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Rich retool, not rebuild

Nov 2, 2004 12:59 AM

An area of college football dynamics that’s important to understand 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 many positions.

Large schools with huge athletic budgets and a long tradition of playing competitive football are usually heavy with depth, as high school athletes want to attend. These colleges include Tennessee, Florida State, Notre Dame, USC and Texas. For the most part, these elite schools have little trouble recruiting talent and possess athletic budgets and scholarships allowing them to stock their programs with depth.

That’s a big edge when players get hurt, since a quality reserve is almost always there to plug in. If a smaller school that likes to run the ball has two talented offensive linemen get hurt, limited depth could severely alter offensive production (such as San Diego State this fall).

Florida State started the season with senior QB Chris Rix, but he got hurt. In stepped sophomore Wyatt Sexton and the offense hasn’t suffered, averaging 28 points per game. In fact, you can make the argument that the Seminoles are better off with Sexton (7 TDs, 4 INTs, 60 percent completions) than Rix (no TDs, 3 INTs). The point is FSU is able to attract enough quarterbacking talent that they can groom players for next season or play them this year if an unexpected injury crops up.

Contrast that with Kentucky. The Wildcats started 2-1 against the spread, but shoulder troubles bothering starting senior QB Shane Boyd have slowed them of late. The Wildcats went 1-3 ATS after that start and had to go with freshman QB Andre Woodson against Auburn. Woodson was 14-of-26 for 73 yards against the Wildcats in a 42-10 defeat.

Kentucky, like most schools, doesn’t have the gridiron tradition to attract lots of talent, hence they often lack depth at all positions. In recent years, these schools would include Duke, Northwestern, Kansas, Vanderbilt, Indiana and Iowa State. Small schools can give the appearance of being competitive in September. Then, as October and November roll around, they begin to play much worse both SU and ATS.

Depth is essential when players begin to get banged up as the season goes along. Schools lacking depth are at a big disadvantage as the talent level on the bench drops significantly. Smaller schools can’t plug in equally effective players when starters get banged up.

Kansas has been a good example the last three years. The Jayhawks have started out with a winning spread mark in each of the last three seasons, yet have gone 1-6 ATS to end the 2001 season, 0-6 ATS to end 2002 and 2-5 ATS to end last season.

Last fall the Jayhawks upset Missouri 35-14 as a +9 dog, then took Colorado to OT before losing 50-47 as a +6 dog. Oddsmakers adjusted, assuming Kansas was better than expected. Instead, the Jayhawks hit a tough October/November stretch that included games against Kansas State, Nebraska and Oklahoma State. KU went 2-5 ATS to end last season, flaming out in a 56-26 loss in the Tangerine Bowl to NC State.

Here are some teams that got off to good starts, but are worth keeping a close eye on as November presents some tough challenges.

VIRGINIA: Al Groh’s team appears to have a lot of depth and offensive firepower, starting 6-1 SU/4-3 ATS averaging 36 points per game. However, November brings challenges against strong defensive teams in Maryland, Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The last two games are on the road.

TEXAS A&M: Dennis Franchione’s young Aggies (6-1 SU, 5-2 ATS start) have had a fine season and are intent on going bowling. That’s a nice feat for a team that won four and six games the last two years, going 5-16 ATS in that span. A&M should be motivated, but must end the season against Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas.

ARMY: Bobby Ross has done a remarkable job in his first season. The 48-29 rout of Cincinnati looks even more impressive after the Bearcats turned around and ripped Memphis, 49-10. Averaging 193 rushing yards (5.3 yards per carry), the Cadets have defeated Cincy and South Florida (42-35) as a +15 dog each time. The Cadets have tough games on deck against UAB and rivals Air Force and Navy.

Hot starts don’t always mean strong finishes, so make sure you keep up on injuries, upcoming games and depth.