Alabama’s national championship odds are 7-1 and LSU’s are 14-1, according to Bovada. A wager on one of these two teams won’t return a lot of money and will probably earn zero credit with your buddies.
To earn a real payoff on a bet, and to truly impress your friends it’s probably best to get behind a little more of a long shot. Fortunately for fans of the SEC, there are a few enticing options in the conference this season.
As a way of explaining which SEC teams are most likely to outperform their current Vegas odds, it’s probably best to look at a few characteristics most recent national champions have had in common:
Eight of the last 10 national champions have come from the SEC.
The four team College Football Playoff will always exclude at least one of the Power Five conference champions, and the perceived credentials of the leagues probably play some role in the decision of which conference is left out.
In 2014, it was the Big 12 that missed out on the Playoff — a league that hasn’t produced a national champion since 2005. Last year it was the Pac 12 — whose title drought extends to 2004 — that got the boot.
The SEC probably shouldn’t be too concerned about ending up on the outside looking in of the Playoff conversation — even if it produces an unlikely champion — because of the reputation it’s built up over the past decade.
Six of the last seven national champions had first-year starting quarterbacks.
This might be a surprising stat, but it’s important to remember when evaluating some of the SEC’s long shots. Inexperience at quarterback isn’t a disqualifying factor; it’s potentially a reason to consider a team. A new quarterback can bring a jolt of energy, and if he is surrounded by enough talent the results can be spectacular. Speaking of which…
The majority of players on the rosters of national champions will be former four and five-star recruits.
Elite recruits always make up more than 50 percent of the signing classes for national champions for at least the four years prior to that team winning the title according to Bud Elliott from SB Nation. This has been true for as long as the major recruiting sites have been awarding star rankings. In other words, prestigious programs like Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford, Michigan State, Baylor, and TCU — all of which fall below this standard — might have less of a chance of winning the College Football Playoff then their reputations would indicate.
Given these trends, the best long-shot bets for the national championship are going to be SEC teams with new quarterbacks that have consistent histories of recruiting success.
This year there are three teams that could fit this profile:
Auburn – national championship odds: 33-1
Auburn has surprised before. In 2013 the Tigers won the SEC and played for the national title despite having won just three games the previous season, and Auburn won the national title in 2010 after a five-loss season the year before. The common denominator in both of those seasons was a fresh face at quarterback — Nick Marshall in 2013 and Cam Newton in 2010
This year the possibility exists for a similar turnaround.
After 11 losses over the past two seasons, Auburn would probably be smart to look for a new quarterback and the options are plentiful: John Franklin III is a junior college transfer with the “wow” factor according to coach Gus Malzahn. Incoming freshman Woody Barrett is rated as one of the top prospects in the country, and there’s at least some chance Auburn could still land transfer quarterback Davis Webb.
Better play at quarterback might be the only thing missing from the Tigers because — despite the on-field disappointments of the last two years — Auburn’s recruiting prowess more than meets the threshold of previous national champions.
According to 247sports Auburn’s last four recruiting classes have finished 10th, sixth, eighth, and ninth in the country. With that kind of talent, and with the possibility of an exciting new quarterback, Auburn’s current odds are a real bargain.
UGA – national championship odds: 33-1
If recruiting success is among the best predictors for national championships then UGA might be college football’s biggest underachiever.
UGA’s classes have only finished outside the top 10 once in the last six seasons — when the Bulldogs ranked No. 12 in 2013. Yet despite the wins on National Signing Day, there haven’t been nearly enough actual wins on the field.
This is one of the main reasons Kirby Smart will be on the sidelines for the Bulldogs this fall. He’ll be asked to do more to maximize UGA’s talent than his predecessor — Mark Richt — did.
Potentially making things easier for Smart is incoming freshman Jacob Eason — the most decorated quarterback to enter the program since Matthew Stafford. If Smart trusts Eason enough to make him the starter, UGA could become a trendy pick to be the SEC’s biggest surprise.
Texas A&M – national championship odds: 66-1
The Aggies could absolutely win the SEC West — at least. That might sound ridiculous, but it isn’t impossible.
Consider over the past four seasons Texas A&M’s signing classes have had an average national ranking of 11th. That puts the Aggies in the elite recruiting club of programs that can win the national title.
Plus Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has already announced Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight will be the team’s quarterback. Knight already has a bit of a history with SEC West favorite, Alabama. He threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-31 win for the Sooners’ against the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl in 2014.
If Knight has that kind of game against Alabama again, most bettors will wish they bought a ticket on the Aggies at 66-1 while they had the chance.