The UTEP Miners will begin their 2018 campaign as 7.5-point home underdogs against Northern Arizona — an FCS school with 125-1 odds to win the lower-tier national title. It’s going to be a long year in El Paso.
Additionally, Georgia State will open its season at home as a 1.5-point underdog on Thursday night against FCS Kennesaw State in an all-Georgia battle.
When I initially saw two road FCS favorites in Week 1, I started to wonder two things:
- How rare is this?
- Is UTEP (+7.5) the largest home FBS underdog ever against an FCS school?
After some digging at BetLabs, I discovered it has happened 19 times since 2005 (the beginning of the database). I also learned UTEP will not be the largest home FBS underdog against an FCS school. In fact, three FCS teams have actually been double-digit favorites on the road against an FBS school:
- Old Dominion (-14) at Idaho (ODU won 59-38)
- Jacksonville State (-10) at Georgia State (JSU won 32-26)
- Samford (-10) at Georgia State (Samford won 31-21)
All three teams won their games, but only Old Dominion covered (1-1-1 ATS) — which is what really matters. ODU was in its transition year from FCS to FBS.
I should also note that Cal Poly (in the Big Sky Conference with Northern Arizona) lost 28-10 as a 7.5 point favorite at New Mexico State in the season opener in 2014.
Of the 19 times this rare betting scenario has popped up since 2005, the FCS road favorite has won 15 outright — with an ATS record of 11-7-1 (61%). On average, the FCS teams were 4.7-point favorites and won by a margin of 12.0 points — covering by more than a touchdown per game.
Backing the FCS teams in this situation has clearly had value in the past, but it’s not a significant sample size. Regardless, a recreational bettor can gain an edge by spending some time handicapping FCS games, as books don’t spend any time setting those lines. Considering the high opportunity cost, it wouldn’t make sense for a book to dedicate resources to FCS teams when they can simply control their exposure with limits, which can allow recreational bettors to pick up a few hundred here and there in certain spots.
For what it’s worth, five of the 19 FBS teams (another meaningless sample size) were home underdogs in this situation in their season opener, as UTEP will be. Only two of the five teams won outright, but three covered. The most recent occurrence happened last year when FCS school James Madison (-3) won and covered at East Carolina by 20 points in the season opener.
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New Favorite FCS Team
While doing this quick exercise, I found my new favorite FCS team in Bethune Cookman, which beat Florida International in back-to-back years as a road favorite. After winning the first meeting in 2013 by three touchdowns as a three-point favorite, the Wildcats won again in 2014 — but failed to cover the -2.5 in a 14-12 barnburner.
The best part is FlU banned its only beat reporter from covering the team the day of that second loss, so at least it didn’t get written about as much. (Although I’m pretty sure you just cover the bands for an FIU-BC game.)
For those interested in all of the historical instances, I created this chart for your reference. As you can see, five consecutive FCS teams have covered in this situation by an average of more than 26 points per game.