I typically don’t gamble, but sometimes there is a rare opportunity where it's fun to just throw out some money just in case. My buddy Dan and I love these situations. For instance, when reading the odds for the NCAA basketball tournament, I may announce that SW Nevada A&M is 67,000,000,000:1 to win the whole thing.
His response? “I’d put a buck on 'em.”
Maybe it's exciting because of the chance to win $67 billion. But maybe it's the fun of rooting for the impossible, the pride of “calling it” when no one else saw it coming—and yeah, the chance for a little payday doesn’t hurt.
I give you five preposterous scenarios. You choose which one is going to bring home the bacon.
Put a buck on ‘em to: Finish in the top 25
This Golden Eagles squad is very interesting. Larry Fedora is entering his second year as the head coach and will have plenty of tools to use, much like his days as offensive coordinator at OK State.
DeAndre Brown is the best player you’ve never heard of, a 6’6” monster at WR who caught for 1,100 yards and 12 TDs as a freshman. The former five-star recruit will once again join Southern Miss’ all-time leading rusher, Damion Fletcher, to form a dangerous offense. Even if Fletcher’s legal troubles don’t resolve, USM wont be hurting, as true freshman RB Kendrick Hardy has SEC-caliber skills.
The C-USA is certainly getting better, with teams like UCF and SMU on the rise. However, I think that Southern Miss is the closest to making a breakthrough for the conference. It is not out of the realm of possibility for this team to go 10-2 and finish ranked nationally. But make sure you have your bets in before the team travels to Kansas on Sept. 26. If they win in Lawrence, everyone will know Southern Miss is for real.
Put a buck on ‘em to: Win the ACC.
It's been a moderate progression for UNC under Butch Davis, who went 4-8 in his first year but took a step in the right direction in 2008, going 8-4. One thing that can be said for Davis is that he's brought in the prospects. In two out of his three years, Carolina’s recruiting class has been in the top 20. The time to win is now, as some of his earlier recruits, stud DT Marvin Austin and towering WR Dwight Jones, have matured.
The strength of this team may be on defense, where Davis has forged a linebacking crew that makes even his former Canes look slow. Sophomore LB Zach Brown has been clocked with sub-4.3 speed—and he’s not afraid to lay the wood either.
This will be a big year, as the Tar Heels have built depth underneath a handful of standout players. They will certainly have to play at a high level with top-five Va Tech, gritty Ga Tech, and an improved Miami team in their division. But I think they can at least make the ACC title game—if not take home the hardware.
Put a buck on ‘em to: Upset a top-25 team.
Hailing from the Sun Belt Conference, the Owls have quietly become a decent little team down in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Their success is underscored by the fact that this team did not even have a football program, on any level, until 2000—when 164 players attended the first-ever FAU practice. For crying out loud, my high school played games in their stadium! (That is not a compliment for my high school.)
Now, just nine years later, they are coming off two straight bowl wins. It’s a perfect time for Ol’ Howard Schnellenberger to kick it up a notch with a nationally relevant win.
They are depleted on defense, losing a player with one of my favorite names, FAU all-time leading tackler LB Frantz Joseph. More worrisome is that Schnelly will have to reconstruct most of the offensive line. However, veteran QB Rusty Smith will have his top four WRs from 2008 at his disposal along with utility H-back William Rose (think Chris Cooley with Def Leppard hair).
They may only have a few shots at a top-25 team, as they visit Nebraska to open the season and then travel to South Carolina, both of whom might be ranked come game time. Even if those are not top-25 opponents, I think FAU may finish strong enough to play in a bowl against one—and that, my friends, is why it's worthy of your dollar.
Put a buck on ‘em to: Make a bowl game.
This might be the biggest long shot of them all. One can certainly understand why the team colors are black and blue. Consider: Duke has averaged 1.5 wins a year since 2000 and has endured three winless seasons in that time frame. Going into the 2002 season, the Blue Devils were marinating in a 23-game losing streak. They haven’t even sniffed a bowl berth since 1994—that’s 15 straight Christmas vacations at home.
However, with the new hire of David Cutcliffe as head coach, the winds of change seem to be blowing. Well, it may be more of a light breeze, but in 2008 they were just seven points away from bowl eligibility. That’s progress.
Despite its woes, this team has some talent, beginning with three-year starting QB Thaddeus Lewis. Defense is a strength of this team, which bodes well for underdog, grind-it-out wins. Add in speedy freshman RB Desmond Scott to provide a spark, and the Blue Devils may be on TV rather than watching it this winter.
Put a buck on ‘em to: Win the BCS National Championship.
Clearly, it’s a long shot of long shots. Clearly.
However, the real challenge for a team like TCU is not achieving a high preseason ranking (check) nor having the talent to go undefeated (check), but fighting the BCS bias, which hits harder than Ivan Drago.
While Utah’s wins against Michigan, Oregon St., TCU, and BYU weren’t good enough last year, TCU may enjoy the DEFCON-1 type concern that is sweeping the college football nation. The powers that be are finally aware of the near criminal treatment of smaller schools, and they may be ready to usher a non-BCS team into the championship game.
TCU has games against Clemson and Virginia to prove their chops before the not-as-wimpy-as-you-think Mountain West schedule that includes BYU and Utah. Should it go undefeated, with DE Jerry Hughes leading the way, this team will get a ticket to Pasadena ahead of a one-loss BCS team.
That’s all the team can ask for—a chance. A chance to win the most improbable football championship of all time.