Most rivalries go through power shifts over their many years. The teams that dominate their rivals for a while were probably, at some point, on a losing streak.
In 2018, we’re getting a bunch of Rivalry Week games at odd times in their respective cycles. Teams that have long gotten fired into the sun by their opponents are now favored to win, as up has become down and down has become up.
So, let’s rank those by oddity — not in terms of the 2018 season, but based on the last couple decades or so.
For historical perspective on how weird some of these lines are, I’ve consulted the spreads database at Odds Shark, which goes back to 1990. These are all lines as of late Monday afternoon, subject to move as the week goes along.
1. Virginia (-3.5) at Virginia Tech
The Hokies have won 14 in a row and 18 out of 19. They’ve been one of the most consistently good teams in the country since Michael Vick was in Blacksburg, and the Hoos have been one of the more consistently mediocre.
It’s not just that. These games usually aren’t even close. UVA’s stayed within one score four times in this 14-game slide. It’s lost by three scores or more six times and didn’t score a point in 2017, even as it held Tech to its lowest output during the streak: 10.
The Hoos’ side has been such a wellspring of sadness that it’s jarring to see them favored, even though all the objective 2018 evidence (UVA being better now, Virginia Tech having lots of attrition and playing terribly) says they should be.
UVA’s been favored in this series four times since 1995, but just once since 2003. That was in 2014, when the Hoos, favored by 1.5 on the road, lost by 4.
2. Michigan (-4) vs. Ohio State
The Buckeyes have won six in a row and all but three since 2000. They still trail in the all-time series, but anyone who’s come of age in the last 15 years only knows a world were Ohio State’s the big brother. Plus, the Wolverines are on the road, where they have mostly failed to beat good teams forever.
Again, all the 2018 evidence says Michigan should be favored. The Wolverines have usually looked like a buzzsaw this year. Watching Ohio State has more resembled having teeth pulled. The Buckeyes should’ve lost to Maryland mere days ago.
Still, history’s history, and Michigan hasn’t been favored since 2011, when it won but failed to cover an 8.5-point spread.
I think deep down, most people will still think of Michigan as underdogs, no matter what Vegas says.
3. Kentucky (-17.5) at Louisville
Louisville’s won 13 of 19, sandwiched around a four-game UK win streak that mostly happened during the era of the immortal Steve Kragthorpe. 2018’s line is still not totally bewildering, because a) Kentucky won at Louisville during Lamar Jackson’s Heisman year in 2016 and b) Louisville’s currently a car fire wrapping up a lost season. It remains mildly weird to see the Cats in this advantaged position, though.
Louisville’s been an underdog to Kentucky only six times since 1997. The Cards have covered the spread four times and won straight-up three times.
4. Vanderbilt (-3.5) vs. Tennessee
This one feels weird, even though Vandy’s won four of six and somewhat turned the tide after decades of getting drubbed. Vanderbilt’s the SEC East’s historic doormat and has only been favored twice on record against the Vols, by 2.5 in 2012 and 3 in 2008. (The teams split those games.) Still, Tennessee’s 75-32-5 all-time and had won 28 of 29 until this Vandy run. It takes some continual adjusting for me to be at peace with this new reality.
5. Florida (-5) vs. Florida State
UF hasn’t been favored since 2009. The historical evenness of the series means the Gators being favored now will be less weird to people who have been following it for longer.
6. Washington State (-3) vs. Washington
Weird: Wazzu being favored against a team Vegas hasn’t picked it to beat since 2006, when it was an 8.5-point home favorite and then lost by a field goal. (Making this even weirder, Washington’s 4-0 ATS in the last four against Wazzu and 7-2 in the last nine.)
Not weird: A legitimate Playoff contender with one loss being favored at home against a team that’s had a disappointing season and occasionally looked like a shell of its self.