Having withdrawal from college football action yet? Yes, me too. So let's project the betting odds for the winning conference for the next College Football Playoff national championship game on Jan. 11, 2016, at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Were you expecting another conference to be the betting favorite? The SEC might have gotten pushed around in the bowl games last season to an extent and might be been slightly overrated -- I'm looking at you Ole Miss and Mississippi State -- but there's still no doubt which conference is the best by far. Of course the SEC won seven straight BCS National Championship Games before Florida State ended that string two seasons ago.
The irony of the the College Football Playoff is that the SEC was a big backer of it because the conference believed it had a better shot of getting two teams in, maybe even three. For a while last season that looked possible. However, only Alabama made it and the Tide were upset by Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Just going by Bovada's NCAA football odds, the SEC has three schools among the eight title favorites: Alabama (17/2), Auburn (16/1) and Georgia (22/1). Frankly, it might behoove Georgia to perhaps lose just one game, miss the SEC Championship Game and avoid facing the Tide or Tigers in Atlanta. An 11-1 Georgia team could perhaps make the playoff, but not a two-loss team that just was beaten in the SEC title game. Unfortunately for the Dawgs, I'm not sure there's another SEC East team that will only finish with one conference loss as well and win the division tiebreaker with Georgia. I expect the Dawgs to sweep that division.
NCAAF Projected Winner: Auburn.
Big 12: 3/1
Of course the Big 12 was the big loser in the first playoff as it was the only Power 5 conference to miss out, leading some to call for the Big 12 to expand by two teams and stage a conference championship game. That's not imminent, and you know the playoff won't want to leave out another deserving Big 12 team for a second straight season or the system will look broken. The conference has three of the top-seven favorites on college football odds to win the playoff: TCU (8/1), Baylor (16/1) and Oklahoma (20/1). I happen to think the Sooners are overrated, just like they were entering the 2014 season (and that was proven). The winner of this conference likely will be decided on Nov. 21 and Nov. 27. That first date is when TCU visits Oklahoma and the second is when the Frogs host Baylor.
NCAAF Projected Winner: Baylor.
Big Ten: 7/1
How can the Big Ten only be the third-favorite when defending national champion Ohio State is the 9/2 favorite at sportsbooks to repeat? The Buckeyes also have the 2015 early Heisman Trophy favorite in running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is 6/1 at Bovada. The reason is that there's probably not another Big Ten that has a shot at winning the playoffs. Maybe Michigan State (25/1), but the Spartans have to go to Columbus this season. I give no team from the West Division -- Wisconsin, Nebraska, etc. -- any shot to win the Big Ten title game, much less make the playoff.
NCAAF Projected Winner: Ohio State.
I thought about putting the Pac-12 above the Big Ten and certainly this would be higher if Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman winner, had returned to school. But now the Ducks have a hole at the most important position, although they did land Eastern Washington transfer and FCS All-American quarterback Vernon Davis this week. He will be eligible to play right away but will have to beat out Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup the past two seasons, for the starting job. Oregon (25/1) isn't the conference favorite, USC (12/1) is. And the Trojans have perhaps the nation's best quarterback for 2015 in Cody Kessler. I don't see anyone but the Ducks or Trojans emerging from the Pac-12 for the playoff.
NCAAF Projected Winner: Oregon.
The ACC is the long shot because it appears on paper that Florida State (25/1 at Bovada's NCAA football odds) will take a step back after losing several key players, notably former Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. I wouldn't consider FSU the ACC favorite but instead Clemson (25/1) as long as Tigers sophomore QB Deshaun Watson makes a full recovery from ACL surgery. He's a dynamic talent. Clemson gets to host Florida State this season as well. No team from the ACC's Coastal Division will be good enough to make the playoff, but we'll take Clemenson for now as our early college football pick.
NCAAF Projected Winner: Clemson.