College Football Futures on Conference and Division Winners

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Bovada released its college football futures for conference and divisional odds on Tuesday, and are plenty of sleepers and surprises.

ACC

Each of the ACC’s two divisions are on polar ends of the futures spectrum. Whereas defending national champion Florida State is an obvious and runaway favorite in the Atlantic, projecting the Coastal is not so simple.

The ACC Coastal is as unpredictable as any division in college football, and the futures odds reflect that. Miami and Virginia Tech are even at 3/1, but North Carolina is the favorite at 8/5. The Tar Heels get Virginia Tech at home early in the season on Oct. 4, but must travel to Miami on Nov. 1.

In cross-divisional play, North Carolina’s first ACC contest is Sept. 27 in Death Valley against Clemson. North Carolina also faces rival and defending ACC Coastal champion Duke on the road.

David Cutcliffe has established the Blue Devils as viable contenders, evident in last year’s 10-win campaign. Duke is no one-hit wonder, and at 7/1 may be the most undervalued Coastal team.

Meanwhile, plenty of pundits are high on the Heels in head coach Larry Fedora’s third season. They’ve had another year to adjust to his uptempo offensive style, return 15 starters and finished 2013 hot with wins in six of their final seven.

Among those wins was a Belk Bowl rout of Cincinnati, a game that both demonstrated the capabilities of Fedora’s offense, but also leaves me wary of declaring North Carolina the Coastal favorite. The bowl performance was certainly impressive, but may present an inflated outlook for the Tar Heels.

BIG TEN

Ohio State won 24 consecutive games under Urban Meyer between 2012 and 2013. It took Michigan State in last December’s Big Ten Championship Game to end the streak, and the Spartans get the Buckeyes at home in the rematch on Nov. 8.

Still, Bovada’s college football futures odds give Ohio State a higher probability of winning the Big Ten in 2014. The Buckeyes check in at 10/11 to win the conference and 2/5 to win the East, with Michigan State at 15/4 and 13/5.

While the case for Ohio State can certainly be made, Michigan’s 9/1 conference and 5/1 divisional odds are eyebrow-raising. Since winning 11 games in Brady Hoke’s first season, Michigan has regressed in the subsequent two campaigns. There are myriad questions about the Wolverines’ offense in coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s first season, and the defense took a significant step back after flourishing in Greg Mattison’s first two seasons at the controls.

Michigan as overvalued and Michigan State being undervalued isn’t exactly new. The Spartans are still fighting a “little brother” perception. A second straight Big Ten championship would go a long way in establishing Michigan State as a Big Man on Campus.

An intriguing X-factor in the Big Ten East is newcomer Maryland. The Terrapins are the most veteran bunch in the conference, and feature such noteworthy playmakers as wide receiver Stefon Diggs. We have yet to see the Terps at full strength with their current roster, and the change of scenery may do Randy Edsall’s squad some good.

No one should confuse Maryland’s potential with a slight at 100/1 odds. Still, the Terps are at least interesting.

BIG 12

Will we ever learn not to sleep on Bill Snyder? Though Oklahoma and Baylor are deserved favorites to win the Big 12 at 2/3 and 11/4, Kansas State at 10/1 is behind Texas (7/1) and even with Oklahoma State.

There is a method to the madness. K-State returns just 10 starters. However, that’s more than either Oklahoma State or Baylor bring back.

Ah, but then the Wildcats play just four conference games at game. The nine-game schedule means an imbalance, and this year K-State gets the short end of the stick. But then, odds-on favorite Oklahoma plays the same number of its Big 12 games in Norman this season. Moreover, K-State played a four-game home Big 12 slate the last time it won the conference championship, in 2012.

The lesson here? Death, taxes and Bill Snyder-coached teams overachieving are life’s few certainties.

PAC-12

There’s nothing particularly head-scratching about the college futures on the Pac-12. Oregon and UCLA are favorites to win the North and South, with the Ducks getting the nod for the conference crown. At 6-1, two-time defending champion Stanford isn’t far behind Oregon at 11/10.

USC may be the most overvalued in the Pac-12, which should come to no surprise to those who follow futures odds. Las Vegas always loves the Trojans, a possible residual effect of the program’s near-decade of dominance in the 2000s.

Steve Sarkisian certainly has a talented team, but one inopportune injury can jeopardize USC’s aspirations in the South.

Both Arizona (25/1) and Arizona State (12/1) are potential sleepers. The Sun Devils won 10 games en route to the divisional title last year, but lose the bulk of their starting defense. Todd Graham relies on an offense he calls “the best [he’s] ever coached.”

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is not quite as demonstrative about the Wildcats’ potential. But in his third year at Arizona, Rodriguez could have the Wildcats ready to take a step up after consecutive seasons of eight wins.

SEC

Alabama is expected to return to the SEC mountaintop, which should elicit plenty of “Roll Tide!” cheers from the crimson-clad congregation. Defending SEC champion Auburn’s brutal schedule may contribute to the Tigers’ 5/1 odds to repeat, a mark shared with SEC East favorite South Carolina.

But none of these futures are surprising. The one that most catches my attention: Mississippi State at 16/1 in the SEC West, and 40/1 to win the conference.

Are these odds a whiff on Vegas’ part? Absolutely not. Mississippi State has yet to prove it can compete with the upper echelon of the conference under Dan Mullen, despite four straight bowl appearances. And years of dwelling in the conference’s cellar means the mere suggestion the Bulldogs could be surprise contenders should make plenty of readers recoil.

That’s completely understandable. But then, who had Missouri or Auburn playing for the SEC title in 2013, much less both?