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Early on, depth critical in assessing NCAA

Aug 12, 2008 6:58 PM

Feist Facts by Jim Feist | An area of college football dynamics thatís important to understand early in the season is depth and, in particular, whether a team is stocked or thin with above-average players at a lot of positions.

Large schools with a long tradition of winning football (Tennessee, Florida State, Texas, USC, Ohio State, Florida, national champ LSU) for the most part have little trouble recruiting a lot of talent with hefty athletic budgets and scholarships.

This gives them an edge when players get hurt and quality reserves are there to plug in. If a smaller school that likes to run the football has two talented offensive linemen that get hurt, limited depth could severely alter their 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 fit that mode three years ago. The Commodores had a veteran team behind QB Jay Cutler, now in the NFL, 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.

A lack of quality depth undermined the Commodores. Last season they had a losing record again, with three of their five wins against Richmond and two MAC schools.

Most schools donít have the gridiron tradition to attract lots of talent, hence they often lack depth. In recent years, these schools would include Duke, Northwestern, Indiana, Tulane and Duke. In September small schools can give the appearance of being competitive, but as October and November roll around, they begin to play much worse, straight up and against the spread.

Keep this in mind over the next few weeks if you think a team may be overrated.

Schools lacking depth are at a big disadvantage as the talent level on the bench drops when compared to big-name schools. They canít plug in equally effective players as the starters get banged up.

Last season Wyoming started 4-1, but finished with a losing record and going 0-8-1 ATS the last nine contests.

In the second half of 2006, the Cowboys ran out of gas, going 0-4 ATS to end the season. In 2005 the Cowboys were very competitive through the first week of October, starting 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS. However, lack of depth caught up in an anemic 34 points over the final four games and 0-6 ATS to close the campaign.

Oddsmakers arenít always up on these shifts, either. A few years ago I recall Kansas lost 27-16 at Colorado as a 25-point dog and then pulled a 34-31 upset at Texas Tech as a +13 road dog. Oddsmakers adjusted, assuming Kansas was better than expected. Instead, the Jayhawks went 1-6 ATS to end that season.

Thatís why injury reports are so important for analyzing and handicapping games. Itís not uncommon to see overvalued small schools with less depth go on a straight up and spread slide after a surprising start.