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Grambling State vs. Arizona: Previewing the Tigers and Wildcats by the numbers

Spoiler: Arizona is probably going to win this game. But how much should you worry about it? We took a look at some of the numbers underlying this game to find out.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Every week, we take a dive into some of the numbers and statistics underlying the upcoming match-up. This week, we take a look at the gigantic numbers that define the match-up between the Arizona Wildcats and the Grambling State Tigers.

11 - votes received in FCS coaches’ poll

No, Grambling State isn’t the 11th ranked team in FCS. But they did receive 11 votes in the "others receiving votes" section of the FCS coaches’ poll! Per the coaches’ poll, then, Grambling State ranks as the 40th best team in FCS. That puts them well behind Richmond, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona, and most of the other FCS teams that made noise in Week One. Still, there is some reason to worry - the Tigers went 9-0 during the regular season last year before losing the SWAC title game to Alcorn State, and they should contend for the conference title again this year. They’re not pushovers.

94% - Arizona’s likelihood of winning

Bill Connelly’s stat wizardry over at Football Study Hall gives Arizona a 94% chance of winning this game. That’s...not as good as I’d hope. Games against FCS teams are supposed to be gimmes where the FBS team essentially pays for a win. That Arizona is only 94% to win this game is troubling, particularly when Grambling State isn’t one of the top teams in FCS. In fact, the advanced statistics paint a dire picture for Arizona at this point in the season, projecting 5.05 wins (on average) for the Wildcats and giving them only a 36.9% chance of going 6-6 or better. Even though it’s very early in the season, the advanced stats might give some Arizona fans reason to panic.

Grambling State +46.5 - the spread

…and yet no matter how much the advanced statistics doubt Arizona, Vegas continues to believe. As our friends at Wildcat Radio pointed out, the spread in this game is gigantic. The Wildcats opened as 46.5 (!!!) point favorites. That’s significantly more than the 26.3 point margin of victory in this game that Football Study Hall projects.

Maybe, as a commenter pointed out last week, it’s just because Vegas cares primarily about getting money on both sides of the line, so this is driven by the public (and not by experts). I’m not sure I totally buy that, though. There are plenty of professional bettors out there whose sole job is to profit off those arbitrage opportunities where the public values a team more than they should. That sharp money should, at least in theory, balance out the lines. So when there’s a gap this big between what the advanced stats project and what Vegas projects, I wonder if there’s something more at play.

There is reason, after all, to believe that this year’s Arizona team is better than that scary 5-7 prediction. The defense was pretty good last week, and though the offense was inconsistent, it showed flashes of what it could be. If the defense plays well again and the offense shows a little more consistency, Arizona will roll.