Whether you agree with the system surrounding college football or not, the hype and intensity surrounding the NCAA is very real. The Saturday night version of the game routinely produces perennial powerhouses, also rans, could have done betters and Cinderella stories. The view into the window looking at future NFL superstars growing into their future selves captivates the football world looking for quality football at its purest.
In the past, a ridiculously complicated system of eligibility for the voted on National Title bowl game meant that by the end of the season, only a handful of teams were still in the hunt for a title. In recent years a playoff system has been introduced to the college level, with a 10 person committee voting on record and strength of schedule for entry (for 5 points which former US secretary of State sits on this panel????).
From a betting standpoint, the current playoff system creates a much larger array of possibilities rather than the BCS system that survived through to 2013 which combined a horrendously complicated computer ranking system with coach/media votes to place 2 teams in a national championship game. In the previous system teams with 2 losses were rarely invited into the big game and schools from lower leagues (Boise State & TCU in particular) had almost no chance to compete due their lack of competitive schedule.
Each year “signing day” is revered with similar importance as NFL draft day. Schools across the country announce their forthcoming intake into the 4 year cycle of college sports. Recruits are ranked somewhat unofficially out of high school in a 5 star ranking system, with a 5 star recruit considered to be top 30, 4 star top 250-300, 3 star top 750, 2 star a mid level prospect and 1 star essentially meaning “thanks for trying out”. The breakdown of the incoming class can be a good indication of the future of a program.
Throughout the season the term AP top 25 will become a key term in the enjoyment of college football. Each week 65 sportswriters and broadcasters from across the US rank their top 25 teams from 1-25. The results are coordinated and tallies with the top 25 teams assigned that number as a rank. If you have ever wondered why teams are referred to “No3 Oregon” this is why. During the early season these are generally irrelevant stats for stats sake, however, by the final weeks they give a good indication of the voting for College playoffs.
So what of the schools in the hunt this year, and where should we be placing money. Below I look in depth at a selection of short price preseason favourites and show some prices on the outsiders.
Alabama. Recruit rank #1. Odds : 4/1 various
Total Commits: 28. 5-Star Commits: 6. 4-Star Commits: 17. 3-Star Commits: 4
Perennial powerhouse Alabama have the most lauded recent history in excellence, coached by the venerable Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide come into this season having made the playoffs in all 3 years since 2014, returning 11 starting players and having the strongest recruiting class this year attracting 6 of the top 30 and 23 of the top 250.
On the field, Alabama have two excellent looking players at QB in sophomore Jalen Hurts and freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Running the ball, sophomore Josh Jacobs returns with top three freshman Najee Harris looking to make an immediate impact. Catching the ball is a mixture of experience and outright talent in senior Robert Foster and lightning fast 5 star freshman Jerry Jeudy. The offensive area of the ball is one Nick Saban will be interested to improve on.
On the defensive side of the ball the Crimson tide are always regarded as one of the tougher units in college football, senior Da’Shawn Hand and Junior Da’Ron Payne lead a deep defensive line in front of a plethora of talent at linebacker. In the secondary, 4 of 5 starters from last year return and promising Trevon Diggs converting to a better suited role at corner back. This unit will be very tough to score big on.
In short, the front runners for the National championships and returning runners up have improved and returned some serious talent. Only a major series of upsets will keep the Tide from the playoffs.
Clemson. Recruit Rank #26 33/1 Paddypower
Star QB Deshaun Watson has left for the NFL having driven the Tigers up and down the field to an historic National Championship in 2016, Junior Kelly Bryant will probably step up under center but will not provide the same output. Couple that with the loss of TE Jordan Leggett due to eligibility and RB Wayne Gallman forfeiting his senior year, this offense is significantly underpowered compared to 2016.
On the defensive side of the ball losses in starters at DE Carlos Watkind, LB Ben Boulware and Cordea Tankersley & Jadar Johnson in the secondary mean this is a clear transition year for the defending national champions.
Don’t get me wrong, the offense will still be potent and the Brent Venables coached Defense will still be tough. In my opinion this team is gunning for top 10 status rather than playoff favourites, however in a relatively weak ACC conference they have a good chance of being divisional champions and to make a return to the playoffs for the third time in three years. At 33/1 they may be the best value pre season.
Oklahoma. Recruit rank #6. 5-Star Commits: 0. 4-Star Commits: 19. 3-Star Commits: 8 12/1 Paddypower
The vaunted Sooners are always a force to be reckoned with, this season is certainly no different with returners galore, an early candidate for the Heisman at QB and a potentially huge returner should draft day not go to plan this team is poised for a playoff appearance.
The key returning piece of the Sooner puzzle is QB Baker Maryfield, working alongside 3rd year coordinator Lincoln Riley, Maryfield is predicted to have a Heisman level season under center. He will be protected by an offensive line returning the majority of its 2016 starters. The enigmatic element of the Sooners offense will be Joe Mixon who is in the NFL draft early but with a video of Assault of a female on campus searching is likely to be too toxic fr the NFL at this point. If Mixon fails to be drafted and returns, this is an offence capable of winning the whole show.
Defensively, impact players CB Jordan Thompson, FS Steven Parker and LB Obo Okoronkwo return alongside a promising linebacking core and a very good defensively focused recruiting class.
The roadblock to the Sooners may be off the field in their schedule, early road trips to Ohio State and Baylor will be tough and to get out of the Big 12 as champions they will likely need to beat the same team twice.
This team is ready to be elite, I fully expect the defensive unit to gel and excel and if Joe Mixon returns we could be seeing a championship season in Oklahoma.
Florida State. Recruit rank #8. 5-Star Commits: 4. 4-Star Commits: 11. 3-Star Commits: 7 8/1 Paddy Power
So you lose your top RB in Dalvin Cook, and your defense has graduated its 16 sack leader in DeMarcus Walker. Oh and you play Alabama on opening night. On paper this looks like a tough season for the Seminoles. To quote Brian Clough, “football isn’t played on paper”.
Eighth year coach Jimbo Fisher has won 10+ games 6 times in the previous seven years and has the track record to have this team more than ready to go come the start of the season. Returning QB Deondre Francois is drawing comparison to Jameis Winston and is looking to perform at a Heisman level. RB Jacques Patrick averaged 5.7 yards per carry in 2016 and alongside 5 star recruit Cam Akers will be looking to carry on where Cook left off. The ‘Noles have adjusted to the loss of T Roderick Johnson to the NFL with a reinforced offensive line that should perform admirably.
Defensively, S Derwin Jones returns from a knee injury, leading tackler LB Mathew Thomas returns with solid and emerging talent around him. This defense will be a force to the majority of the college ranks, we will find out opening night how it fares verses the elite.
LSU, the Dallas Cowboys of the college game. Persistent bleating about how much talent is on the field combined with a “what have you done lately” aura around them. There was a time where LSU was a perennial top 3 school. Not so much these days. Leonard Fournette is headed to star in the NFL, a new Head Coach in Ed Orgeron, a very talent shallow defense and arguably the toughest schedule in college football mean this will be a long year for the Tigers.
Senior QB Danny Etling looks to start day 1 with a good crop of backups and future behind him, he is however not an elite and rather than fighting for Heisman consideration, is fighting for his starting job. RB Derrius Guice is looking to fill Fournettes’ shoes with a push towards the elite, however I feel the team will need to look to the skies to stay in games.
Defensively the Tigers have lost 2 NFL level defensive lineman and are very thin at linebacker with position changes across the board.
The sheer numbers (18) of players performing at the LSU pro day with talent galore and NFL careers awaiting suggests that this group have both underachieved and been very poorly coached by the previous administration. If this is correct it will take years to rectify and as such this is very much a rebuild for the incoming regime. I would avoid LSU like the plague until they hit somewhere in the region of 33/1
Ohio State. Recruit rank #4. 5-Star Commits: 6. 4-Star Commits: 13. 3-Star Commits: 2. 12/1 Paddy Power
Urban Mayer and (The) Ohio State Buckeyes enter this year having come off of a 2016 season filled with ups, downs and question marks. Beginning the season with the most inexperienced starting lineup (16 new starters) they achieved an 11-1 and one record to shock the NCAA. They promptly were blown out 31-0 by Clemson in the Fiesta bowl. In 2017 they return 16 starters in what looks like a major playoff calibre team.
Senior QB TJ Barrett returns to marshal the offense, having made conference MVP honours in the two full seasons he has played in this season should see him break almost every school throwing record, he won’t be pushing for Heisman honours but is more than capable at the position. RB Mike Weber comes off a 1096yd 9TD season to carry the ball behind an experienced offensive line anchored by T Jamarco Jones and G Michael Jordan on the left side of the line. WR Binjimen Victor looks outstanding as a sophomore and should provide a very good target for his QB.
On the defensive line the buckeyes have DE Tyquan Lewis returning for his final season having been named Big Ten lineman of the year, DT Tracey Sprinkle returns from injury to complement his 2016 cover Dre’Mont Jones, keep an eye out for Nick Bosa who is the younger brother of star Joey Bosa coming in for his freshman season. In the linebacking core, LB Dante Booker will look to plug the hole left by Raekwon McMillan supported by the highlight reel LB Jerome Baker. In the secondary CB Marshawn Lattimore declared early and the picture is not so rosy, an experienced if unspectacular unit will need to play well to hold their own in 2017.
USC. Recruit rank #5. 5-Star Commits: 4. 4-Star Commits: 13. 3-Star Commits: 7. 8/1 NetBet, 10Bet
The PAC-12 contains a plethora of schools who could, would and should have a legitimate claim to be the favourite for the conference championship and a subsequent playoff run. Washington, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Oregan and Washington State will all have high expectations coming into 2017.
The team at the forefront of these discussions in my opinion are the USC Trojans. Had CB/WR Adoree Jackson remained, this team may have been favourites to win it all. QB Sam Darnold is possibly the Heisman favourite for the coming season and is partnered by the returning RB Ronald Jones II, between them they orchestrated 400+ yards of offense and 40+ points in 7 of the last 10 games in 2016. Elsewhere on the offense the Trojans will need to find some WR talent to play alongside WR Deontay Burnett. With 3 returning starters on the line, this looks like an offense that while seeing a slight decline will still be potent.
USC’s defense sees 10 returning starters on a unit that held 7 schools to season lows in 2016. LB Cameron Smith returns as an All-American with a strong secondary behind him, a deep linebacking core beside him. The loss of DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu will hurt, but the group will be strong enough to support its cast.
So where do I think the smart money should go, and who could come out of left field with the big odds for a shocker. – If you don’t want to take so many teams in bets then wait until later in the year when “to reach the playoffs” should be released and get on them then, unfortunately the only way to get on now is to back them EW.
Win It All.
Despite the good schools fighting for the top position it would be crazy to not believe that Alabama will be there at the end of the season.
- Alabama 4/1
(6 points win)
The teams to look at each way for finals consideration. Out of the rest, I believe that USC, Florida State and Ohio State should complete the playoff picture.
- USC 8/1
- Florida State 8/1
- Ohio State 12/1
(1pt ew on each)
Who could pull off a shocker? If USC does not make it out of the PAC-12 then their foe will have an outstanding shot at the title game. Washington 66/1 Paddy Power (20/1 elsewhere) seem like a good outside bet. Clemson 33/1 (18/1 elsewhere) could also return.
- Washington Huskies 66/1
- Clemson 33/1
Complete Outsiders. (0.5 pt ew)
This section is slightly tongue in cheek as it would take a miracle for any of the lower teams to reach the lofty goals of a National Championship. However in the name of large odds here is 1. Western Michigan 500/1 Paddy Power, the modern day Boise State competes in the MAC conference and has moved on from obscurity to a very good football team. I expect this team to go undefeated this year and push for consideration. If that happens and a playoff ensues anything could happen.
- Western Michigan 500/1 just for fun……
15point total stake.