Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog, TheWizofOdds.com.
You wake up and begin piecing it together. Who was I with? How in the hell did I get home?
You roll off the couch, eyes struggling to focus, make out the outline of what must be a warm beer on the coffee table. Then it hits you. Hangover City.
We’ve all been there.
A sinful night gives way to a wasted state of slow recovery the next day. You promise to never do it again, but the road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.
College football teams also experience hangovers. The only difference is they don’t involve alcohol. It’s the kind of hangover that follows victory.
Notice how a team celebrates a landmark win one week just to agonize a loss the next? Granted, it’s not a foolproof way to cash in. Nothing in the wagering world is, but more times than not, it’s a trend for the bettor to follow closely.
Exhibit one, two, three and four, from this season thus far:
Oklahoma State had a lot invested in its opening game against Georgia. The Cowboys closed practice and coaches and players weren’t allowed to talk with the media leading up to the game. The team spent a considerable portion of preseason practice preparing for the Bulldogs.
The circle-the-wagons approach paid off for the favored Cowboys, who covered the 5.5 points in a 24-10 victory at Stillwater.
The next week, a capable Houston team came to town. Oklahoma State was a 15.5-point favorite and not only failed to cover, but lost, 45-35.
On Sept. 12, it was a record Ohio Stadium crowd of 106,033, a national primetime TV audience and an opponent looking for revenge from a beating the previous season. It was not the environment a visiting team cherishes, but USC under coach Pete Carroll lives for games like this.
Nonetheless, the Trojans trailed by five as they started what would likely be their last drive in the shadow of their own end zone. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley and shifty tailback Joe McKnight guided USC down the field for the winning score. The 18-15 victory didn’t cover the 7-point spread, but USC didn’t care. It was looking at the big picture and positioning for a potential berth to the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Flush with confidence, the Trojans swaggered into Seattle the next week to play lowly Washington, a 20.5-point underdog. The Huskies had ended a 15-game losing streak the previous Saturday by toppling Idaho.
Then the unthinkable happened: Washington 16, USC 13. Yes, even the big boys fall victim to the victory hangover curse.
Brigham Young shocked the college football world to start the season, upending the mighty Oklahoma Sooners, 14-13.
Florida State took note. The Seminoles’ third game was a trip to Provo to play the high-flying Cougars, and after Florida State struggled to beat Division I-AA Jacksonville State, 19-9, not many people gave FSU a fighting chance. If BYU didn’t manhandle Florida State, the Provo elevation of 4,549 would surely finish off the Seminoles at some point.
Wrong again. The Seminoles, 8.5-point underdogs, crushed the Cougars, 54-28.
Florida State returned last Saturday to Tallahassee to play South Florida, which had just lost starting quarterback Matt Grothe to a season-ending knee injury. The Seminoles were 14-point favorites and the outmanned Bulls didn’t stand a chance.
The visitors not only won, but dominated in a 17-7 victory.
In two weeks, Washington went from having the nation’s longest losing streak to a No. 24 ranking after its victory over USC. Quite an accomplishment for a team that had recently lost 21 of 23 games.
USC’s Carroll said of Husky quarterback Jake Locker: “That’s the best quarterback we’ve played in nine years here. Jake Locker has ridiculous talent, and had he remained healthy last year, Tyrone [Willingham] would still be coaching there.”
Everything was suddenly coming together for the Huskies. What could possibly go wrong last Saturday at Stanford? The Cardinal had victories over lightweights Washington State and San Jose State, and in their only game against a real opponent, lost to Wake Forest, 24-17.
The fairy tale came to a screeching halt. Washington lost, 34-14.
OK, it doesn’t work all the time. Virginia Tech proved as much in consecutive weeks, beating Nebraska and Miami. But more times than not, betting against a team experiencing a hangover can be good for your wallet.
Here’s to the morning after.