The college football odds makers have been hanging numbers for several weeks on everything from total wins to divisional titles, and of course the National Championship. Let's look at some viable outsiders to cash this season.
2016 Teams to Watch
Michigan (+1000 at BetOnline)
I suppose choosing Michigan as one of your College Football picks to make noise as a potential National Championship contender is not an earth-shattering prediction but had you even broached this topic prior to last season, there would have been laughs all around. Former 49'ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was wooed back to his old stomping grounds in 2015, where he was kind of a big deal back in the mid-80's, and promptly returned a struggling program in Ann Arbor back to its former glory.
No, the Wolverines did not win a National Championship nor did they win the loaded Big Ten in Harbaugh's inaugural season. But what he did do was bring respectability back to the once proud football program, by engineering a 10-3 record punctuated by a 41-7 gutting of the Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Don't be surprised if Harbaugh takes another step this season and even possibly - a giant one.
Oregon (+5000 at BetOnline)
Choosing the Ducks to somehow sneak into the four-team playoff is a tall task I will grant you. But the College Football odds makers at BetOnline are not hanging +5000 on them because they're a lock. However, for this price, there is value if you decide to include them in your picks to win the National Championship.
The success and failure of this year's edition of the Ducks fall squarely on the broad shoulders of former Montana State signal caller Dakota Prukop. Prukop snubbed Nick Saban's entreaties and instead opted for Oregon over the Crimson Tide. If Prukop can learn the Oregon offense he will have beaucoup weapons at his disposal in Royce Freeman coupled with speed-burners Darren Carrington and Olympian Devon Allen.
The iron of the conference is Stanford and USC, both of whom the Ducks will face, but neither team is Alabama or Ohio State. Thus, Oregon could sneak up the rankings, and with a Pac-12 title in hand, they may very well be included in the four-team tournament come season's end.
Houston (+8000 at GTBets)
The American Athletic Conference is not the bastion of college football excellence but the Houston Cougars are the notable exception. Last season the Cougars' national title aspirations were crushed by an unlikely opponent - the University of Connecticut. The 20-17 road loss proved to be the nail in their coffin and prevented the inevitable controversy of an undefeated team from a weak conference being considered for a College Football Playoff berth.
The Cougars will return the leader of their offensive juggernaut, Greg Ward. Ward broke the plane of the end zone 21 times and launched 17 TD passes for a total of 38 touchdowns last season. He will be without wideout Demarcus Ayers, who racked up over 1100 yards and is now playing for the Steelers, but there are still plenty of tools in the shed. Furthermore, the Cougars offensive schemes are built for speed which means they are due to have another huge scoring season. The Cougars' first game of the season will be their sternest test as they face Oklahoma at a neutral site (NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans). After that, the schedule gets much more forgiving which means Houston could be knocking on the CFP's door yet again.
Nebraska (+15,000 at Sports Betting)
The truth be told, this one is a stretch. The Cornhuskers toil in one of the toughest conferences in college football. The Big Ten is stacked with Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan in the East while Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin rule the West.
Yet, Nebraska is returning 13 starters, including their quarterback Tommy Armstrong with his receiving corps intact. The Huskers will have oodles of experience on their side and if all their bad breaks from last season go their way in 2016 then they could be a viable dark horse.