BCS teams vs. I-AA: How things shake out
USF opens its season Saturday against Wofford, one of 24 games this weekend that pit schools from BCS conferences against teams from Division I-AA. Upsets in such games are highly unlikely -- the best-known in recent years was Appalachian State's stunning 2007 upset of then-No. 5 Michigan.
I'll start by asking two trivia questions: How many times in the past four seasons has a I-AA program knocked off a team from a BCS league? And what is the average score when a BCS team meets a I-AA? Take a guess on both -- the answers are a few paragraphs away.
Such an upset didn't happen once last season, though nine I-AAs finished within 10 points of their BCS opponent, including Wofford, which trailed South Carolina by three points with two minutes to play and ultimately lost 23-13. Wisconsin beat Cal-Poly 36-35, Georgia Tech beat Gardner-Webb 10-7 and Arkansas beat Western Illinois 28-24 in the closest of those games.
Since 2005, there have been eight games where I-AAs upset BCS programs, starting with Stanford losing to Cal-Davis 20-17 in 2005. Four Big Ten teams lost in the next two seasons, with New Hampshire beating Northwestern and Southern Illinois beating Indiana in 2006, then the Michigan loss and North Dakota State beating Minnesota in 2007. Richmond shut out Duke 13-0 in 2006, and the Big 12 has lost twice, with Montana State beat Colorado 19-10 in '06 and Northern Iowa knocking off Iowa State in 2007.
There have been 171 games between BCS and I-AA teams in the past four seasons, and as a whole, the average score is 41-12, a comfortable four-touchdown victory. About one in six such games is decided by 10 points or less, and there's a definite disparity in how different BCS leagues dominate I-AA competition.
Whether it be a function of scheduling weaker I-AA opponents or not, the Big East has the best record against I-AA opponents since 2005, with no upsets, only one game decided by 10 points or less (Syracuse beat Northeastern 30-21 last year) and an average score of 45-6. In 21 of their 24 games, the I-AA team was held to 10 points or less. That 39-point average margin of victory is nearly double the average for the Big Ten, which has taken those four upsets we mentioned, eked out another four wins by 10 points or less and has won by an average score of 36-16.
Big Ten schools, for whatever reason, give up much more points to I-AA opponents. Since 2005, there have been 10 games where I-AA teams scored 30 or more points against BCS teams, and seven of those came against Big Ten schools, including twice by Indiana and Wisconsin. The average scores for the other conferences vs. I-AAs: the Big 12 wins 45-13, Pac-10 wins 43-12, the SEC 40-12 and ACC 37-11.
The only BCS conferences not to lose to a I-AA team since 2005 are the Big East and SEC, though the latter has had four close calls -- two by South Carolina against Wofford and one each by Arkansas and Mississippi. Four different ACC teams beat I-AAs by 10 points or less last season, and Duke -- which faces No. 2 Richmond on Saturday -- wasn't one of them.
The national perception of a BCS vs. I-AA game is probably a more dominating blowout -- 22 times in the past four years, the result has been a win of 50 points or more, and 27 other games saw wins of at least 40 points.
Some schools really like I-AA opponents -- Texas Tech, which has North Dakota on Saturday, has played six I-AA teams in the past four seasons. No other BCS school has faced more than four. Programs that haven't faced any I-AAs in the past four seasons: Michigan State, Tennessee, Notre Dame, UCLA, USC and Washington.
The most dangerous I-AAs? Appalachian State will top anyone's list, but there are three schools who since 2005 have had two scares, either upsets or losses by 10 points or less -- Northern Iowa beat Iowa State in 2007 and lost to the Cyclones 28-27 the year before; North Dakota State beat Minnesota in 2007 and lost to the Gophers 10-9 the previous year; and USF's opponent, Wofford, who has twice been within 10 points of South Carolina.
What would constitute a solid win for USF on Saturday? That's hard to say, but Wofford has scored at least 13 points in its last three games with BCS teams, so the defense should aim below that total, and Wofford hasn't allowed more than 38 points in its past four meetings with BCS schools, so the offense can aim for that mark.