Is there even any tiny argument that the SEC is the best conference in NCAA football? I don’t believe there is one. And the SEC is priced at +200 on college football odds to win another national championship in the upcoming season.
As Is Usually The Case Of Late, Alabama Is Title Favorite
Of course the defending national champion is Alabama. Behind Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry, the Crimson Tide finished the 2015 regular season at 11-1 overall and 7-1 in the SEC West to win that division, easily the toughest in college football. Alabama then handled No. 18 Florida in the SEC Championship Game, routed No. 3 Michigan State 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal and then beat No. 1 and unbeaten Clemson in a thrilling national championship game 45-40.
Henry’s gone now, a second-round pick of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. And last year’s starting quarterback, Jake Coker, also has moved on. Yet Coach Nick Saban’s team is the +550 favorite to win a fifth national title since 2009. Alabama is the only team to reach the College Football Playoff in each of its first two years. The biggest question heading to Alabama’s fall camp is who replaces Coker under center as Saban has plenty of five-star recruit running backs to take over for Henry. Most likely, Cooper Bateman, last year’s backup QB, will be the starter Week 1 against Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 3. That’s one of the marquee non-conference games of the season.
The Tide already are listed as 10.5-point favorites on college football odds vs. USC and they likely will be favored in every game this regular season. The Tide had a 72-game streak of being opening favorites in a game end last Oct. 3 at No. 8 Georgia. Alabama rolled regardless 38-10. The Tide’s toughest games this year should be Sept. 17 at Ole Miss, which has won two straight in the series, Oct. 15 at Tennessee in a potential SEC title game preview and Nov. 5 at LSU.
A Big Ten team winning the national title is +300 on college football odds. That’s largely to Ohio State, which is +800 to win it all, and Michigan, which is +900. But only one of those schools can even win the Big Ten East Division. As usual, the rivals play one another to conclude the regular season, this year on Nov. 26 in Columbus. The Buckeyes won the first College Football Playoff in the 2014 season and were the favorites entering last year but missed out on the Big Ten Championship Game and the playoff thanks to an upset home loss to Michigan State late in the season. Ohio State brings back just six starters from last year, the fewest of any team in the country. But like Saban at Alabama, Coach Urban Meyer simply plugs in more five-star recruits with the Buckeyes. OSU also has a very tough non-conference game, coming Sept. 17 at Oklahoma.
An ACC team winning the national championship is +400. Clemson is at +850 on college football odds to win it all after coming so close last season. The Tigers look loaded on offense as they return quarterback Deshaun Watson, the favorite on college football odds to win the Heisman Trophy after finishing third in the 2015 voting behind Henry and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. Florida State is +1000 to win the national title. The Seminoles return every single starter on offense, the only team in the nation to say that. Both FSU and Clemson will likely be unbeaten when they meet on Oct. 29 in Tallahassee. The winner of that should go on to win the ACC Championship Game while the loser probably misses out on the playoff.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 are both +500 on college football odds to win this year’s playoff. Oklahoma has the shortest odds of any Big 12 team at +1200. The Sooners bring back quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was fourth in last year’s Heisman voting. Oklahoma opens the season with a really tough non-conference game vs. Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston, site of this season’s Super Bowl. Oklahoma also has that tough matchup vs. Ohio State and a difficult trip to TCU in the Big 12. Remember, the Big 12 still doesn’t have a conference title game. But it will begin one for the 2017 season.
The Pac-12’s title hopes are led by USC (+2500) and Washington (+3500 on college football odds). The Pac-12 was shut out of last year’s College Football Playoff.
You can also get the field/any other conference at +1000 on college football odds to win this year’s national title. That group would include Notre Dame, which is +2200 overall to win the title. The Irish only play three true road games this season — Sept. 4 at Texas, Oct. 8 at NC State and Nov. 26 at USC — because they also have three neutral-site games.
NCAAF Free Pick: I like Florida State and LSU to play for the national title, with the Seminoles winning it.