by Jim Feist
It's Thanksgiving week, which means the middle of the NFL campaign while winding down the college football regular season. Late season college football means heated races for conference titles and bowl berths, plus rivalries that span decades. These games can have far more importance for players than September/October clashes. Oklahoma/Ok-State, USC/UCLA, Florida/Florida State, Georgia/Georgia Tech, Michigan/Ohio State and Auburn/Alabama bring out extra intensity and emotion.
A year ago Bama/Auburn was a thriller for the ages that shook up the national championship game picture. Oregon was cruising along unbeaten into November last year, before getting blindsided by Stanford and Arizona. Speaking of getting blindsided, a year ago this week Baylor was 9-0 until heading to Big 12 rival Oklahoma State. Oddsmakers head to make the steamrolling Bears 7-point chalk, but Mike Gundy’s Cowboys stampeded all over the Bears in a stunning 49-17 rout. Three turnovers by Baylor (and none for Ok-State) can do that!
Oklahoma State didn’t need a refresher course in late season upsets, either. In 2011 they were 10-0 and went to Iowa State as a 26-point favorite. It was a Friday night national TV game in late November and the Cyclones played like it was their Super Bowl (it was) in a shocking 37-31 double OT thriller. Would that have happened in early October on a Saturday morning with dozens of games on TV for viewers? Maybe. But the fact that it was late in the year with so much on the line added to the intensity.
Late season football and rivalry games can mean intensity that can transcend some betting numbers, especially large ones. A few years ago Texas Tech was a 29-point dog and won at Oklahoma, 41-38.
Athletes might not always admit it, but playing on national television can help raise their games a notch, such as Thanksgiving week and conference title tilts in December. There have been many memorable upsets, too. One holiday season there were 12 college and pro football games played Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, and the underdog was 11-1 against the spread. Five dogs won straight up, including Colorado as a 10-point dog smashing Nebraska 62-36, the No. 2 ranked team in the nation.
2007 was the Year of Upsets in college football: Michigan losing to Appalachian State, Louisville losing to Syracuse, No. 1 LSU losing in three overtimes to Kentucky, USC losing to Stanford as 42-point chalk and No. 1 Ohio State losing at home as a 15-point favorite to Illinois all shocked and muddled the BCS picture. Pitt got fired up to play West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl and won as a +28 dog, while Missouri knocked off unbeaten Kansas. Seven years ago unbeaten Texas was a 27-point favorite at rival Texas A&M. Here is a list of the biggest college football upsets of all time:
2007 Stanford (+42) tops USC, 24-23
2007 Syracuse (+39) at Louisville, 38-35
1985 Oregon State (+36) tops Washington, 21-20
1985 UTEP (+36) over BYU, 23-16
1998 Temple (+35½) beats Virginia Tech, 28-24
2007 Appalachian St (+35) at Michigan, 34-32
1972 Missouri (+35) beat Notre Dame, 30-26
1974 Purdue (+34) at Notre Dame, 31-20
2011 Texas Tech (+29) at Oklahoma, 41-38
1992 Iowa State (+29) over Nebraska, 19-10
1969 San Jose State (+29) at Oregon, 36-34
1995 Northwestern (+28) over Notre Dame, 17-15
2007 Pitt (+28) tops West Virginia, 13-9
1942 Holy Cross (+28) beats Boston College, 55-12
One thing that stands out is the number of "public teams" like Notre Dame, Nebraska and Michigan that got upset. This is an example of how oddsmakers have to add points to public teams, as well as how smaller schools can get fired up to face big-name schools, such as Toledo winning at Michigan this season.
It doesn't always help to be one of the top teams in the polls as opponents can be gunning for you. Many will recall No. 1 Ohio State going down in 2007 as Illinois surprised them, 28-21. Few recall that a year earlier Ohio State was also No. 1 in the nation and as a 25-point favorite at Illinois, the Buckeyes had to hang on for dear life in a 17-10 win. The Illini was gunning for No. 1 for a signature win.
In a sense, it was Illinois' bowl game in 2006 with their season winding down, so they played all out. That same day, No. 2 Michigan had to hold on as a 32-point favorite against Ball State, a 34-26 win, two games that nearly disrupted their No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown. Not only can the opponent be fired up, but the big favorite might not be taking the game seriously. Those are good example of how rivalries can force bettors to discount point spreads, or take a closer look at the dog, not to mention high-profile games this time of the year.