Expert NCAA Football Handicapping; How to Bet Rivalry Games
We are heading into the best weekend of the college football season. So many division and conference races to decide, and all while playing rivalry games. Many of the top teams in the country finish out their regular season by playing their most hated rival, and every year several of those games have major implications beyond just the hatred. This year, for example, Alabama and Auburn and Michigan and Ohio State have massive playoff implications, and the Apple Cup up in Washington could as well. While in many ways these rivalry games are just another football game that should be handicapped like the rest , there are a few key ways that they are different. The more you can be aware of those differences, and factor them into your handicapping, the better your chances of success. Here are five of the biggest differences:
Familiarity: On some level, of course, teams are familiar with many of their conference opponents. They play them every year or two, so there are few surprises. But in rivalry games things are a little different. The best rivalry games are different - the focus of the entire season. Teams know what is going on with all opponents, but they have a special awareness of their biggest rival - how they are playing, who their key players are, and so on. That extra awareness adds wrinkles to the preparation for these games and makes it tougher for there to be any surprises. That, in turn, amplifies the importance of coaching in these games.
Motivation is different: Teams that have had a strong year don't want to finish off by losing to a big rival. That sabotages everything they have accomplished. Teams that have had frustrating years know that everything can change with one win in this game. If you beat your rival, then everything that came before is forgotten. Teams that have struggled for motivation during the year aren't going to struggle in these spots. Teams that have been motivated all year are likely to be even more dialed in here. Motivation is such a big part of handicapping - especially at the college level - and everything is amplified on that front in these games.
Crowd factors: Crowds will be bigger, louder and angrier in these games than they are any other week of the year. In most of the rivalry games these are the most sought after, most expensive seats of the year. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be the biggest home-field advantage of the year, as this is also the game that opposing fans are most likely to travel for. You need to pay attention to what the crowd is likely to look like in this game more than any other.
Betting attention: Because of the stakes of the games and the time of year - people are eating turkey and looking for ways to avoid spending more time with their families - the betting attention on these games is more intense than for any other regular-season game in college football. True college football fans and bettors have obviously been paying attention for a long time. But there is nothing like a big rivalry game to draw in the casual bettors and to really amplify the volume of bets on the biggest of games. The more bets there are on a game, the more of those bets are going to be made by casual bettors, and the less sharp they are going to be. The public will bet driven by long-existing biases coupled with the perception the media has created leading into the game about the key storylines. And public bettors are driven by the spread, too - they typically like the favorite and the "over", and the bigger the spread or higher the total, the more they will direct their bets in one direction. The more the public is involved in a game, the more smart bettors need to be aware of the impact those bettors have on how the lines are set and how they move.
Media attention: Because people care more about these games than most, the public cares more about these games than most. But the media isn't always known for insightful, careful considered analysis. They just like attention. So, you wind up with some really silly storylines being amplified. A favorite of almost every rivalry game, for example, is a guaranteed win. The media loves it when a player guarantees a win, so they will press every player every chance they get to do so. And when a player does make a guarantee, or even says something that could very loosely be construed as a guarantee, then they will run with it. It almost always gets silly, and that can have an impact on the public perception - and it can be a distraction for players as well.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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