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by Bryan Leonard - 09/20/2006
We are smack in the middle of the early part of the college and pro football schedule. A key handicapping factor this time of year is experience on the field. College football teams that are returning a lot of starters on one side of the ball can have a significant advantage over and opponent.
A good example was Akron last week, my alma mater. The Zips are off a confidence-building bowl season and are fortunate to return eight starters on offense, including dynamic quarterback Luke Getsy and their top-six offensive lineman. Having continuity and familiarity on offense is so important.
It's particularly important in college with players only performing a few years before graduating. Akron's veteran offense led the way in a stunning 20-17 upset win at NC State last week. Notice that the Zips had the edge in offensive yards 412-290! That's a significant advantage. When trying to find underdogs that might be able to hang in and get a cover or an upset, teams with a lot of returning starters can help provide that edge.
I was fortunate to advance in the LeRoy's Invitational last week. The clincher came Monday night when the Chargers visited the Raiders. Even though they were a road favorite, I had the Chargers and experience was a factor I examined. San Diego had a solid returning defensive front and shored up the secondary in the offseason. On offense, while QB Philip Rivers was relatively new, every one of their key skill position players, including a deep offensive line, was back. San Diego happens to have great skill position talents for ball control, which coach Marty Schottenheimer preaches.
Oakland, on the other hand, was a revolving door of change this offseason. QB Kerry Collins, gone. CB Charles Woodson, gone. WR Doug Gabriel, see ya later, while a brand new coaching staff came in. It was no surprise to see the more talented AND experienced team win and cover easily. In fact, that Oakland Raider offense was downright embarrassing in its ineptitude. Good luck to them against the Ravens this weekend!
It's easier to keep talent together in the pros, of course, which is why returning experience is more of a useful handicapping tool in college football. Think back one year ago. Cal was coming off a terrific 2004 10-2 season. However, almost everyone was gone, including the quarterback, the top receivers, top running back and several starters on the offensive line. In 2005, Cal was overvalued by oddsmakers and finished 3-7-1 against the spread.
On Friday of this week I got the cover with Toledo over Kansas partly because of a lack of returning experience for the Jayhawks. In my analysis I wrote, â€œThe Jayhawks return just 10 starters this season, just 3 on the defensive side of the ball. After facing Northwestern State and Louisiana Monroe at home I don't feel they will be ready for a game in the Glass Bowl. Kansas has a redshirt freshman at quarterback and this will be his first road start. Defensively they allowed nearly 400 passing yards last week to a poor Sun Belt Conference team.â€쳌 So experience can work two ways in handicapping: Teams that have plenty of it on one side of the ball (or both), and those that lack it in some key area.