FCS vs. FBS - A Recent History with Projections

There will be 106 games involving FBS and FCS teams this year. That doesn’t include the two games that the UTSA Roadrunners will play against lower level teams, Division II Texas A&M University-Commerce Lions and NAIA Northwestern Oklahoma State Rangers. 2012 single-handedly has the most games involving FBS and FCS teams in one season. Really, its’ not surprising considering the money available to teams who are at least 6-6, especially in BCS level conferences.

This year, every SEC team plays one FCS team, with Texas A&M playing two. The ACC will also have every team playing an FCS opponent, with Florida State playing two. In fact, there are only 23 teams that will not be playing an FCS opponent this year. So with that many games being played, its bound to happen that a handful of FBS opponents will fall to FCS teams. Let’s take a look historically at FBS/FCS matchups and see what games could be ripe for the FCS taking, this year.

FCS Wins

FBS Wins

Games Played

Percentage

2002

8

57

65

12.308%

2003

8

59

67

11.940%

2004

6

51

57

10.526%

2005

2

52

54

3.704%

2006

7

69

76

9.211%

2007

10

70

80

12.500%

2008

2

85

87

2.299%

2009

5

89

94

5.319%

2010

7

81

88

7.955%

2011

6

89

95

6.316%

Totals

61

702

763

7.995%

From 2005 to 2006, there was a big jump in the number of FBS/FCS games played. One reason for this might be that the NCAA started to allow teams to schedule 12 regular-season games beginning in the 2006 season. It essentially allowed for additional revenue for teams and a greater chance to make the post-season. Before, teams had to be at least 6-5; from 2006 on, with 12 regular season games, 6-6 would be sufficient. Rarely does a team schedule less than 12 regular season games – Temple is the exception this season, rather than the norm.

So what is the anatomy of an FCS "upset"? First, look at the point spreads. Vegas usually does a pretty good job at setting opening lines, allowing bettors to move them as they will. According to Phil Steele, teams who are 3-point favorites or less are upset 47.78% of the time, from 1997 through last season. Teams who are 3.5 to 7-point favorites are upset at a lower rate – 34.94% of the time. Beyond that, the upset percentage hovers around a quarter of the time, or less. With that said, people will point to Virginia Tech/James Madison in 2010 (Hokies were a 35 point favorite, lost 21-16) and Michigan/Appalachian State in 2007 (no official line listed, but unofficially Michigan was a 27 point favorite, losing 34-32). Keep in mind that teams favorites by at least 24.5 points or more, win 97.34% of the time. These upsets are rare, so don’t waste your time on them.

Second, look at the matchups. Its’ almost a corollary to the first, but where there aren’t point spreads, or if you feel the spreads are misleading, look for a weak FBS team against a strong FCS team. Take two examples from last season: Minnesota/North Dakota State and New Mexico/Sam Houston State. The Gophers were an 8-point favorite against the Bison at home. Minnesota was 1-2 coming into that game, with each game decided by 7 points or less. Yet, Minnesota’s secondary was inexperienced and the offense struggled to score. Further, North Dakota State was 2-0 at the time, ranked #8, and had outscored opponents 98-9. The Bison went on to win both the Missouri Valley Conference and the FCS National Championship. Looking at New Mexico, the Lobos were 0-3 heading into their game with Sam Houston State. New Mexico was actually a 5-point underdog! Despite being an underdog, New Mexico covered the points, but failed to win. Like Minnesota, New Mexico had an anemic offense and a porous defense. The Bearkats were ranked #20 at the time and went on to play in the FCS National Championship, falling to North Dakota State.

Finally, history matters. When picking FCS teams, look for ones who have had good success against FBS foes. As a corollary, look for the FBS teams who have struggled against FCS squads. Take the Duke/Richmond matchup from last season, for example. Duke was a 9-point favorite against the Spiders – Phil Steele would tell you that’s a 73.61% chance that Duke wins. But look at Duke’s history against FCS teams, especially against Richmond. Since 2006, excluding last season, Duke is 3-2 against FCS opponents, Richmond is 2-3 against FBS opponents. Looking more closely, Richmond was 2-0 against Duke heading into the 2011 season, with wins in 2006 (13-0) and 2009 (24-16). The Spiders scored the upset in Durham last season, winning 23-21. Will the Minnesota/New Hampshire matchup fit this year? The two haven’t played lately, but New Hampshire is 4-2 against FBS opponents since 2006, while Minnesota is 3-3 against FCS squads.

Over the 700+ FBS/FCS games played since 2002, roughly 8% have translated in FCS victories. That means we should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-9 FCS victories this season, based on the average over the previous 10 years. Of course, there could be less or more, but using that approximation, here are the games I think could result in FCS victories (games are listed in order of date and starting time).

1. Towson at Kent State – August 30 @ 7:00 PM EST.

Kent State is 4-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 25.25.

Towson is 0-4 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 30.

Personally, I’m not sold on this one. I think Kent has really improved from last season, but the Golden Flashes are only a 3.5-point favorite.

2. McNeese State at Middle Tennessee – August 30 @ 7:30 PM EST.

Middle Tennessee is 2-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 33.5.

McNeese State is 1-7 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 18.25 (including their victory).

McNeese State plays Division III McMurry the following week, while Middle Tennessee jumps into conference play. Defensively, the Blue Raiders were not strong last year – the Cowboys hung 24 on Kansas.

3. Eastern Washington at Idaho – August 30 @ 9:00 PM EST.

Idaho is 5-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 20.

Eastern Washington is 0-8 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average margin of defeat (MOD) of 29.4.

Historically, since 1997, Idaho is 2-2 against Eastern Washington (won in 1998, 31-14, and 1999, 48-21; lost in 1997, 24-21, and 2003, 8-5).

While Eastern Washington has struggled against FBS opponents, all but one were BCS teams at the time of the game. In the last five meetings, EWU is 4-1 against the spread against FBS foes.

4. William & Mary at Maryland – September 1 @ 3:00 PM EST.

Maryland is 6-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 20.67.

William & Mary is 1-5 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 15.5 (including their victory).

Maryland is arguably the worst BCS team this year. They did beat William & Mary in their prior recent meeting, 27-14 in 2006. The Tribe are 3-1 ATS against FBS foes.

5. Eastern Kentucky at Purdue – September 1 @ 3:30 PM EST.

Purdue is 5-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 34.4.

Eastern Kentucky is 0-9 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 21.33.

I wrote this one off at first, based on Purdue’s success against FCS teams. But after reviewing Eastern Kentucky’s history against FBS teams, it gave me pause. The Colonials are 4-0-1 ATS against FBS programs. Their last three games have been decided by an average of less than a touchdown a game.

6. Tennessee-Martin at Memphis – September 1 @ TBA.

Memphis is 5-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 21.8.

William & Mary is 1-5 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 15.5 (including their victory).

Maryland is arguably the worst BCS team this year. They did beat William & Mary in their prior recent meeting, 27-14 in 2006. The Tribe are 3-1 ATS against FBS foes.

7. North Dakota State at Colorado State – September 8 @ TBA.

Colorado State is 5-0 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average margin of victory (MOV) of 11.

North Dakota State is 5-3 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 4.5 (includes losses).

North Dakota State is 2-1 ATS against FBS foes, while Colorado State is 0-3 ATS against FCS foes.

8. Northern Arizona at UNLV – September 8 @ TBA.

UNLV is 2-1 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOV of 18 (including last year’s loss).

Northern Arizona is 0-8 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 23.75.

While Northern Arizona has struggled against FBS opponents, all but one were BCS teams at the time of the game. In the last five meetings, NAU is 4-1 against the spread against FBS foes.

9. Stephen F. Austin at Texas State – September 22 @ 7:00 PM EST.

Texas State is 4-0 against FCS opponents since 2006 (all played while not an FBS school), with an average MOV of 20.25.

Stephen F. Austin is 0-6 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 35.5.

Texas State makes the jump to the FBS ranks this year. Texas State was 1-2 ATS against FCS schools, while Stephen F. Austin was 1-3. Note that all but one of the FCS teams SFA has faced since 2006 will be BCS teams next year. The Lumberjacks are 2-3 against teams that will not be BCS teams by next year.

10. McNeese State at UTSA – November 10 @ 2:00 PM EST.

UTSA is 1-5 against FCS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 10.33 (including their victory)

McNeese State is 1-7 against FBS opponents since 2006, with an average MOD of 18.25 (including their victory).

Like Texas State, UTSA makes the jump to FBS. Former Miami coach Larry Coker leads the Roadrunners in only their second year of football. Note that these teams played last year, with McNeese State winning in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 24-21.

I don’t have any FBS/FCS games on the Upset Watch this week, because the spreads weren’t available at the writing of the article, but check out which games I like this week.

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