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College Football Handicapping: Change Approach for Championship Games
by Trevor Whenham - 11/28/2012

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Cassius Marsh of the UCLA Bruins

In many ways conference championship games in college football are just like any of the other games that came before them in the 13 weeks of the college football regular season. In a few key ways, though, handicapping them is slightly different. Handicappers who consider these differences and how they might impact different games have an edge over those who ignore the differences. Here are six of those differences to ponder:

Rematches

With the rare exception of the occasional bowl game, conference championship games are the only time each year that bettors have to deal with rematches in college football. They just don’t happen, and that means that bettors have additional headaches to deal with the second time around. Did the location of the first game have a big impact on the outcome? What had the biggest impact on the outcome of the first game? Is it likely to have a similar effect this time? How have the rosters changed? How have players matured or changed? Was weather a factor in the earlier game? Will it be in this game? As you know well if you bet on the NFL, the outcome of the first game doesn’t always — or even often — have much bearing on the outcome of the second game. Bettors need to be able to find the balance between learning from the last game and not letting that outcome bias them in their decisions this time around.

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Location

Given the intensity of fan support in college football, location is always a big factor in handicapping. In conference championship games the impact can be more challenging to determine than normal. Most, but not all, conferences play their championship game on a neutral field. When that’s the case then you need to determine what impact that will have. Is one school significantly closer to the location than the other? Does one school typically travel much better than the other? Is one school likely to have more local fans, or more national fans, attending? Are the two schools likely to draw a full stadium, or will attendance be sparse? When the field isn’t a neutral site — like in the Pac-12, for example — you need to be confident in how much of a home field advantage the team has.

Fewer games to choose from on the day

One of the great things about betting on college football during the season is that there are so many games to choose from each week. No matter what types of games you like to bet, you can usually find one that suits your preferences. On Championship Weekend, though, there are far fewer games — just the championship games and a few leftover conference games from leagues without a championship game. Having fewer choices can make it harder to find a game you really like. It also concentrates the public betting money on fewer games. That means that you really need to be aware of what the public is thinking about a game, and what impact that can have on how the games turn out.

Different motivations

You’d think that every team would be completely motivated in conference championship games to win their conference title. The truth is, though, that for some schools the motivation is much more intense than others. For example, both Alabama and Georgia in his year’s SEC Championship know that they are not just playing for their conference championship, but also very likely for a berth in the National Championship Game as well. They will both be supremely motivated. On the other hand, 6-6 Georgia Tech might not be nearly as motivated in the ACC Championship — the players know they are outmatched by Florida State, and even if they did win they know they would be badly outmatched in a BCS bowl. It’s hard to imagine Georgia Tech playing at their maximum intensity as a result.  High stakes for some teams, an afterthought for others

Easy for lesser championships to get lost

The media definitely prefers some leagues over others — the SEC is the eternal favorite, for example. As a result, the betting public often pays too much attention to the highest-profile championship games and forgets about the lesser games — or at least doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to them. Just because a game isn’t high-profile, though doesn’t mean that it isn’t interesting or that it doesn’t present attractive betting opportunities. Bettors need to make sure that they are evaluating games based on what they have to offer, not on what the media is telling them to care about.

Injuries

By the time conference championship games roll around, teams are at the end of a long, brutal season. It is very rare for a team to make it this far without being hit by injuries — often quite significant ones. When you are handicapping these games, then, you need to be particularly aware of the health of teams and the impact any problems could have on the way teams are able to perform. You also want to consider which injuries the public is likely to overreact to — like an injured quarterback, for example — and which injuries they aren’t going to attach enough significance to.

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