Division I-AA Teams Getting Better
by Trevor Whenham - 09/08/2006
One of the interesting things to watch each year in the first few weeks of the college football season is the almost inevitable upset of an unsuspecting team by a I-AA foe. Last year, UC Davis put Stanford in its place, and the lower league really shined in the first weekend of this season. Duke and New Mexico State both lost to I-AA opponents, but those two teams only combined for a single win last season. The big story was Colorado. In the first game of the Dan Hawkins era the Buffaloes did nothing right and lost 19-10 to Montana State.
Forty eight of the 65 teams in BCS conferences will play a I-AA opponent at some point in this season. Those games aren't of immediate interest to bettors since there are no lines on games with I-AA opponents, but they can have a major effect on the rest of the season. If a team has a close call, or a loss, against a I-AA opponent then their spread can be impacted in the next game. Colorado, for example, went from favorite to underdog against Colorado State this weekend because of their performance.
Bettors are naturally going to overcompensate for a loss or a near loss against a I-AA opponent, which can set you up for an advantageous bet in the next game if you still believe in the major division opponent. It makes sense that the team that struggles with a I-AA opponent will bounce back well in their next game - there isn't a better wake up call that Colorado could have had. There's long-term information we can gather from a situation like this as well - if Colorado doesn't bounce back well then they don't have the heart they will need to compete in their conference.
With all that in mind, here is a look at some of the upcoming matchups with I-AA teams that could provide a challenge for the major conference opponents and could provide betting knowledge and opportunities in the future. In every case the major conference team is unquestionably the better team, but that doesn't always matter on the football field:
Eastern Washington at West Virginia - Eastern Washington would be scarier if star QB Erik Meyer hadn't moved on to the NFL, but they are still worth a look. They are among the most successful I-AA teams, having won seven games in 19 tries since 1982 against 1-A opponents. West Virginia is incredibly hyped this year, but a lot of people don't believe in them, and this is the kind of game that a good team can get caught looking past.
Nicholls State at Nebraska - Nebraska is definitely improving, but their terrible performance in a 40-15 loss to Kansas last year showed that they still have a long way to go. That loss was the last of three in a row in which they gave up 112 points. Nicholls State has an explosive offense, averaging more than 35 points per game over a five-game winning streak.
Samford at Georgia Tech - Make no mistake, Samford is not a good team. What will make this one interesting is to see how Georgia Tech bounces back from their Notre Dame game last weekend. They led for more than half the game, and they were in a position to pull off a major upset before letting it slip away. The team could be energized by shutting down a national championship contender, or they could be deflated by the loss.
Texas State at Kentucky - This is a match-up between two teams with passable offenses and terrible defenses. Texas State played Texas A&M reasonably close last season, and A&M was much better than Kentucky was (or is). Incidentally, the Aggies came back from a scare against Texas State to just squeak by a Baylor team they should have beat easily. Texas State should be able to gain yards against Kentucky. They'll just want to really protect their running back's legs.
UC Davis at TCU - What the heck happened to TCU last week? Some people were talking them up as a BCS-buster, but they looked ridiculous in a bad loss to Baylor. They could either come back and crush UC Davis, or they could look lost and confused and toss the season away. We'll really learn what the team is made of. UC Davis is used to the David role, and they will again be looking to slay Goliath. They aren't supposed to be great this year, but they were only 6-5 last year and they were still good enough to beat Stanford.
Southern Illinois at Indiana - It is a good thing for the pride of Hoosiers fans that they don't lay odds on I-AA games, because Indiana could potentially be an underdog in this game. They are a really, really bad team and Southern Illinois is solid with moments of brilliance. The Salukis racked up 82 points in one game last season. We know Indiana is bad, but this game can tell us just how bad. There's one thing that I am certain about concerning this game - I won't be watching it. It will be unbelievably boring.
Youngstown State at Penn State - Joe Paterno beat Jim Tressel's current team last year, so it will be interesting to see how they do against his former team. Penn State could have to pick themselves up for this game because they play, and likely lose to, Notre Dame the week before. If the Nittany Lions struggle against the Irish then this could be a letdown game for the team.