Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 9:52 PM
The first rankings of the College Football Playoff will come out on Tuesday and every pundit will have an opinion on who the top four teams should be. I’m less concerned with that at this stage of the game, then I am with finding good value on the national championship betting odds. If a team is genuinely good enough, things will probably work out for them to make the Playoff. If they’re not, a loss usually finds them even if the schedule seems to line up.
Any discussion about the national championship has to begin with Alabama, the 8-5 favorite. And the question every college football bettor has to decide is simply this—is it worth challenging the Tide or, given the short price on ‘Bama, is it better just to bet them on a game-by-game basis?
Because this is the threshold question for the college football futures market, I have to protect my view there for clients. But for the sake of our discussion here, let’s assume that we are going to challenge the Tide and run through the pros and cons of the most viable contenders...
Ohio State (9-2): Has anyone in the betting market been watching Ohio State recently? Not only have they lost to Penn State, but they struggled against Northwestern on Saturday and a few weeks ago took a while to put Indiana away at home. An overtime victory at Wisconsin was solid, but Nebraska also took Wisconsin to overtime on the road. And no one is talking about the Cornhuskers in a national championship context.
Michigan (6-1): Early in the season there was reason for caution with the Wolverines. I suppose there still is—the speed on the perimeter doesn’t look national championship-caliber. But this team can sure hit in the trenches, they’re getting good quarterback play from Wilton Speight and Jabril Peppers is a game-breaker in all three phases. It’s hard to believe they’re still available at a better price than Ohio State.
Clemson (7-1): Saturday night’s win over Florida State put Clemson in fantastic position to return to the Playoff. The Tigers have wins over Louisville and FSU, meaning they have the ACC’s Atlantic Division all but locked down. No one on the Coastal side of this conference looks ready to provide a meaningful challenge. They have a great quarterback in DeShaun Watson and Playoff experience from last year .
Washington (17-2): The sluggish nature of the Huskies’ 31-24 win over Utah may cool some enthusiasm for Washington’s chances of going all the way, but don’t overlook how tough that win was. The Utes play good defense, they’re tough at home and every contender has to survive a game like that eventually. Washington did.
Oklahoma (30-1): Even with the awful non-conference play, the Sooners are in first place in the Big 12. It’s just hard to see that conference producing a Playoff team this year and it’s hard to see Oklahoma winning two Playoff games even if they did. If this price doubled, it might be worth a flyer, but not here .
Auburn (40-1): A win at Ole Miss was the first of three big road wins the two-loss Tigers will need down the stretch. Georgia is next and then comes Alabama on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a tough road, but it also puts Auburn in prime position to control their own fate. And they’re playing their best football of the last two years right now.
Nebraska (45-1): Even with Saturday night’s OT loss in Wisconsin, the Cornhuskers still control their fate in the Big Ten West and with Michigan/Ohio State looming in the conference championship game, that means Nebraska can realistically just play their way into the Playoff. The price is attractive, the defense is physical and quick, but no one who watched Tommy Armstrong play quarterback on Saturday night can feel good about Nebraska’s odds of winning out
Wisconsin (45-1): The Badgers have two losses, but the last four games are manageable (Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota) and if Nebraska stumbles at Ohio State on Saturday (or elsewhere), the Badgers are poised to take the Big Ten West. If they knock off, say, undefeated Michigan, in the Big Ten title game, a Playoff spot is there for the taking. The defense and running game are good enough. But again, if you watched them play Saturday night, you can’t like what you see from the quarterback spot.
Florida (85-1): With a 24-10 win over Georgia, the Gators are poised to repeat as SEC East champs and they have the #2-ranked defense in the country. It’s hard to see where they have the offensive firepower to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game—and maybe not even Florida State in the regular season finale, but an SEC team with just one loss in November and an 85-1 price tag? It’s at least worth a saver bet.
Louisville (17-2): I’ve placed the Cardinals behind several other teams with much higher prices in this discussion, because their chances rest on a big unknown—how open will the Playoff Committee be to taking two teams from the same conference. It’s realistically impossible for Louisville to catch Clemson in the Atlantic Division. The Committee says they value conference championships and they’ll have five such champions to fill four spots. Will they even seriously consider Lamar Jackson’s Cards?
Texas A&M (75-1): The Aggies have the same problem as Louisville, although the respect given to the SEC in general and Alabama in particular (as compared to the ACC), make it reasonable to think Texas A&M could join Alabama in the Playoff, so long as the Aggies win out. And the price certainly makes the investment worth the trouble.
Right now it seems like the four Playoff spots are controlled by Alabama, Michigan/Ohio State, Clemson and Washington. One thing we know for sure is that November always brings chaos and the bettors that anticipate events and invest at good prices now will be the ones to reap the rewards.