Football is finally back. After an offseason filled with questions, there is no better feeling than settling in to watch football on a Saturday night. It isn’t the NFL or even the FBS, but Austin Peay at Central Arkansas gives us our first real football action in over six months and officially kicks off the FCS season.
Even if you are cautious about wading into the waters to bet FCS action, this game will provide meaningful data points for a football season that is sure to be unlike any other we have seen. How will home field advantage (or lack thereof) play a role in betting markets pricing games? How will the shortened or loss of preseason action affect teams from an offensive and defensive standpoint, especially those teams that are breaking in a new quarterback or coach? Although this game won’t provide definitive answers to these questions it will at least provide an initial context as we head into the NFL and FBS schedules.
This game will be played at a neutral site venue in Montgomery, Alabama. Betting markets expect an evenly matched contest with both teams back to back in the preseason FCS coaches poll after coming off championships in their respective conferences. PFF data accounts for all matchups at the FBS level along with marquee games played at the FCS level which gives us a decent sample of 2019 games to draw from for each team.
In 2019, seven games from Central Arkansas were charted and graded by PFF analysts. Breylin Smith gives Central Arkansas the clear edge at the quarterback position. On throws from a clean pocket, Smith posted a 76.9 passing grade with an ADOT of 7.8. He doesn’t consistently look downfield, but he is accurate posting a 71.1% adjusted completion percentage.
Our Governors from Austin Peay were graded in five different games by PFF analysts. Another issue in detailing their PFF performance is starting quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall was out for all but one game we graded in 2019. When looking at EPA generated by the offense, both units are neck and neck and despite Central Arkansas having the edge at quarterback, Austin Peay puts forth the better receiving and rushing units.
Austin Peay separates itself on the defensive side of the ball. Most are enamored with their run defense, but we place next to no emphasis on this facet of play. One part of the defense that does matter is coverage, and the Governors' defense posted a 91.9 coverage grade in 2019, which was good for the third-best mark among FCS teams. As a defensive unit, they allowed -.156 EPA per play allowed, which was eighth in the FCS. Central Arkansas by comparison had a below average unit coverage grade and a neutral EPA allowed per play.
This line opened with Central Arkansas as a 4.5 point favorite before jumping a half point down to 5. The spread is all over the place depending on the book with Pinnacle hanging a -5 and most other books slowly following suit after initially moving to -4. Austin Peay is the bigger unknown with a new interim head coach after an offseason of turmoil and quarterback coming off a significant injury. The Governors have the more talented roster in this specific matchup but may not have had the offseason to implement the required changes that come with installing a new head coach, especially as late as their situation played out after spring practices. The best bet is to move with the market and take the points with Central Arkansas.
After an opening print of 43, this total has risen two points in most spots to settle in at 46. It was a low total to begin with but not necessarily the direction that most expected this line to move. The general assumption that a team reliant on their defense based on an understanding that they have a quarterback returning from injury and a new head coach means that we could see a slow-paced, choppy game. But really bad offense can also provide scoring opportunities (for the opposing team), and 45 is a low total to begin with.
Intuitively, a lack of game level reps seems to hinder the defense more than the offense with the lack of full contact plays resulting in poor tackling performances. Without a ton of outside data to work with, this seems like another appropriate spot to side with the market and buy into points being scored in the opening game of the college football season.