carolina was a home dog and had a versatile QB in James Pinkney going up against a poor Army defense. Army was giving big chunks of yardage and points and had recently ended a 19-game losing streak, yet here they were – a bad team as a road favorite! That alone made whoever Army was playing worth a peek.

East Carolina may have been an awful road team, but they were more likely to play inspired ball in front of the home crowd. In that game, East Carolina ended up with 38 points and 426 total yards as Pinkney carved up the Cadet secondary (26-of-36 for 285 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions). Winning the turnover battle 3-0, which is the most difficult thing to try and predict, was the final piece of the puzzle as home dog EC not only covered getting points but won the game, 38-28. This was not a great shock, either, as the Pirates were 3-0 SU/ATS the previous three meetings with Army, winning 38-32, 59-24 and 49-26.

Past history is another thing to look at when rivals meet. It's also important to examine how teams perform at home compared to on the road. Rice has won 2 games in a row, its only two of the season, both as a dog. You will notice that both wins were at home. They have been getting whipped on the road most of the year and play their finale coming up on the road – at powerhouse Houston.

For bettors, getting points with dogs is great especially when you've identified a dog that you think has a chance to be competitive or even win the game. Teams with bad defenses are also good to look at as a go-against when favored. Notre Dame, for instance, is a public team, but do you know what they are over their last eight games as a favorite: 1-7 ATS. That includes Saturday's OT loss to UConn at home. Good handicappers don't need miracles to pull out ATS covers, just sound judgment and analysis before the kickoff. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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