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Football's Emotional Ups and Downs

   by Al McMordie - 10/22/2007

Emotion is an enormous angle to consider when handicapping football games. A fired up, focused team can wipe out a lot of bad stats that they may also possess. We saw this on Monday night a few weeks ago when the Bills hosted the Cowboys. It was the first Monday night game in years for the team and the fans of Buffalo, and they played inspired football for the whole game….or at least up until the final 20 seconds, when they collapsed. Regardless, they covered easily as a double digit home dog.

College football offers even more instances where emotion can come to the forefront. Not only because there are more games than in the NFL each weekend, but because the players are younger. No team was higher than Kentucky two weeks ago when it faced LSU, the No. 1 team in the nation. As a home dog, the Wildcats played the game of their lives and won in triple overtime.

Earlier in the season we saw Colorado muster a monster-effort at home in an emotional upset of Oklahoma. It’s going to be interesting to pay close attention to several college football teams over the next few weeks, as emotion and confidence are likely to be key factors. On paper, Nebraska has a very strong offense. However, there are all kinds of problems with this team. The offense has become more reliant on the pass of late because the defense has been horrendous. QB Sam Keller has an interception in every game but one this season. They just lost at home to Texas A&M, 36-14, a few weeks after getting destroyed at home by Oklahoma State. Nebraska is 0-6 SU, 1-5 ATS its last 6 as a dog.

The Huskers fired their AD and brought in Tom Osborne, so many are wondering if a housecleaning is approaching. The unit formerly known as the Blackshirts can't stop the running game. Is the team making halftime adjustments? They were down just 16-14 at the half to the Aggies, then got blown out again. That’s something to keep in mind if you like to make halftime wagers.

Florida State is another team that might be down on itself. The defense had a meltdown during the final three minutes of Miami's come-from-behind 37-29 win. “We self-destructed,â€쳌 one player said. "It hurts; it hurts," Bobby Bowden said after Saturday's loss. "We needed this ballgame; we needed this ballgame."

Good coaches can get their team to bounce back and get over a lack of confidence. Bad coaches are like a chicken with its head cut off, not knowing how to react or how to get players to re-focus. Other times, a coach simply might not have the talent on the field to do anything about a problem. Bowden has to deal with weak QB play, while Nebraska hasn’t been able to stop the run. Those are serious problems that can eat at a team’s confidence.

USC got embarrassed in that shocking loss to Stanford, 24-23, as a 39-point favorite. They were an angry team the next game, but again failed to cover. A big reason was personnel: The starting QB, senior John David Booty, was out with an injured finger. The starter was QB Mark Sanchez, making his first ever start. Emotion is one thing to channel for success or a bounce-back opportunity, but a coach still needs the players.

South Carolina plays at Tennessee this weekend, a game involving a pair of teams that have had some emotional roller coaster moments this season. South Carolina was shocked 17-6 at home by Vanderbilt on Saturday, because of 4 turnovers and a freshman QB. Growing pains are to be expected. "I don't know about anybody else, but it's pretty embarrassing," WR Kenny McKinley said. South Carolina strong safety Emanuel Cook added, "That's the sorriest team in the SEC we lost to."

“Amazingly, the eighth game of the season we had five false starts of the offensive linemen,â€쳌 Steve Spurrier said. “It sort of looked like one of the first games all year. We just didn’t get ready to play for some reason. This should not be a shock to our team. We’ve been scraping by. I never said we was a great team.â€쳌 By the way, South Carolina is 8-4 SU, 10-2 ATS their last 12 road games under Spurrier.

Tennessee has been throttled several times this season and comes off another bad performance in a loss at Alabama, 41-17. "It definitely wasn't the game we expected," Vols linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "We came out expecting to play as good as any game we've played in the past. Alabama came out and did a good job."

The blowout loss will further fuel the speculation about the direction of the Tennessee football program under Phil Fulmer. "Obviously, you don't like to lose a rivalry game by 24 points," UT Athletics Director Mike Hamilton said. "We've had our share of good fortune against them over a long period of time and today wasn't our day," Fulmer said. "We got it handed to us. Big-time handed to us." Keep in mind Tennessee is 13-24 ATS its last 37 at Rocky Top. Emotional highs and lows, tied in with other factors, can help handicappers predict how that team might play the next week – or the rest of the season. Best of luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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