Handicapping Conference Games
We've reached the point in the college football season where most games involve teams in the same conference going head-to-head. Of course, the major independents aren't in conferences. So, there are still interesting non-conference games like Stanford/Notre Dame and BYU/Washington to handicap this week. But, for the most part, the dynamics of conference action will loom very large.
What separates "conference" games from "non-conference" games in terms of my personal handicapping philosophy? There's no difference when it comes to PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS. You're still going to stay on top of those key players first and foremost. But, THE MOTIVATION FACTOR can get tricky in league play.
First, most games are REVENGE games from the prior season. Obviously, the larger conferences have to rotate through the "other" division in a way that reduces this. But, any game within a division is a revenge game from the prior season. In the Big 12, everyone still plays everyone else...so all met the prior season.
Most handicappers and TV pundits place way too much weight on this angle. Frankly, every bad team is going to have revenge every time out. It doesn't make them less bad! Think of all the years where Kansas had revenge every week and still kept losing.
I usually limit the REVENGE angle to the following:
*The superior team lost last season
*That superior team is MAD about losing last season
*That team has a coach who will run up the score
*The opponent has other reasons to be flat
Revenge by itself is overrated...but revenge in a "cocktail" with other factors can be truly explosive. This is where medium favorites will win by several touchdowns. This is where small underdogs will dominate in outright victories. Revenge is overrated "most of the time," but dramatically underrated enough that you can profit significantly.
Second, MATCHUPS are important when you're talking about veteran head coaches. There are leaders of "7-5" type teams who are still brilliant at exploiting edges against opposing head coaches who are "recruiters" rather than true tacticians. Bill Snyder is this type of "value" coach, but there are others. Conference action is where these chess players can shine...particularly against opposing veterans who don't change their ways. I will place serious handicapping weight on head-to-head coaching records straight up and against the spread.
Finally today, I want to remind you to REDUCE the value that your normally give HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE. You'll hear people say that home field is usually worth about 3 points in college football, 4 points at particularly difficult locations. I actually believe it can be worth more like 5-6 in September non-conference games against opponents unfamiliar with a site...but only 1-2 points with veteran visitors who have seen a stadium before.
So, if you've gotten into the habit of rewarding 3-4 points for home field in college football. I'd encourage you to reduce that for conference games...particularly IMPORTANT conference games. Visitors in important games just aren't that intimidated by hostile crowds. Referees have done a good job of avoiding "playing to the crowd" like they used to a couple decades ago (and earlier).
Give me a revenge-minded visitor with a smart head coach, and I'll give you an upset. If you see me laying a big price for 50-units, 100-units, or 200-units in a conference game, you can be sure I'm not taking the worst of it in any of those areas. Or, I have such a big edge in PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS that nothing else matters.
Your homework assignment this week is a simple one.
Part One: Review last year's results to see which teams have REVENGE this week. There are some websites with matchup data that will show recent series histories. You can use those for a shortcut. The important thing is to know who has REVENGE first. You'll still weed out most of these as potential picks. But, this is the key ingredient in winning cocktails, so you better be sure it's included!
Part Two: Go through my earlier checklist with each nominee. Remember, you want superior teams who are mad about losing last year, and you're hoping that the opponent has other distractions (maybe a letdown from a big game last week, a look-ahead to a big game next week, or a flood of recent media coverage that's gone to their heads.)
That's probably enough to fill your time between now and Saturday's early kickoffs. If you're particularly fast and motivated, I would then encourage you to look up and study head-to-head coaching histories when veterans are squaring off.
If you'd like additional help, KELSO STURGEON'S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the office by calling office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours. Be sure to check on combination packages that include Major League Baseball through the postseason when you call. The playoffs begin next week with Wildcard action Tuesday and Wednesday.
I've been promising for weeks that I'll talk more baseball once the playoffs arrive. The Dean of Sports Handicapping will do his best not to forget that promise if a bunch of exciting things happen this weekend in football! Monday's coursework is currently scheduled to focus on baseball's postseason. We have several very good teams this autumn who are all capable of getting hot in October and going the distance. Looking forward to talking about proper handicapping approaches for this challenge.