It’s that time of year again.
Your faith in the local college football team is sky high and your checking account seems ripe for a “safe” investment.
Before you begin tossing cash at Las Vegas (or another sportsbook of your choosing), you should remember that (1) you’re probably going to lose money and (2) you’re definitely going to lose money if you don’t do a little research. That’s where SEC Country comes in.
Here’s a breakdown of the five most popular college football futures bets offered at Bovada.com. Take my advice with a
grain bag of salt and — if I’m wrong — never mention any of this again.
Note: Odds listed as of July 26.
Over/under regular-season wins
Some of the biggest money available in this category rests on the fate of Michigan State (over 6.5 +160). This is a program that won the Big Ten and competed in the College Football Playoff 19 months ago … now we’re wondering if the Spartans can win seven games? Mark Dantonio has his work cut out for him, sure, but this doesn’t require much of a leap.
Bettors are putting plenty of money on USC and Washington to replicate their 2016 success and leaving Colorado (over 7.5 +145) in the cold. Take a chance on the Buffaloes, who finished 10-2 in the regular season last year and should open this season 3-0 thanks to a soft nonconference schedule.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, USC (under 9.5 +150) is suddenly back at the national forefront after a surprising season. Bovada lists sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold as the Heisman favorite (more on that later) and the Trojans will no doubt be fun to watch. But expecting them to reach double-digit wins is a tad reckless, especially when Washington is probably the best team in the Pac-12 and USC has trips to South Bend and Boulder on the back half of its schedule.
Consider that just about everything went right for Auburn (under 8.5 +120) last season and the Tigers still finished 8-4. Also consider that Gus Malzahn’s team crashed and burned the last time it shouldered big expectations.
And Florida State (under 9.5 +120) should compete for a College Football Playoff spot this year, but if FSU loses to Alabama in Week 1, the ‘Noles will be forced to finish 10-1 to hit the over. That stretch includes road trips to Death Valley and The Swamp.
It’s a relatively modest bet, but Oklahoma State (+300) is a strong choice to take the Big 12 from its favored neighbor in Norman. The conference will likely come down to a Nov. 4 showdown in Stillwater, although a rematch is possible in the rehabilitated Big 12 Championship Game.
This feels like a chaotic year for the Pac-12, which will feature anywhere from three to six teams in the preseason Top 25. Out of that bunch, Oregon (+1600) has the most attractive odds. The Ducks have a new coach (ex-South Florida coach Willie Taggart) and they can’t possibly be any leakier on defense than they were in 2016. Reap the rewards of a rich, rich program returning to an elite level this fall.
Minnesota (+3300) was a trendy Big Ten West pick last preseason, and the Gophers could be primed to surprise the country in Year 1 of the P.J. Fleck era. They’ll likely need to break a 13-year losing streak to Wisconsin (that rivalry game is in Minneapolis this year) to get to the championship game, but the West should once again be much more up for grabs than the East.
In the mood for an even crazier flier? Go with Missouri (+20000), which shocked the SEC with back-to-back East titles in 2013 and 2014. If Florida and Georgia can’t assert themselves as contenders, the East will turn into a quagmire fast. The Tigers bring back most of their high-powered offense and could sneak into Atlanta with an 8- or-9-win record. At that point, who knows?
College Football Playoff
There’s so little reward in this category that I would recommend skipping it entirely. But I understand prudence is not a virtue when it comes to wagering on college football teams, so let’s just get this over with.
Alabama (-250) has appeared in each of the first three editions of the College Football Playoff, but it’s not going to make you much money to bank on the Tide in 2017. Ditto for heavyweights Florida State (+140) and Ohio State (+150), which will both be part of competitive division races.
My favorite pick is Louisville (+1000), which was headed toward the CFP as late as November until it collapsed. If Heisman winner Lamar Jackson can finish strong in 2017, he could drag the Cardinals to a Playoff spot. You might also try your luck with Texas (+900) in its first season with Tom Herman on the sideline. If the Longhorns upset rival Oklahoma on Oct. 14, they’ll be in the Big 12 driver’s seat.
First off, you can nearly triple your money if you bet on Alabama (+275) to win its fifth national title with Nick Saban. That’s a wager that will look better and better each week, and I can’t blame you for taking the safe option here.
Clemson (+2800) has been to consecutive national title games but finds itself way down the list of contenders. If you think Dabo Swinney is college football’s next great coach, then spend away. Outside of some mystery at quarterback, there’s plenty to like about the guys Swinney brings back.
Another College Football Playoff team not getting as much love as it should is Washington (+2800), which absolutely dominated the majority of its schedule last year before a slip-up vs. USC and a lambasting at the hands of ‘Bama in the Playoff. Chris Petersen is one of the most successful coaches of the modern era, and he brings back Heisman candidate Jake Browning at the most important position.
Looking for a more dangerous pick? Go with BYU (+30000), which plays a strong enough schedule (LSU, Wisconsin, Utah, Mississippi State) to get into the College Football Playoff if it runs the table.
It speaks to the unpredictable nature of Heisman seasons that the 2016 winner — Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (+800) — has only the third-best odds in this year’s pool, per Bovada.
I would stay the heck away from USC quarterback Sam Darnold (+275), who leads the pack after playing just a half-dozen impressive games as a freshman. In recent years, the Pac-12 has chewed up and spit out USC passers expected to factor into the Heisman race (coughMattBarkleycough). And even if Darnold puts together a legendary season, he provides an unimpressive return.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (+750) has quietly put together one of the most impressive careers in Big 12 history, but he doesn’t yield much relative reward, either. I would put money on his in-state counterpart, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph (+2000). The Cowboys should finish with at least 10 wins in the regular season, and they have a strong chance to make the College Football Playoff if they can dispatch Mayfield and Oklahoma in Stillwater on Nov. 4.
Rudolph’s numbers in 2016 (34 total touchdowns and 4,091 passing yards against just 4 interceptions) should be replicable. He’s always been great at protecting the football, and OSU brings back two top receivers alongside a 1,000-yard running back in Justice Hill.
If you enjoy high risk/reward picks but don’t like Rudolph, go with Florida State running back Cam Akers (+5000). This class is quarterback-heavy, which could create value for a running back who stands out from the rest of his brethren. Akers is a true freshman, but he’s surrounded with talent and gets an opportunity to become an instant star on Sept. 2 vs. Alabama. If Akers runs for 150-plus yards in a Seminoles upset (admittedly a big “if”), he’ll likely jump to the top of the Heisman leaderboard.
If you really want to put your money on someone closer to the top of the odds list, bet on LSU running back Derrius Guice (+1400). Even if this isn’t the year for the Tigers to take back the SEC West, Guice is primed to put up Leonard Fournette-type numbers in the Bayou this season. He just needs to avoid the campaign-ending stink bomb his predecessor laid in Tuscaloosa two years ago.
Which teams and players would you put your money on? Let us know in the comments section below.