Mother Nature's Becoming a Key Player in College Pigskin

As the season grinds ahead, the weather will become an increasingly important factor for the handicapper.
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We had our worst week of the season last week (2-5), although we did correctly tab the

Texas

upset of

Nebraska

. The season record now stands at 27-26 (51%).

This week's handicapping lesson will focus on something that matters more as the season grinds ahead: weather. Although we've had some "weather plays" already, November is really when weather becomes vital to the handicapper. Obviously, it plays a big role for the over/under bet. In picking winners, it's a smaller factor. But a large point spread and opposing team styles can bring weather conditions more into play.

At this time of year, there are four weather factors that may affect the over/under or the point spread: cold, rain, snow and wind. Of the four, wind is the most important. If it's not particularly cold, a wind of 0 to 20 miles per hour will not significantly affect the game. If it's more than 30 miles per hour, most teams will have severe problems scoring unless they have an extremely dominant rushing game. The direction of the wind should also be taken into account. A crosswind is the worst for scoring. A tailwind will often help a team to score, while a headwind will prevent it from scoring.

Extremely cold weather (below 32 degrees Fahrenheit) will also limit scoring because of the difficulty quarterbacks will have gripping the ball, and receivers catching it. Rain will normally not reduce scoring unless it is extremely heavy or causes the field to become a quagmire. On artificial turf, it is almost a nonevent and may, in fact, increase scoring, because while the receivers know where they are going, the defensive backs are simply reacting and are more likely to slip on a slick artificial-turf field.

Snow alone will not affect scoring (unless it is particularly heavy) and will cause the same effect as rain, particularly on artificial turf. Oftentimes, bettors will overreact to a prediction of snow -- but if that snow occurs in an environment without wind and where the temperature is around freezing, the points scored will not be significantly reduced.

A team's statistics also matter when thinking about weather. A team that rushes more than half the time and averages more than 4 yards per rush will not be significantly affected by wind or cold weather, while a team that is dependent on the pass will surely have trouble putting points on the board.

All of these observations are, of course, generalities, and each game where bad weather is forecast should be analyzed by trying to visualize how each team's coach and players will react to the predicted weather condition.

The Weather Channel

is the only place we go to figure out what the weather will be like on the weekend. Good weather appears to be the rule for this Saturday for most of the nation, with windy weather limited to Montana and Wyoming and rain showers along a front stretching from Michigan to Texas. Temperatures will be above 50 degrees during the day throughout the country.

This Week's Picks

Memphis (plus 1) Over Tulane

A classic case of good defense vs. good offense, with the

Memphis

Tigers having the good defense. Memphis is 8-0-2 against the spread in the last 10 games of this series, and

Tulane's

high-powered offense has been held in check by decent defensive teams (14 points by

Southern Miss

, 17 by

Syracuse

, 13 by

Mississippi

and 7 by

East Carolina

). On the defensive side of the ball, Tulane is giving up an average of 35 points per game -- including 32 to offensively inept

Louisiana-Lafayette

. The Memphis defense is stout this year (it almost single-handedly defeated

Tennessee

), and we can foresee a lot of picked passes in this game. Because Tulane is so weak defensively, we also believe that Memphis will score at least 20 points, which should be enough to win the game.

BYU (minus 7) Over Air Force

BYU

coach LaVell Edwards knows how to shut down the

Air Force

wishbone. BYU is 12-2 ATS in its last 14 games against the Flyboys. In last year's

Western Athletic Conference

championship game (held in Las Vegas), Air Force beat BYU 20-13 despite the fact that BYU had statistical domination of the game. This will keep the Cougars sufficiently focussed to continue to roll up the score. BYU's middle linebacker Rob Morris is a dominant player who returned to the field last week after missing three games with an abdominal muscle injury. He will stop Air Force from running any long plays up the middle, and that will allow the remainder of the BYU team to stop the Falcons from getting big plays on the corners. BYU is a well-balanced team on offense, with Kevin Feterik being one of the premier passing quarterbacks in the country and freshman Luke Staley giving the Cougars a good running game for a change. Although Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry is 9-2 in his last 11 games as a road underdog, we think this game will be a blowout as BYU makes its bid to get into the

BCS

series.

West Virginia (plus 17 1/2) Over Miami

Miami

staged an improbable and emotionally draining comeback to defeat

Boston College

last week.

West Virginia

eked out a victory over

Temple

, but saw the return of its first-string quarterback Mark Bulger from a finger injury. Miami starting quarterback Kenny Kelly was injured in last week's game and did not practice on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. He had a cast taken off his sprained left ankle on Wednesday. If Kelly does not play on Saturday (or is reinjured), an 18-year-old freshman, Ken Dorsey, will play at quarterback for the Hurricanes. Dorsey is 4 out of 12 for 44 yards in his career, and that was against

Division I-AA

Florida A&M

. While we're not a huge West Virginia fan, but there are simply too many points to pass up in this situation. Regardless of who starts the game at quarterback, Miami coach Butch Davis will surely emphasize the run and rely on Miami's solid defense to keep the score close. Three of the last four games between these two teams have been decided by 5 points or less. We think the Mountaineers can hang within this generous spread.

Purdue (minus 2) Over Minnesota

We'll admit it -- we can't quite figure out this

Minnesota

team. We're 0-2 on it this season. In the last two years,

Purdue

has dominated the Gophers, as Drew Brees threw at will and Purdue scored 115 points and had a total of 1184 yards in offense. In our book, that means that Boilermaker coach Joe Tiller has Gopher's coach Glen Mason's number. Purdue is 17-9-2 ATS in its last 28 on artificial turf, although this is the Boilermakers first game on that surface this year. Minnesota's quarterback Cockerham is mobile, but not nearly as gifted as Brees. Both teams have been competitive against the big boys of college football this year, but we think Brees' skills will decide this game and we're willing to pay the small price.

Syracuse (minus 19) Over Boston College

Boston College blew a 28-0 lead last week against Miami in as demoralizing a loss as you can get. The Eagles are playing their seventh game in seven weeks and are physically worn down. Syracuse had last week off after getting blown away on the road by

Virginia Tech

. But Syracuse is a real

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

team. It is 5-0 ATS in its last five at the Carrier Dome. You can bet that coach Pasquelloni cracked the whip during the offweek and that the Orangemen are primed for a big effort.

Kansas (plus 32) Over Nebraska

Nebraska is 4-9-1 since 1996 as a double-digit road favorite, while

Kansas

is 7-2 ATS in its last nine home games against

Big 12

teams. We're always nervous when we take a bad team against a good team, but Kansas finally showed some moxie last week in shutting out

Missouri

. The Huskers have won 30 straight against the Jayhawks and have a revenge game against

Texas A&M

on deck. Even though Nebraska is coming off a loss, we still don't think the team will be adequately focussed to blow away Kansas on the road. We'll be biting our nails as we continue to root for the clock to run out in this game, but the technical trends compel taking a shot at this game.

Ohio State (minus 22) Over Iowa

Ohio State

is 16-4 ATS in its last 20 against

Iowa

. Iowa is playing a backup quarterback, and the Buckeyes are back in the bowl picture after their victory against Minnesota last week. Last year, Ohio State dominated the Hawkeyes 45-14 and rolled up a 627-180 yard advantage. Iowa has had its clocks cleaned by good teams this year (

Michigan State

, 49-3;

Penn State

, 31-3; and Nebraska, 42-7), and although Ohio State is not as good as those teams, we think the Buckeyes are improving and will be able to dominate Iowa's pedestrian offense.

Duke (plus 10) Over Maryland

Maryland

is playing good football but is only 4-8-2 ATS at College Park. As we noted last week,

Duke

is finally picking up the offensive system put in by former

Florida

offensive coordinator and Duke head coach Carl Franks. We do not believe the talent disparity between these two teams warrants such a large spread and think that the number is a result of Maryland's domination over an injured and demoralized North Carolina team last week. The Terrapins lost to

Clemson

at home two weeks ago in a game that they should have won, and they can't be trusted to cover a 10-point spread. We think Blue Devil quarterback Spencer Romine will be able to trade points with Maryland in what promises to be a high-scoring game. Underdogs are 10-3 ATS in this series, and we think that trend will continue.

Arizona (minus 3 1/2) Over UCLA

This is a major revenge game for

Arizona

, whose only loss last year was suffered at the hands of the Bruins. This year's

UCLA

team is on a downward spiral, with no defense and an offense that has been almost nonexistent. Arizona is 5-3 straight up and still has a shot at a decent bowl game. The team is clearly superior to UCLA on the offensive side of the ball this year. We don't think the Bruins will be able to take advantage of the Wildcats' weakness on defense. The only caveat -- this year

Pac-10

games have been totally unpredictable, and we don't think there are any handicappers who have a good handle on this conference.

Tulsa (plus 14 1/2) Over Fresno State

Yes, we probably are crazy. This bet is being made solely on the reports out of

Tulsa

this week that, with the firing of Golden Hurricane coach Dave Rader, there is a positive attitude on the team. Historically, coaching changes produce big efforts from a team in the first game after the change. Tulsa has had major injuries this year and has played with no heart. We think the coaching change will produce an enthusiastic effort by the Golden Hurricane, and while we don't think the team will be able to beat a mediocre

Fresno State

team, we think it'll stay within two touchdowns as long as its players hustle for the full 60 minutes.

Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years.