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Not All Games are Created Equal

   by Al McMordie - 11/21/2004

Last week was Rivalry Week in College Football, and more games are on tap over the next few weeks. Many rivalry games can mean far more in importance than other games during the season. Michigan had more to gain than Ohio State on Saturday, yet Buckeye players and fans didn’t feel like watching the Wolverines dance around in the Horseshoe clutching roses between their teeth. It meant as much for Ohio State to stick it to their longtime rival as much as it meant for Michigan to wrap up a Big 10 title.

Ohio State fans might have been wondering, "Where has this offense been all season?" after the normally anemic Buckeyes scored 37 on Michigan. And that win over Michigan erased what had been a frustrating season in Columbus. The fired-up Buckeyes ran and passed for over 200 yards in the big 37-21 win as an underdog.

That was a great example of positive emotion firing up a football team, but that’s not the only way to look at emotion from a handicapping perspective. Negative emotion can be just as important when handicapping a contest. And an example of this was the Penn State/Michigan State battle. Michigan State was likely to be emotionally flat after a stunning rout of Wisconsin the week before. To my customers last week I wrote, "Based on the win over Wisconsin, Michigan State falls into a negative 42-104 against the spread angle off its upset win as a 6-point (or greater) dog." Negative emotion was part of what I was looking at as I made Penn State my Big 10 Game of the Year. I was not shocked to see Penn State thoroughly dominate play in a 37-13 win as a 4-point home dog. The sloppy Spartans were clearly still thinking about last week’s big win, and turned the ball over five times. In addition to a play against Michigan State, I also noted that Penn State was in a 14-5 ATS revenge angle. So, there was far more than just stats featured in that game -- revenge and emotion were enormous factors in Penn State’s favor, which is why I made it my Big Ten Game of the Year.

While reading the local newspapers in Tennessee last week, I noticed that Vanderbilt players were very much aware of the fact that Tennessee had shut them out the previous three years. In fact, the players were angry, and adamantly denied suggestions that they had packed it in for the season. The Commodores’ veteran offense had a great chance to end that drought against a Tennessee defense that has slipped significantly from last season. Again, there was a revenge angle present for Vandy, though not on beating up Tennessee but simply on playing hard and putting the ball IN THE END ZONE…for a change! Vandy did quite well before losing 38-33, but getting the money as a 13-point dog. I had Vanderbilt as my SEC Game of the Month partly because of that, as I explained to my clients that "Vandy was in a 148-96 ATS shutout angle, including 8-2 ATS this season." Well, make it 149-96 ATS and 9-2 ATS this season after the Commodores covered.

QB Jay Cutler’s 314 passing yards and 33 points showed that Vandy was focused intently on breaking that embarrassing shutout string. My Rivarly Game of the year was also a breeze, as Iowa handled an emotionally-down Wisconsin group, 30-7. Wisconsin was part of an angle where teams that start at least 5-0 are good to go-against after losing their first game. These are great examples why analyzing stats only goes so far in the world of professional handicapping. Angles, revenge and other situations also play significant roles. If you get a chance, you can hear me analyzing more football plays this Friday night at 9 PM when I continue my run in the Stardust Invitational handicapping contest in Las Vegas! If you're in town, please drop by and say "hello". Good luck as always...Al McMordie.

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