In case West Virginia was not in for enough culture shock when it ventures down south to take on the Auburn Tigers of the SEC in 87,451-seat Jordan-Hare Stadium under the lights at 7:45 p.m. Saturday night, it has to deal with another unlikely scenario.
The Mountaineers, for the first time since November of 2006, are regular season underdogs. Oddsmakers have made Auburn a touchdown favorite for the point spread. Not many programs find themselves in this position, rarely giving points in regular season situations.
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During past dynasties, teams who were favored nearly every week thrived when the shoe was on the other foot. During Tom Osborne’s tenure at Nebraska the Cornhuskers went 6-0 against the spread during the rare times they were underdogs during a stretch between 1994-2001 that also featured three national championships.
During the Miami Hurricanes’ dynasty in the early part of this decade, the Canes also went 6-0 ATS in the few times they were getting points.
More recent examples include Red River rivals Oklahoma and Texas. In the last three seasons Oklahoma is 4-2 ATS the six times the Sooners were underdogs, while Texas is a perfect 5-0 ATS since 2005 as an underdog.
A team in the midst of its own dynasty is Florida. Dating back to 2004 the Gators were pegged as underdogs eight times and six times they covered. Amazingly USC has only been an underdog three times since 2003 and the Trojans also posted a winning record against the number, going 2-1.
Heading into nearly every game as a favorite is not a role just reserved for the blue bloods of college football. The team who calls the blue turf home, Boise State has only been a dog five times since 2006 and the Broncos are 4-1 ATS in those situations.
Another program that has had a recent run like the above-mentioned teams in terms of rarely facing an underdog situation is Ohio State. Besides the Buckeyes colossal struggles against top-ranked teams in marquee games, Ohio State is a respectable 6-6 since 2003 ATS as underdogs including covering as a seven-point underdog against USC last week.
The above-mentioned examples bring us back to West Virginia’s situation this coming Saturday at Auburn. The Mountaineers are regular season underdogs for the first time since November of 2006.
The last time West Virginia was an underdog, it was two seasons ago in the Fiesta Bowl. That was Bill Stewart’s first game as interim head coach after taking over for the disgraced and departed Rich Rodriguez. He led West Virginia to a 48-28 win over Oklahoma as eight-point underdogs in the Fiesta Bowl and was later named head coach. The last seven times West Virginia found itself as an underdog, it is 5-2 ATS.
Being a rare underdog in this situation is not the only trend favoring West Virginia as it ventures down to SEC land. The biggest obstacle in playing SEC teams for out-of-conference opponents is dealing with the speed from the conference. Over the last few years, though, West Virginia has made it a point to recruit heavily from the Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, among other southern states.
The results have shown on the field against SEC opponents. Last season WVU blew past Auburn, 34-17, at home. In a home-and-home series with Mississippi State out of the SEC, WVU won both contests, 38-13, and 42-14. And in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, West Virginia raced out to a 28-0 lead and held on to beat SEC champion Georgia, 38-35. In the last five contests against SEC schools West Virginia is 4-1 ATS.
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Auburn’s experience against the Big East has not been as productive. The Tigers are 0-4 ATS in the last four contests against the Big East including the 34-17 loss last season to West Virginia and a 26-23 loss to South Florida in Auburn back in 2007.
While Saturday’s situation seems to be uncharted waters for West Virginia, the trends go to show that it is actually a scenario they are accustomed too.