Handicapping Tips and Advice: College Football Rivalry Week
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 11/23/2011
It might be feast week in college basketball, but it is also the second to last week of the college football regular season, also known as rivalry week.
Some of the traditional college football rivalry games mean more than usual while some mean less than usual, but try telling the players and fan bases involved that some of these games do not matter in the grand scheme of things. That will not go over well.
There are new faces all around with new coaches at Ohio State/Michigan and at Pitt/West Virginia
Here are the top four college football rivalries that will be played this weekend, a rundown of the recent history and what to expect starting on Thanksgiving with the Lone Star Showdown. We will also offer some handicapping tips and advice for college football rivalry games.
Thursday, Nov. 24
Lone Star Showdown
Texas at Texas A&M (-7.5)
8 p.m. EST
It has been a long time since so little was on the line for this game, but in terms of the rivalry you can argue never has more been on the line.
Texas (6-4) and Texas A&M (6-5) are just trying to finish the season above .500 at this point. However, there also is plenty of uncertainty about the future of the rivalry with Texas A&M's upcoming move to the SEC. There is also some reason to believe the dissolving of the rivalry is because of Texas, who states they can’t schedule their rival in the nonconference.
In terms of the game itself, very few rivalries have been as balanced. Four of the last five meetings have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
Texas A&M won 24-17 last season as three-point favorites at Texas. They have also covered the last two meetings. Over the last 10 Lone Star Showdown's, Texas is 7-3 SU, but Texas A&M is 6-4 ATS.
This game marks the second consecutive season the Aggies are favored after being underdogs in the previous 11 meetings. They handled the favorite role fine last season in Austin, winning 24-17 as three-point favorites, and now they're favored in College Station.
Friday, Nov. 26
Pittsburgh at West Virginia (-6.5)
7 p.m. EST
The future of the Backyard Brawl, the second most played rivalry in the eastern US (behind only Army/Navy), is in jeopardy.
Pitt is scheduled to depart for the ACC in 2014 and West Virginia is suing to get out of the Big East to move to the Big 12 next season. Both sides have expressed interest in continuing the rivalry, but there may be a hiatus in it for the next few seasons.
What that means for Friday night is a revved up and boozed up Mountaineer Field under the lights in Morgantown.
West Virginia is 6-3 SU and 6-3 ATS over the last nine meetings, including a 35-10 thrashing of the Panthers last season in Heinz Field.
West Virginia (7-3) and Pitt (5-5) both have a shot at the Big East title if they win out, but both need help. But when these rivals, separated by 80 miles of interstate 79, meet, there is plenty more to play for than just a Big East title.
Saturday, Nov. 26
Ohio State at No. 16 Michigan (-7.5)
For any fifth-year senior in the Ohio State locker room or Michigan locker room it might seem mind boggling, but the Michigan Wolverines are favored Saturday in Ann Arbor. No player on the current Michigan roster has ever beaten Ohio State. No player on Ohio State has ever lost to Michigan. The Wolverines have not been favored since 2004. They have not won since 2003.
Michigan has lost two of the last three meetings by 30 or more points. The fifth-year seniors on Michigan have lost to the Buckeyes by an average of 22 points per game each season.
But there are other numbers to look at. Ohio State is unranked and 6-5. Michigan is 9-2, No. 16 and possibly Sugar Bowl-bound with a win. Jim Tressel was 9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS against Michigan. He will not be at the Big House on Saturday. Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was 0-3 SU and 0-3 ATS against Ohio State. He is in Arizona now.
Everyone seems to think the rivalry has taken a turn towards the Maize and Blue, but the past history is impossible to ignore. Even with no Tressel and no Rodriguez or Lloyd Carr, this is still Ohio State's game to lose. Of course, the Wolverines have a chip on their shoulder considering the unheard of seven-game losing streak in the series. But what about the Buckeyes? They have won seven in a row over Michigan, including three straight in Michigan, and they are 7.5-point underdogs on the college football odds.
No. 2 Alabama at Auburn (+21)
3:30 p.m. ET
Last year it was Auburn who had to go into Tuscaloosa to win the Iron Bowl and advance to the National Championship Game. The shoe is on the other foot this year as the Crimson Tide head to Jordan-Hare Stadium needing only a win over archrival Auburn to secure a likely rematch with LSU in the National Championship Game.
Never has the Iron Bowl meant more than it has since Nick Saban and Gene Chizik arrived at their respective schools. Alabama is 10-1 and a three-touchdown favorite over a rebuilding 7-4 Auburn team, but you know what they say you can do with the record books when these two teams meet.
Auburn is 7-2 SU in the last 11 Iron Bowls and 6-3 ATS. Auburn has covered five of the last six, including the legendary 28-27 win last season after trailing Alabama 24-0 on the road. Nick Saban is 2-1 SU and 2-1 ATS in the series but the meltdown last season still haunts him.
The lopsided spread has been rare in this series. Over the last 13 meetings the point spread has been seven points or fewer eight times and never higher than 14 points. This is believed to be the highest point spread in the modern era of the series.
Both teams have had their up and down years, but there is probably a reason no team has ever given three touchdowns in this series.
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