Returnees give NCAA teams an early advantage

Sep 18, 2002 10:04 PM

One area of college football that is dissected every year is the number of returning starters to teams.

Schools that have a lot of returning starters are expected to have an edge, and should be better or at least as good as last season. While schools that have few returnees may stumble early before improving. This makes sense, but teams don’t always perform as one might think, especially early in a new season.

Here’s a look at some teams with a lot of returning starters and how they fared so far straight up and against the spread.

Boston College: The Eagles went 8-4 SU/ATS last year and return eight starters on both offense and defense. Apparently, running back William Green (now with the Cleveland Browns) meant a lot to this team. BC has won both its games but is 0-2 ATS.

The Eagles are rushing for 82 less yards per game this year and looked poor in a 24-16 win over Connecticut as a 32-point favorite. Boston College faces Miami this weekend and it will be interesting to see if the Eagles play the Hurricanes as well as they did with Green (an 18-7 Miami win last December).

Texas A&M: A lot is expected of R.C. Slocum’s Aggies this fall with 10 starters back on offense and seven on defense. A&M is 2-0 SU, but 0-1 ATS. The Aggies topped Louisiana-Lafayette 31-7 in the opener, before nudging Pitt 14-12 as a 3-point road favorite.

The A&M defense has been outstanding, giving up only 9.5 points per game. But A&M was poor on the road last year (2-3 SU, 1-4 ATS). Their only away game so far has been at Pitt, where they failed to cover.

Texas A&M is now 3-12 ATS away from home since 1999. They don’t play another road game until Oct. 12, but they’d better improve before playing at Texas to end the season.

Missouri: The Tigers have been one of the more pleasant stories in September. Missouri has been rebuilding the last few years, but the Tigers returned 13 starters including most of their best players.

The only question mark was at quarterback, but remarkable freshman Brad Smith has stepped in and is apparently the missing piece this bunch needed.

Missouri started the season 2-0 SU/ATS which included a 33-20 upset of Illinois as a +8 dog. After two games, Smith and senior Zak Abron were leading a ground attack that is averaging 253 yards rushing per game.

Colorado State: Sonny Lubick’s Rams have had a very tough schedule. Lubick was excited about this team because talented RB Cecil Sapp returned after missing all last year with a knee injury. CSU has 13 starters back, including QB Bradlee Van Pelt.

The Rams started 2-1 SU/ATS and could have been 3-0 ATS if it weren’t for a crazy finish at UCLA. Colorado State, a 7½-point dog, played the Bruins even and went for a 2-point conversion with 1:32 left in a 21-19 game. Sports bettors who backed the Rams were looking good, but UCLA ended up covering 30-19 with an unusual series of scores near the end.

Still, the Rams are playing good football. They whipped Virginia 35-29 and upset rival Colorado 19-14 as a +8 dog. Sapp has already topped 100 yards twice, with 178 against Virginia and 105 against the Buffaloes.

Purdue: The Boilermakers have nine starters back on offense and eight on "D." Purdue has plenty of talent with RB Joey Harris, junior WR John Standeford, QB Kyle Orton and a tough defense that gave up 22 ppg in 2001. Yet, coach Joe Tiller’s finest hour was not in the team’s first big game at Notre Dame.

Purdue had the edge in total yardage 318-203 over the Irish and Harris ran for 109 yards. But the Boilermakers turned the football over four times and lost, even though the Notre Dame offense scored only three points. Notre Dame ran two fumbles and one interception back for a TD and got the ATS cover by a half-point.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have been tough to figure out. Texas Tech has eight starters back on offense and nine on defense, including QB Kliff Kingsbury (25 TDs, 9 INTs, 3,502 yards in 2001).

The Raiders averaged 35 points per game last year, but they are currently struggling at 22.5 ppg. Texas Tech (0-2 ATS) looked awful in a 45-21 loss at Ohio State and even worse in a 24-14 win over a poor SMU defense.

It appears that defensive coordinators are finding it easier this year to attack Texas Tech’s one-dimensional offense (all passing). It doesn’t get any easier for Tech, which has three straight road games starting Sept. 27.