Posted 09/07/2008 at 01:04 PM
Everyone knows that turnovers can win or lose a bet for you on any given week but special teams and penalties are two often overlooked factors that also can play critical roles. Handicapping these factors is far from an exact science but it should not be overlooked in any match-up. Let’s examine two box scores from last week to show how significant the impact can be.
Two underdogs that we were on last week, Tulane and UTEP, ended up splitting but a glance at the box score would leave you quite puzzled. Tulane out-gained Alabama by 146 yards and ended up with the cover as Alabama was overvalued and flat coming off the big week one win. The Alabama offense that picked apart highly ranked Clemson last week produced just 172 yards. Tulane did not turn the ball over and would have had a legitimate upset threat except that Alabama dominated special teams including delivering two 1st quarter touchdowns with a punt return and a blocked punt. Special team touchdowns tend to be huge momentum boosts and can set the tone for a game if they happen early.
We also liked Texas El Paso as a huge home underdog in one the most anticipated games in school history hosting Texas. If you saw the score scroll by on your TV screen you would have assumed it was just another overpowering Texas blowout as the Longhorns won 42-13 and snuck out the cover with two 4th quarter touchdowns. The box score tells a different story however; UTEP out-gained Texas including owning a rushing edge, UTEP had 23 first downs and allowed Texas to convert just one third down in the entire game while holding a huge time of possession edge. Normally those are promising numbers, particularly with a nearly four touchdown underdog, but in was not the case in this game. Penalties burned UTEP in several situations with eleven penalties for nearly 100 yards and Texas ended up with much better field position throughout the game due to superior special teams play.