College football depth is a deep divide

August 14, 2007 4:06 AM
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The college football season gets underway in less than two weeks and an area of dynamics that’s important to understand early in the season is depth.

This doesn’t refer to how many star players a team has, but whether a team is stocked or thin with above-average players at a lot of positions. Large schools such as Tennessee, Florida State, Texas, USC, Ohio State and defending champion Florida, have a long tradition of winning football and are usually heavy with depth. For the most part, these teams have little trouble recruiting a lot of talent. Their athletic budgets and scholarships allow them to stock up on depth.

These schools have an edge when players get hurt, having a quality reserve to plug in. If a smaller school that likes to run the football has two talented offensive linemen get hurt, the limited depth could severely alter offensive production. This is something to keep in mind over the next month, because each August and September some lesser known schools may deceive with strong starts.

Vanderbilt: Two years ago, the SEC based Commodores had a veteran team behind QB Jay Cutler (Denver Broncos) and exploded with a 4-0 September. However, this is not a powerhouse program with a winning tradition. Vandy proceeded to lose seven in a row, going 2-4 against the spread after that hot start. The losses came to Tennessee State, Kentucky (each as double-digit favorites), LSU (34-6) and Georgia (34-17). Last year they went 4-8 in a rebuilding mode with predictable results. Three wins came against Temple, Duke and Tennessee State.

Most schools don’t have the gridiron tradition to attract lots of talent and often lack depth. In recent years, these schools would include Duke, Northwestern, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois and Duke. In September, small schools can give the appearance of being competitive. As October and November roll around, they begin to play much worse, straight up and ATS. Keep this in mind if you think a team may be overrated.

Football is such a violent, physical game. Players get banged up with injuries and either miss playing time or are not 100 percent. Schools lacking depth are at a big disadvantage with dropping talent level on the bench compared to the big-name schools.

Wyoming: In 2006, the Cowboys took Syracuse and Virginia to overtime on the road in the first half of the season, losing both but covering. Wyoming fell 17-10 to Boise and thumped Utah, 31-15 as a dog. In the second half of the season the tank was empty. Wyoming went 0-4 ATS to end the season. In 2005 the Cowboys were 4-1 and very competitive through the first week of October. They upset Air Force and Ole Miss, while covering in a loss at Florida to go 5-0 ATS. However, the lack of depth caused the defense to get smoked, giving up 34 or more points in the final four contests during an 0-6 ATS finish.

Kansas: Here’s a school oddsmakers were caught short. A few years ago, I recall the Jayhawks losing 27-16 at Colorado as a 25-point dog, then pulling a 34-31 upset at Texas Tech as a +13 road dog. Oddsmakers adjusted, assuming KU was better than expected. The Jayhawks went 1-6 ATS through a tough October/November stretch that included games against Oklahoma, K-State, Nebraska and Texas. The lack of depth was evident as Kansas lost three straight by scores of 51-7, 59-0 and 49-7.

Remember these facts:

”¡ Injury reports are so important for analyzing and handicapping games.

”¡ If a famous football school loses several players to injuries, there may be enough depth to plug in and not miss a beat.

”¡ It’s not uncommon to see overvalued small schools with less depth go on a SU or ATS slide after a good start.