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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 2:11 PM

The calendar turns to the summer months and the anticipation of college football begins. The pointspreads for the first games are on the board and more important for our purposes here, the preseason futures market has taken shape. Here's the outline of how it looks and what some moneymaking opportunities may be:

THE FAVORITES
Alabama: 8-1
Clemson: 8-1
Ohio State: 8-1

Comment: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer having their programs on the top line is just par for the course and if any bettors wanted to just bet Alabama and Ohio State, ignore everyone else and hope one of the two wins it all we couldn't blame them.

Clemson is the interesting team on this level. The return of DeShaun Watson, the Heisman frontrunner and possible #1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft is the reason. There's no question that Watson is an electric football player, but the Tigers lose an awful lot of defensive talent-Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson up front formed an imposing pass-rush combination and cornerback Mackensie Alexander leaves a big void in the secondary.

Head coach Dabo Swinney has built a fantastic program, but this is a lot to lose. College football is a dynastic sport, at least compared to others and these odds suggest the market now believes Clemson is a "they don't rebuild, they reload" program. That could be true, but it's a lot to simply assume if you're going to put a team on the very top rung of the futures odds.


THE CHALLENGERS
Michigan: 10-1
LSU: 12-1
Oklahoma: 14-1
Tennessee: 14-1
Florida State: 15-1
Notre Dame: 18-1

Comment: Successful investing in the futures market requires a certain open-minded optimism about each team and a willingness to envision everything going right for a team that's in the "challengers" area. But having said that, seeing Michigan is the fourth-likeliest team to win the national championship is just a bit much.

We know Jim Harbaugh did a great job in his first season, but did anyone watch the way the Wolverines were manhandled at home by Ohio State-an Ohio State team that had just lost at home to a Michigan State team playing its backup quarterback? That game showed the gap that still exists between Michigan and the nation's best. It's not that the Wolverines wiping that gap out in 2016 is unthinkable, but let us know when the number drops to something more reasonable.

And if there's a lot of blind optimism going on regarding Michigan, how much more is taking place with Tennessee? This is a promising Volunteer team. Butch Jones has made hay on the recruiting trail since arriving in Knoxville and now is supposed to be payoff team.

If by "payoff" you want to talk about the Vols winning the SEC East that makes sense. But they haven't even done that since 2007 and they haven't played in a major bowl game this century. Given all that, declaring them to be the sixth-likeliest team to win a national championship, on a par with Oklahoma and ahead of Florida State, based solely on two good recruiting classes seems a bit over the top.


THE DARKHORSES
Michigan State: 28-1
Stanford: 28-1
Ole Miss: 30-1
Georgia: 33-1
UCLA: 33-1
Auburn: 35-1
TCU: 35-1
Washington: 45-1

Comment: One thing to note here is that we left off Baylor, currently listed at 20-1, until the market has had team to adjust for the firing of Art Briles. College football, as noted above, is generally not for darkhorses. The 2010 Auburn Tigers, who opened the season ranked #22, are the last team to come from this deep in the summer to win a championship.

There have been teams that have gotten close-notably Auburn again in 2013 when they narrowly lost to Florida State, but it's a tough sport for a Cinderella to cash a ticket. Although if you believe that Auburn has some special magic, there they are sitting at 35-1.

A more realistic way to find pricey odds is to wait for a situation like Ohio State had in 2014. You may recall that quarterback Braxton Miller was knocked out for the year just before the season began and the Buckeyes dropped to 28-1. Good college programs absorb these injuries much better than NFL teams, hindered by salary cap considerations can. Ohio State did that year and won the championship. Notre Dame did last year and reached a major bowl game. Rather than fruitlessly betting a longshot, it might be better to wait for the first big injury or upset loss and see how the market reacts.

Watching how the market reacts and finding teams at great value, ensuring that our clients have as many teams under their belt as possible by December, is what we excel at. And the road to a big payday in college football is just starting.

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