It is never too early to take a look at College Football Conference Championship Futures, even at this stage in April where only some teams have their conference NCAAF odds posted!
We are still nearly five months removed from the start of the 2016 College Football season, but now that the recruiting period is over, we think this is a nice time to take an early look at our current college football picks on who we like to win each of the Power 5 conferences, as well as offering one darkhorse from each conference that may surprise at a decent price.
One roadblock right now is that not all conference championship Futures are out yet, as some of our darkhorses are unlined as of now and we have had no luck in finding odds for the Big 12. Still undaunted though, we push on and give our predictions for all five power conferences regardless, as everyone can always revisit this once all of the odds are up.
So without any further ado, here are our selections to win as well as one darkhorse from each Power 5 conference, along with the conference championship odds for the teams that are currently lined.
Pick to Win - Florida State Seminoles (+200)
Yes, the Clemson Tigers are the favorites to win the ACC and Clemson is in fact the co-second choice to win the national championship along with Oklahoma at +700. However, one big edge that the Seminoles have this season is they draw Clemson at home.
Florida State has one of the best running backs in the nation in Dalvin Cook, and they also caught a break when defensive end DeMarcus Walker decided to forego the NFL Draft to return to Tallahassee. Throw in a great secondary and it should be smooth sailing to an ACC title if the Noles do get by Clemson, which is obviously a big if.
Darkhorse - Louisville Cardinals
Louisville figures to be a longshot once its conference college football odds are released, especially playing in the same division as Florida State and Clemson, but the Cardinals finished the season strongly last year once they settled on Lamar Jackson at quarterback, who is a rising star, as they won six of their last seven games.
The offense returns eight starters in all and the offensive line should improve with more experience after getting exposed at times last season. The defense was way ahead of the offense at the beginning of last season, but the offense is now better with Jackson as the starter straight from the outset, making this a very dangerous team capable of at least throwing a scare into the Big Two of the conference.
Pick to Win - Ohio State Buckeyes (-140)
The Buckeyes are odds on favorites to win the Big Ten after getting upset at home by Michigan State last year, costing Ohio State a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, and these odds seem well deserved. Granted the Buckeyes lost a lot of talent and they actually have a probable early loss on their schedule with a marquee non-conference road game at Oklahoma.
But Coach Urban Meyer has a great recruiting class while returning quarterback J.T Barrett and a very good offensive line, and that early test vs. the Sooners should benefit the Buckeyes while basically forcing the new faces to start gelling quickly.
Darkhorse - Wisconsin Badgers
Yes, we get that the main contenders to Ohio State will probably be Michigan and Michigan State, but we simply do not think the value is there with those schools, especially since we feel the Buckeyes will be clearly better than both while being in the same division.
However, we do like Wisconsin to dethrone Iowa as the West Division champions, as running back Corey Clement figures to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2015 while running behind an experienced offensive line, and the defense returns six starters including stalwart linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Edwards. That makes the Badgers worth what should be a nice price as they should be in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Pick to Win - Oklahoma Sooners
Can the reason that there are no conference odds available for the Big 12 be because Oklahoma is a more prohibitive favorite to win this conference than Ohio State is to win the Big Ten? Well, it could be as the offense should be one of the best in the nation again, led by a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Baker Mayfield, a retuning stud at running back in Samaje Perine and a graduate transfer in former Penn State wide receiver Geno Lewis to help offset the loss of Sterling Shepard.
The defense may also be the best in the Big 12, led by a probable All-American at cornerback in Jordan Thomas.
Darkhorse - Oklahoma State Cowboys
Again, we are foregoing the expected closest pursuers to the Sooners in Baylor and TCU in our search for a true darkhorse, and that search has landed us in Stillwater.
This is a team that returns quarterback Mason Rudolph, top wide receiver James Washington and the entire starting offensive line, and the running game could get a kick start from the transfer of Barry Sanders, son of the Hall of Fame Oklahoma State Alumnus of the same name, from Stanford.
Thus an improvement over the Cowboys’ 3.6-yard per carry rushing average last season could be expected. Additionally, the defense returns seven starters and the line should get a lift from the return of defensive tackle Vili Leveni after he missed all of last season.
Pick to Win - USC Trojans (+400)
We are predicting that the recent dominance of Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 will come to an end this year, as Stanford simply lost too much talent even with Christian McCaffrey returning and Oregon did not do much during the recruiting period to fix what was an abysmal defense last season.
Thus, this year could mark a return to glory for the Trojans, who return nine starters on offense including probably the best offensive line in the Pac-12 as well as standout wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The defense meanwhile returns six starters spearheaded by linebacker Cameron Smith and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.
Darkhorse - Washington Huskies (+700)
It has not taken long for former Boise State Coach Chris Peterson to transform the Huskies into contenders as two of his recruits, quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, gained valuable experience last year, and the team also returns eight starters on defense from a team that seven games last season and had narrow losses to the likes of Oregon and California in conference and to Peterson’s former team Boise State out of conference.
This certainly looks like a team that is on the rise, and if Washington had a bit more speed at the receiver positions, we would have even considered them as our top pick to win the conference.
Pick to Win - Alabama Crimson Tide (+120)
Alabama is actually the favorite to win the national championship again at +500, so we will gladly accept anything above +100 to win the SEC. Yes, the Tide lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but nobody recruits as well as Nick Saban and Blake Barnett just may be the most talented quarterback that he has recruited since arriving at Tuscaloosa.
The Tide also have their probable heir apparent to running back Derrick Henry in Bo Scarbrough, they return wide receiver Calvin Ridley after his great freshman season and the defense should again be among the best in the nation. In other words, what is there not to like?
Darkhorse - Tennessee Volunteers (+500)
The biggest challenge to Alabama this year may not be one of the usual culprits like LSU or Mississippi, but instead it may be these Volunteers in a revitalized season.
This is an experienced team that returns a total of 18 starters, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara among the nine returning offensive starters, and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, cornerback Cam Sutton and defensive end Derek Barnett among the nine returning defensive starters.
On top of all that, Coach Butch Jones brought in another solid recruiting class this year, which bodes well for the Tennessee future.