NCAA Football Betting Advice: How Handicapping Rivalry Games Is Different
We are on the eve of the best week of the college football regular season. And it's not close. It's Week 14 in college football , so there is a whole lot to decide. And for teams with grand ambitions, the games are absolutely crucial, But, on top of that, we also have the best rivalry games of the year to entertain us. Some, like The Game between Ohio State and Michigan , the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn , Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State , and Paul Bunyan's Axe between Wisconsin and Minnesota , have major playoff implications. Others, like the Civil War, the Apple Cup, or Clean, Old Fashioned Hate are just about guaranteed to be entertaining because they usually are.
Rivalry games are the best part of college football. They are also, in a few key ways, different than your typical college football game. And the bettors who can understand those differences and adapt to them in their handicapping are going to be the most successful ones over the long term. Here are five differences, and what they mean for bettors:
Familiarity: In most cases, these games are played every year and have been for a long time. Minnesota and Wisconsin have met 127 times, for example, and Michigan and Ohio State have played 115 times. They almost always play the same weekend of the year, and the games are always a focus of the season for at least one and often both teams. As they say at Michigan, for example, a coach could lose 11 games a year, beat Ohio State every year, and have a job for life. The best rivals are obsessed with each other. Ohio State's Ryan Day has continued the tradition of crossing out any M that is printed in anything Ohio State produces this week, and he admitted this week that his staff closely tracks Michigan's recruiting board to know the team intimately. And every other team in a major rivalry is similarly obsessed with their opponent. When teams know each other that well, and are focused on each other that much, there are fewer surprises. It's much harder for teams to bring in new wrinkles, and teams know that, so they typically don't try. These games, then, can be more about how good teams are than how well they can gameplan.
Motivation is different: Every game matters in college football - it's what makes it such a great sport. You can lose an NFL game and nothing really changes, but a loss in college can derail everything. So, for top teams, motivation isn't typically tough to find for any game. But it jumps to a whole new level in rivalry games. Good teams don't want to have to live with the pain caused by having their season derailed by their rivals. Bad teams can salvage pride by the truckload with a win here to close out the season. Motivation is a huge part of college football handicapping at any time. But everything on that front is amplified in these games.
The crowd: The crowds are never bigger than in these games. Never louder. Never angrier or drunker. It may not be the biggest home-field advantage of the year for a team, but it certainly won't be the least. The more you can understand about what the crowd is going to look like, and what the impact of that will be, the better.
Betting attention: People who don't typically pay a lot of attention to college football during the year - as fans or bettors - are often drawn to games on this weekend. There are a few reasons for that. First, this weekend typically overlaps with Thanksgiving, so people are together with family, and likely looking for a distraction by that point. Second, the stakes of the games can be high as the season is ending and even passive fans can embrace the importance of a win and the cost of a loss. And third, the drama and tradition of the rivalry games can capture the imaginations of casual fans and draw them in. Casual bettors, of course, aren't the smartest bettors. When they are drawn in, they are going to be more prone to biases, more drawn to surface impressions, and generally into typical tendencies like the favorite and the over. When there are more casual bettors betting, oddsmakers have to adjust, and it can have an impact on how lines are set and how they can move. The more public bettors there are in a game, the more smart bettors need to be aware.
Media attention: A big late November game between hated historical rivals who are playing a game with national stakes involved is going to draw a whole lot more media attention than a late September nonconference mismatch against Western Nowhere State. The hardcore media will cover the former game, but the latter will draw the general interest media as well. When more media is involved in covering a game, the quality of the analysis will be lower on average, and the storylines that get the most attention will generally be less significant. And when there is more media covering an event, they have to be more extreme to try to get attention. In these games, you have to pay attention to what the media is talking about and what could be attractive to the public. If the prominent storylines aren't ones that you deem important, you could have a real opportunity.
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