Rivalry games are the best part of college football – especially the season ending rivalries steeped in tradition and hatred. Sometimes, though, those rivalry NCAA games lose a lot of their luster because both football teams come into them struggling. If the teams aren’t playing well then the game doesn’t have the same national attention and intensity it normally would. That can have a big impact on the game from a betting perspective. Here are six factors to consider in your college football handicapping when major rivals limp into their rivalry game:
Impact on fans – If a football team and their fan base is used to consistent double digit win seasons then having significantly fewer wins than that can be very hard on them, and it can have a big impact on the morale of the fans. The home field advantage can be particularly significant when playing these rivalry games because of the resentment and bitterness typically directed towards the opposing team. If it has been a particularly tough season, though, then that advantage can be less significant than we are used to because the fans just can’t get fired up in quite the same way. The impact of this can be particularly significant if the home team has struggled but the visitors are playing well and the outcome of the game seems all but certain.
Impact on betting attention – If a rivalry game features two hot and popular football teams then the betting attention is going to be very high. Sports bettors need to be aware of what that heavy impact means for where the lines are set and how they move. When the matchup isn’t particularly compelling, though, bettors are going to be drawn elsewhere. Smart money bettors are still likely to be interested in the game as they recognize value in the point spread, but the betting public money will be represented in far less volume. In general terms that means that it could be somewhat easier to find value on the favorite and the over, and harder to find that value on the underdog or the under, though that isn’t universally the case.
How are teams playing recently? – If a football team comes into their season ending rivalry game with just five or six wins then people will be paying very little attention to them and their game. It’s quite possible, though, that they have recently been playing much better than their overall record suggests. If the team has been playing well enough recently that their current form exceeds the public perception then there could be a chance for nice value. If a high profile team gets off to a particularly bad start then the media will be negative about them, and the betting public will either be negative or will forget about them entirely.
What is left to play for? – As bad as a season may have gone there will often still be something left to play for at the end of the year. Football teams with five wins could be playing for a chance at a postseason berth. In weaker NCAA conferences teams could still be playing for a shot at a conference championship game. If teams have a lot of recruits coming to the game then they could be playing to impress them and secure help for the future. Players could be playing to impress coaches and earn playing spots in the future. Expert college football handicappers know any of those factors could be enough for teams to perform at a higher level than their record might suggest they would.
Are the coaches stable? – Nothing can have a more negative impact on a NCAA fooytball team late in the season than knowing that a coach is a lame duck. If the coaching staff is sure to be replaced, or even if there is speculation that the coach isn’t secure, then the team could have real issues listening to the coach and focusing to the best of their ability. That might not be the case if the coach is very popular with players – they could be motivated to try to save his job, or to send him out on a high note – but in most cases by the time a football coach is fired a large portion of the players on the team won’t be sad to see him go.
How significant is the rivalry right now? – Smart college football handicappers undersand that it’s quite easy for historical rivalries to be overstated. If neither team has been strong for a while, or if one team has dominated the rivalry for many years, then the game might not mean as much to the team and the players as it used to. It’s also quite possible that another rivalry has become more important in recent years. Sports bettors often assume that teams will be fired up for a rivalry game no matter how bad they have been playing because of the rivalry, but that’s less likely if the game isn’t as significant as it is perceived. It’s also possible that the football game has lost the significance for one opponent but not the other, so motivation levels will be unbalanced.