It's a classic set up: in and among the exams, holiday travel, and holiday eating, major conference teams want to keep things moving before they transition into conference play. So they schedule a guarantee game at home.
We'll take just one example: on December 30, 2011, the Princeton Tigers traveled to Tallahassee (warning: sound at link) to take on Florida State. The game wasn't televised, even though Ted Valentine himself was leading the officiating team. Even by the standards of the always-generous "official attendance" number, the crowd was pretty weak. The resolutely understated recap from the Daily Princetonian advises that the home team's offense was also, um, somewhat lacking in the early going: "The visitors held Florida State to just five points in the first 12 minutes and 10 for the entire period, a mark that was seemingly equal parts skill and luck." Allow me to reiterate: Florida State, a team that would ultimately go on to win the ACC tournament, scored a total of 10 points IN THE ENTIRE FIRST HALF. Goliath awoke in the second half, as he so often does, and Florida State and Princeton would require three overtimes to ultimately finish the game. The Tigers came away with the victory, leaving Florida State with an 0-4 mark all time against Ivy League opponents, and leading some FSU fans to suggest that their school leave teams from the mighty Ivy off future schedules.
However, we at Team JF5 wish to suggest that characterizing a game like this as a "trap game" for the power conference team is the kind of sportz "analysis" that just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Coincidentally, just a few days before Princeton and Florida State faced off, our own John Ezekowitz took a look at the data and concluded:
relative to the Vegas line, the distribution of a BCS home team's performance is the same in the rest of the non-conference as it is over the exams/Christmas period. There does not appear to be any evidence for a Christmas letdown or worse performance.
Click here to read in more detail how John came to this conclusion. He makes another important point: "More qualitatively, it does seem that teams do perform more sloppily after long breaks. What is clear, however, is that this sloppiness is not somehow only limited to favored home teams."
Indeed, the Princeton team in question had already gone on the road to beat Rutgers and lost close games to highly-ranked NC State and Drexel. Next time one of your Above the Line friends starts fretting about a holiday game, tell him or her: