by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

As we begin our 55th publishing season at THE GOLD SHEET, we can’t help but look back upon the years and recall many familiar handicapping exercises. Indeed, football, and analyzing its games, hasn’t really changed much over the decades. Identifying relevant fundamental, technical, and psychological factors have always been part of the big picture. And within that framework are other trends that often influence our forecasts and recommendations.

Over the years, we have paid a lot of attention to many of the much-discussed “revenge” angles forwarded within the industry, especially in the college games. We have never dismissed the “payback” concept, although we suspect it has mostly been an overused factor when analyzing gridiron action. That’s because many handicappers often view results through their own limited perspective and experiences; the “revenge” factor sometimes means more to those who are removed from the action. Many ’cappers mistake their own personal “payback” imperatives for a selection gone wrong as a legitimate emotional edge when sizing up future combatants.

Nonetheless, we have never discounted the revenge angle; rather, we have sought to refine it whenever possible. In retrospect, paybacks have provided some of the more memorable handicapping edges that we recall over the years.

It might never have been illustrated better than a 1965 game between Southern Cal and Notre Dame at South Bend. For those old enough to recall, the Fighting Irish had eleven months to stew over a heartbreaking 20-17 loss to the Trojans at the end of the 1964 campaign that denied Notre Dame a national title. What made that result even more galling was how the Irish blew a 17-0 halftime lead, after HC Ara Parseghian, in his first year at South Bend, had exhorted his troops to finish the job. “Men, we are one half away from the greatest comeback in college football history!,” bellowed Parseghian at intermission, referring to his team’s dramatic bounce-back from the 2-7 mark in 1963 under Hugh Devore. “Let’s go out and give them thirty more minutes of Notre Dame football!” Instead, SC rallied, and with the help of a few questionable officials' calls was in position to steal the game in the last two minutes, when QB Craig Fertig hit Rod Sherman with a memorable 15-yard TD pass on a 4th-down play (left) to break Notre Dame’s hearts.

The “revenge” angle was thus easy to identify for the return match the following October. More so because nobody in South Bend would let the Irish forget about it. The week of the game, banners with a simple “Revenge!” hung from buildings and dormitories. Priests strolled through the campus all week wearing white buttons with “Remember” written on them as they walked past players and coaches. Parseghian, never one to miss a motivational trick, taped “Revenge” repetitiously across the locker room, reminding his charges of the opportunity to gain their pound of flesh that Saturday. As if the Irish needed more motivation to face the hated Trojans, who would travel to the midwest as the nation’s 4th-ranked team, and boasting of the Heisman Trophy favorite, RB Mike Garrett.

That Saturday dawned damp and cold in South Bend, and SC seemed unnerved. Trojan coach John McKay, aware of the revenge-fueled atmosphere, seem resigned to his fate on the opening kickoff when SC’s Mike Hunter slipped and fell without being touched on the 23-yard-line. “My God, he’s been shot!,” McKay said, and the afternoon proceeded to go downhill from there. The aroused Irish defense, led by linemen Alan Page and Pete Duranko, LB Jim Lynch, and DB Nick Rassas (future pro players all), throttled Garrett, allowing him just 7 YR on nine carries in the first half. Meanwhile, Parseghian decided to channel Notre Dame’s revenge anger into a pulverizing infantry assault on the attack end, even reverting to one-dimensional QB Bill Zloch, whose passes looked like wounded ducks, but who could feint and hand off effectively to a stable of punishing Irish runners led by Nick Eddy, Larry Conjar, and Bill Wolski, operating out of a tight Power-I formation. Seeking to blast out the Trojans with a ground attack that would eat up yards and minutes, Notre Dame, almost completely disdaining the pass, scored on its first three possessions, and, by the time the bruising Conjar scored his 4th TD of the game in the 3rd quarter, the Irish were home free. The final score was 28-7, and Notre Dame had its revenge, rolling up a 308-74 rush-yard edge (holding Garrett to 43 YR) in the process. “I didn’t think anybody could run on us like that,” said the unusually-subdued McKay after the game.

The moral to this SC-Notre Dame “revenge” story from 1965? It’s best to consider the payback angle when the aggrieved team has the manpower to exact the revenge. That’s why, throughout the years, we have sought to refine the payback dynamics by focusing on higher-level programs seeking revenge. Simply, those sorts, when properly channeled and focused, can often summon extraordinary efforts...much as Notre Dame did against SC in 1965.

There are exceptions, of course, but decades of forecasting these events has convinced us that any revenge angles focusing upon lesser programs can be a waste of time. Those sorts occasionally rise to the challenge, but teams used to losing are not any more likely to regard one revenge game any more importantly than another on their schedules. That’s why we put more emphasis on the revenge angle when it’s a power program looking for the payback.

As with any trend, results have fluctuated somewhat over the years, but properly-identified revenge spots have more often than not produced noteworthy winning pointspread marks over any extended period. In our sister publication, THE GOLD SHEET EXTRA! , we chart a couple of revenge-based systems referred to as “Painful Memory” and “Power Revenge.” The former seeks teams from winning programs looking to avenge a loss from the previous year that occurred by 14 points or more from the posted spread, reckoning that those defeats are usually more “painful” and harder to forget. Meanwhile, we also chart the top-shelf teams seeking to avenge a loss by any margin from the previous year in the “Power Revenge” system.

Both “Painful Memory” and “Power Revenge” plays are listed every week in the Systems Spotlight feature of THE GOLD SHEET EXTRA! For more info on subscribing to TGS EXTRA! and our other publications (including combo packages with the Confidential Kick-off and Friday Update), go online to www.goldsheet.com or call 1-800-798-GOLD (4653).

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