The first week of the 2015 college football season features a boatload of FBS vs. FCS matchups. Most people out there refuse to bet on those games, but sometimes they represent some of the best value out there. There are multiple FCS teams that are live underdogs with some having the chance to win outright. Here’s a look at some season openers of note (lines courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook):
Youngstown State (+12) at Pittsburgh
The Penguins check in 16th in the preseason Top 25 FCS Coaches Poll. They are led by Bo Pelini, who is out to show that he can coach football. This is a Youngstown State team that lost 28-17 at Illinois to open up the 2014 season. The Penguins return 26 letterwinners on offense and 18 on defense. This is a veteran team with several players who received preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) recognition. Pittsburgh has a road game at Akron following this one, and the Panthers definitely have revenge on their mind against the Zips. This isn't my favorite FCS/FBS matchup on the board, but it bears watching . Any sort of injuries or suspensions that impact the Panther and the Penguins suddenly become a live dog, at least betting-wise.
Villanova (-3) at UConn
The rare FCS favorite in week one, as the Wildcats take on the Huskies. Last year a mediocre Stony Brook team almost beat UConn in Storrs, with the final score 19-16. Villanova's got the better quarterback (John Robertson) and coach (Andy Talley). The one saving grace could be the Huskies’ defense, which returns seven starters. Their offense is atrocious though and may struggle to score against Villanova. Nova lost by one in double overtime at Syracuse to open up the 2014 campaign.
Towson (+30.5) at East Carolina
This could potentially be a spot play for the savvy gambler. Towson was picked to finish ninth in the CAA this season and that's widely considered the best FCS conference. The Tigers lost 54-0 at West Virginia last year and had only four wins overall. The reason they may be the play for this one is because the Pirates have a road game at Florida in week two and will be breaking in a new quarterback. The defense has some holes as well.
Florida A&M (+28) at South Florida
The Rattlers have several things going in their favor in this one. They are ineligible for the 2015 MEAC title so games like this are going to be their Super Bowl. Four of their players made preseason all-conference teams, led by defensive lineman Michael Lovejoy. Last year they only lost 41-7 at Miami, which is a better team than South Florida. The Bulls’ offense is run-based with Marlon Mack while the defense is seeking to improve after a rough 2014. USF also has a big game on the road at Florida State in week two and while the Bulls have no shot to beat the Seminoles, they may not be focused on Florida A&M.
Northern Iowa (+8) at Iowa State
UNI isn't afraid of playing FBS opponents. In 2014, the Panthers lost by eight at Iowa and by three at Hawaii. This year's team checks in 10th in the Top 25 FCS Coaches Poll. They have 11 returning starters led by QB Sawyer Kollmorgen. Iowa State meanwhile returns an inconsistent Sam Richardson and a shaky defense that was gashed for 30 points or more in all but one game in 2014. Ironically, the look-ahead factor is actually with Northern Iowa, which hosts FCS power Eastern Washington in week two. Still, I think the Panthers are focused here and cover this number.
South Dakota State (+5.5) at Kansas
Another game where the FCS opponent is favored...oops sorry Kansas only plays like an FCS team. The Jayhawks have holes all over and nearly lost to SE Missouri State last year (34-28 final) to open up the season. South Dakota State is 15th in the Top 25 FCS Coaches Poll and kept up with Missouri last year in a 38-18 loss. Five Jackrabbit players made a MVFC preseason team led by T.J. Lally, who led SDSU with 117 tackles last year.
Richmond (+20.5) at Maryland
The Spiders are no stranger to FBS upsets, having taken down Duke in 2011. They have several starters returning and while they are breaking in a new quarterback, Richmond has several options on the outside to throw to. Maryland, meanwhile, has several holes to fill especially on the defensive side of the ball. Standout cornerback William Likely will be challenged by this Richmond attack. The Spiders are a live dog. The one thing that gives me a bit of a worry is that James Madison, one of Richmond’s peers in the CAA, lost 52-7 to these Terps last year.
Norfolk State (+38) at Rutgers
Norfolk State just had their quarterback, Terrance Ervin, leave the program for personal reasons, so you have to figure that they won't be much of a threat, right? Replacing Ervin under center is former Florida Atlantic signal-caller Greg Hankerson, who has some experience of his own. Norfolk State returns eight other starters on offense and five on defense. Rutgers returns just eight starters from last year's team, which struggled to beat FCS opponent Howard 38-25. To make matters worse, the Scarlet Knights’ head coach, Kyle Flood, is already feeling some heat after being named the target of an internal investigation by the school and several players have been suspended for the first half of the opener, including standout wide receiver Leonte Carroo.
Wagner (+29.5) at Rice
Another potential spot play here as Rice hosts Wagner. The Owls return just seven starters from last year and are travelling to Texas in week two for a matchup with the Longhorns. Wagner went 7-4 last year and is returning seven offensive starters. They are led by quarterback Chris Andrews, who has two wide receivers and three offensive linemen back. I think the Seahawks are a good bet in week one.
Savannah State (+50.5) at Colorado State
The only reason I'm posting this line is to alert you that the 50.5 may not be enough. Colorado State has a solid offense and eight starters back on defense. Last year the Tigers lost 61-7 to Middle Tennessee and 64-0 to BYU. Things were just as bad in 2013 when they fell 77-7 to Miami and 66-3 to Troy. Point is, if you are looking for a good play on an FBS team vs. an FCS opponent then look at the Rams.
Fordham (+7) at Army
It's a rematch in week one of an intriguing battle between Army and Fordham. The Black Knights won this game 42-31 last November, but getting another win could be difficult in 2015. Army is returning just six starters overall with two of those coming on offense. Meanwhile Fordham is picked to win the Patriot League and has a lot riding on this coming season.
Which of these are my favorite? I'm not going to divulge that right now. One thing to consider with FCS/FBS games is that these lines are a bit volatile due to a lack of action. If you agree with some of my logic, I'd consider taking it now so you don't lose value.
(Florida A&M, Norfolk State, Richmond and Savannah State logos courtesy of SportsLogos.net)
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.