Believe it or not the upcoming college football season is only a little more than a month away. So this handicapper has been scouring futures boards, looking for some good deals on Final Four odds. Here's what we came up with.
College football installed its own version of a “Final Four” last season, although none of the participants came as any big surprise. Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama and Florida State? All NCAAF elites. Is there a Cinderella out there for this season? Is there any good college football futures betting value to be had on early Final Four boards? That's exactly what we're wondering too.
Who Made it Last Year, and How?
The best way to predict the future is to consult the past. Looking back to last January, and the first college football Final Four, might give us an idea of who might make it this season.
Ohio State, the eventual national champion, made last year's Final Four by winning the Big Ten championship, bombing Wisconsin 59-0 in the conference title game.
Oregon, the national runner-up, won the Pac-12.
Alabama won the SEC.
And Florida State, the defending national champion, won the ACC.
So obviously, it helps to win a power conference title, although, apparently, not the Big 12. And while three of last year's Final Four teams suffered defeats during the regular season – only the Seminoles came into the playoff undefeated – none had two losses.
Who Do We Think Will Make It This Season, and Who Will We Bet On?
It would be easy to just pencil in the top four teams in the preseason polls, or the favorites in the power conferences, for our Final Four bracket for this season, but are those teams worthy of a futures bet? Or might we find better futures value elsewhere?
Last year the champions of the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and ACC made the Final 4. This year our guess is the champions of the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 will make it, because the ACC looks like the weakest of the power conferences.
Can't Find a Surprise in the Big Ten
For our pick to win the Big Ten we tried to look elsewhere than the favorite, but couldn't. Ohio State returns 14 starters, seven on each side of the ball, from a team that rolled through the conference last season, and on to the national championship. The Buckeyes are led by a quarterbacking corps perhaps unique in talent and depth like no other in college football history. They should also be tough on defense, and they've got a championship coach. Even the schedule helps the Bucks; they should go undefeated through their non-conference slate, their toughest conference game, against Michigan State, is in Columbus, and they miss the top two contenders in the West Division, Wisconsin and Nebraska. And we'd make OSU a two-touchdown favorite over anybody out of the West in a conference championship game match-up.
We don't like it, but the best price we could find on the Buckeyes making the Final Four was the -230 offered at 5Dimes.
Tigers' Turn in SEC?
Alabama is the favorite to win the SEC this season, but LSU has 15 starters back, and could be a monster. The Tigers return two experienced quarterbacks, last year's leading rusher, three along the offensive line and six on defense. And while they have to play the Tide on the road, that might be the only game they'll play this season as underdogs. Also, they miss the top three contenders out of the East Division. If LSU played Georgia, the early favorite to win the East, right now, we'd make the Tigers about a touchdown favorite.
Bovada was offering LSU at +550 to make the Final Four.
A Surprise Out West?
Out in the Pac-12, which is a little more wide-open right now than in the recent past, we're going to take a chance with Arizona State. The Sun Devils return 16 starters this season from a team that went 10-3 last season, including their leading rusher, three along the offensive line and nine on defense. And while they have to replace QB Taylor Kelly, senior Mike Bercovici isn't exactly a virgin. Also, ASU gets USC and Oregon at home, and only plays four conference road games. Coach Graham is cookin' up something good out in Tempe.
5Dimes was offering +1400 on the Sun Devils making the playoff.
Finally, the Big 12 missed out on the playoff last year, even though it had two very qualified candidates in Baylor and TCU. The only game the Frogs lost came when they blew a big lead and bowed to the Bears. This year TCU returns 15 starters, including a Heisman candidate at quarterback, almost the entire skill set and four along the offensive line. And while only five starters are back on defense, Coach Patterson knows how to fill holes on that side of the ball. The Frogs have to play five conference road games, but they might be favored in four of them.
TCU was getting +190 at 5Dimes to make this season's Final Four.