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On Your Toes (and Eyes): Scheduling Awareness

   by Al McMordie - 09/27/2011

Look out! Or I should say, "Look ahead." While analyzing what game a team is playing each week, it's also important to look at what games they played last week and what's on tap the following week. Pro and college teams have bye weeks, for example, that allow coaching staffs extra time to prepare and players to spend two weeks resting their bodies and getting healthy. Teams can often have several edges with two weeks to prepare.

Other facets of scheduling are key games and cupcakes. Many times teams can look past an opponent when a more important game is on tap the following week. For example, NC State has its second ACC game on deck this weekend against Georgia Tech. Last week the Wolf Pack played a Thursday night game at Cincinnati.

NC State not only failed to cover but got blown out, 44-14. It was an all around disaster for the Wolfpack, who have multiple defensive injuries. The Bearcats sacked Mike Glennon five times, including one brutal collision in the second quarter in which he was hit by five different players. Cincinnati also held N.C. State's offense to minus-26 rushing yards. In last year's 9-4 breakout season, N.C. State beat Cincinnati 30-19 in Raleigh and routed Wake Forest, 38-3. The Bearcats and Demon Deacons are the only two major Division I teams N.C. State has faced this season and it has lost both games, which caused coach Tom O'Brien to say, "We're not the same team."

The schedule hasn’t helped, either, and won’t get any better: In October the team starts a stretch playing 3 of 4 road games. I recall a year ago at this time TCU had its Mountain West Conference opener on deck and came off a Thursday night game at SMU, its final game outside the Mountain West Conference. That came one week after playing Baylor of the Big 12.

TCU failed to get the cover in a 41-24 win in a game that was a lot closer. The Horned Frogs allowed their most points, most yards (361), most yards rushing (192), had their fewest sacks (one) and lost the turnover battle. It was a national TV game that meant a lot to SMU, too, an 18-point dog. "We took their best shot and came out with a win," Coach Gary Patterson said. "I'm very happy to get to 4-0."

Sometimes a cupcake on the schedule doesn't turn out to be so. A few years ago Memphis had an apparent easy game against Arkansas State. The talented Tigers were a 25-point favorite. Yet, Arkansas State got the cover easily, even leading 35-26 late in the game before Memphis rallied for a 47-35 win. Looking at the schedule, you saw Memphis had its first Conference USA game on tap coming up against UAB. It's clear the Tigers were more focused on UAB than Arkansas State – and nearly suffered a colossal upset.

Sometimes you can find coaches and players in local newspapers admitting they're not 100% focused for an upcoming contest. I recall a coach admitting that he and his staff were drawing up plays and watching game films of an opponent two weeks down the road, even though they were playing a different (and easier) team this week.

This is something to keep an eye on at this point in the season as teams can shift from non-conference games to a string of conference battles. Remember last week when South Carolina was hosting Navy? The game was sandwiched between two conference games against Georgia and Vanderbilt, and the Gamecocks struggled as a big favorite, squeezing out a 24-21 win over Navy and their difficult-to-defend option attack.

A few years ago Rutgers was off a big win over Michigan State. The following week it played Division 1-AA New Hampshire, which – on the schedule – looked like a breeze of a game. Yet, the overconfident Scarlet Knights lost the game straight up. Clearly their focus was not on the field that afternoon.

Road travel also ties into this, especially long trips. Last year Fresno State had a terrible situational spot, traveling from the West Coast all the way to Mississippi in the Southeast to play an SEC team, its second straight road game, too. The Bulldogs came up with their worst defensive performance in years, a 55-38 loss. Maybe the offense wasn't road weary, but the defense seemed to be, giving up 425 yards rushing!

Other times you can anticipate when a coach might empty his bench late in a cupcake game when his team has a far more important battle on tap the following week. For handicapppers, you can use the schedule to get a sense of when a backdoor cover is more likely.

One season the Georgia Bulldogs had what is called a "sandwich" game on the schedule against Marshall. Georgia rallied to beat South Carolina, then played Marshall before taking on SEC rival LSU the following week. Non-conference Marshall was "sandwiched" between two key conference opponents.

In the end, Georgia only scored 13 points against Marshall, winning 13-3 as a 19-point favorite. Again, it was clear the Bulldogs were more focused on their two SEC games than they were of playing Marshall. This isn't surprising, either, with LSU on deck -- the defending national champion at the time. Good handicappers know that you don't always just look at this week's games to find potential trip-ups and look-ahead spots. Best of luck, Al McMordie.

Other facets of scheduling are key games and cupcakes. Many times teams can look past an opponent when a more important game is on tap the following week. For example, NC State has its second ACC game on deck this weekend against Georgia Tech. Last week the Wolf Pack played a Thursday night game at Cincinnati.

NC State not only failed to cover but got blown out, 44-14. It was an all around disaster for the Wolf Pack, who have multiple defensive injuries. The Bearcats sacked Mike Glennon five times, including one brutal collision in the second quarter in which he was hit by five different players. Cincinnati also held N.C. State's offense to minus-26 rushing yards. In last year's 9-4 breakout season, N.C. State beat Cincinnati 30-19 in Raleigh and routed Wake Forest, 38-3. The Bearcats and Demon Deacons are the only two major Division I teams N.C. State has faced this season and it has lost both games, which caused coach Tom O'Brien to say, "We're not the same team."

The schedule hasn’t helped, either, and won’t get any better: In October the team starts a stretch playing 3 of 4 road games. I recall a year ago at this time TCU had its Mountain West Conference opener on deck and came off a Thursday night game at SMU, their final game outside the Mountain West Conference. That came one week after playing Baylor of the Big 12.

TCU failed to get the cover in a 41-24 win in a game that was a lot closer. The Horned Frogs allowed their most points, most yards (361), most yards rushing (192), had their fewest sacks (one) and lost the turnover battle. It was a national TV game that meant a lot to SMU, too, an 18-point dog. "We took their best shot and came out with a win," Coach Gary Patterson said. "I'm very happy to get to 4-0."

Sometimes a cupcake on the schedule doesn't turn out to be so. A few years ago Memphis had an apparent easy game against Arkansas State. The talented Tigers were a 25-point favorite. Yet, Arkansas State got the cover easily, even leading 35-26 late in the game before Memphis rallied for a 47-35 win. Looking at the schedule, you saw Memphis had its first Conference USA game on tap coming up against UAB. It's clear the Tigers were more focused on UAB than Arkansas State – and nearly suffered a colossal upset.

Sometimes you can find coaches and players in local newspapers admitting they're not 100% focused for an upcoming contest. I recall a coach admitting that he and his staff were drawing up plays and watching game films of an opponent two weeks down the road, even though they were playing a different (and easier) team this week.

This is something to keep an eye on at this point in the season as teams can shift from non-conference games to a string of conference battles. Or soft non-conference games are on the schedule right before conference play or bigger, marquee games pop up. Remember last week when South Carolina was hosting Navy? The game was sandwiched between two conference games against Georgia and Vanderbilt, and the Gamecocks struggled as a big favorite, squeezing out a 24-21 win over Navy and their difficult to defend option attack.

A few years ago Rutgers was off a big win over Michigan State. The following week they played Division 1AA New Hampshire, which – on the schedule – looked like a breeze of a game. Yet, the overconfident Scarlet Knights lost the game straight up. Clearly their focus was not on the field that afternoon.

Road travel also ties into this, especially long trips. Last year Fresno State had a terrible situational spot, travelling from the West Coast all the way to Mississippi in the Southeast to play an SEC team, their second straight road game, too. The Bulldogs came up with their worst defensive performance in years, a 55-38 loss. Maybe the offense wasn't road weary, but the defense seemed to be, giving up 425 yards rushing!

Other times you can anticipate when a coach might empty his bench late in a cupcake game when they have a far more important battle on tap the following week. For handicapppers, you can use the schedule to get a sense of when a backdoor cover is more likely.

One season the Georgia Bulldogs had what is called a "sandwich" game on the schedule against Marshall. Georgia rallied to beat South Carolina, then played Marshall before taking on SEC rival LSU the following week. Non-conference Marshall was "sandwiched" between two key conference opponents.

In the end, Georgia only scored 13 points against Marshall, winning 13-3 as a 19-point favorite. Again, it was clear the Bulldogs were more focused on their two SEC games than they were of playing Marshall. This isn't surprising, either, with LSU on deck, the defending national champion at the time. Good handicappers know that you don't always just look at this week's games to find potential trip-ups and look-ahead spots.

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