Early Best Bets for the First Season of College Football Playoff Era

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Early Best Bets for the First Season of College Football Playoff Era
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The dust is only beginning to settle on the season that was, the haze making it difficult to see beyond your hand. But you can already wager hard-earned dollars on which team will win the College Football Playoff in 2015.

Of course you can. There’s money to be made on such bets for the sportsbooks willing to post them, doing so without a clear picture of what most teams will look like come fall.

With announcements and key pieces mostly in place or moving on, the rosters are beginning to take shape. And with no college football for the foreseeable future, you’re likely eyeing these odds like the demonstration meat tray that rolls by at your favorite steakhouse.

It’s not just about the talent. It’s also about the schedule—an enormous piece of this pie—and a variety of factors contribute to the likelihood of a championship run, including the new playoff format. This exercise is also about value, because there's not much of it to be found at the very top of the odds board.

The online sportsbook Bovada.lv has posted its national championship odds board for next season, all of which can be seen on the college football blog Kegs 'n Eggs. It’s early—this cannot be stressed enough—but it’s never too early to handicap a delectable favorite, a value play and a bomber (basically the next Auburn) when it comes to next year’s College Football Playoff odds.

 

Navigating the Chalks: Embracing the Neon at the Top

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So you want to back a favorite, but not the favorite. You want some value, but you're unwilling to stray too far.

Oregon opened up at a value-packed price of 12/1, although those odds were quickly bet down to 9/1. This puts the Ducks behind only Florida State and Alabama, both of which are a great distance ahead of the Ducks.

Does 9/1 sound good? It should, and likely won’t last long.

The two most important offseason checklist items have already been checked off in Oregon’s favor. Quarterback Marcus Mariota and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will both return next season.

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While Mariota’s return will garner the headlines—and understandably so— Ekpre-Olomu is just as significant of a weapon in a passing conference. He gives the Ducks a legit shutdown talent at the position, a luxury most teams simply don’t have.

The Pac-12 features four teams in the top 15 when it comes to odds, and it is expected to be excellent once again. The good news for Oregon, however, is the schedule could be worse when compared to others, especially when you look at what Stanford and UCLA have in store.

An early fascinating game against Michigan State—albeit a Sparty team that will be looking for a new defense—will likely set the tone. A matchup at UCLA in early October and a home game against Stanford on the first of November also stand out early.

This is not an easy path, especially given some of the troubles Oregon had had against big, bruising teams, but it could also be much worse. And given the talent Oregon will return at running back and some of the intriguing pieces still to develop in the front seven, this team looks loaded yet again.

If the Ducks are going to get over that hump, this seems like the year to do so. And you give me Marcus Mariota and 9/1, and I’m not going to run with it as fast as I can. (Note: not very fast, but the effort will be there).

 

In Search of Better Odds: Let’s Target a Bulldog

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So you want more value, and who can blame you. Sure, 9/1 is fine and all, but you’re looking to cash in on something a little nicer, maybe to buy that sauna you’ve been wanting. You’ve wanted one, right?

Well, let’s dip to the next tier.

Keep in mind, there are reason these odds escalate to the point they do. There are questions and concerns, enough to keep them a comfortable distance from the Alabamas of the world.

A team that knows plenty about Alabama and is down the board a bit is Georgia. And while the 2013 season is one Mark Richt will gladly keep near the back of the trophy case—or maybe just give it to his cousin as a gag gift—2014 could be a much different story.

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The Bulldogs check in at 25/1, tying them with Baylor and South Carolina at No. 11 on the odds board. There are questions certainly about this team—the quarterback and whether the youth on defense will mature for starters—but there is also optimism.

For one, running back Todd Gurley is back, as are a helping of players who endured injuries in 2013. The entire defense, which learned on the fly, will also return talent after gaining valuable experience.

The schedule is not a cakewalk, but it sets up favorably by SEC standards. The Bulldogs draw Clemson and South Carolina at the start of the season—with a bye sprinkled between—and both teams will be replacing key players at a variety of positions. Georgia also gets Auburn, but it will get the Tigers at home.

Of course, cashing in this ticket will require quarterback Hutson Mason to build upon his finish to 2013 in place of the injured Aaron Murray. Unsurprisingly, there was both good and bad.

The team will have to be more than good in order for Georgia to enter this conversation, but there’s plenty of good to be found on the roster. Also, 25/1 might be worth finding out just where the ceiling is for this team.

 

In Search of the Next Auburn: Baby Blue is a Lovely Color to Back

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So 9/1 didn’t cut it and 25/1—while a step in the right direction—didn’t do it for you, either. You want the big splash; a team that could mirror Auburn’s miraculous surge and then take it one step further.

You also want the luxury sauna, the one that reaches temperatures most home setups won’t. Well, let’s keep going, then.

Last year, Auburn opened at 200/1 at Bovada in early January, bouncing up to 500/1 in some places. It nearly cashed in on these improbable odds, too, despite operating against historical trends that tell us these kinds of runs don’t happen.

For this season, North Carolina won’t be available at 200/1. At 75/1, however, the Tar Heels are intriguing and loaded with value. It’s a long shot, of course, hence the huge price. But there are a handful of items working in UNC’s favor.

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For one, the College Football Playoff will open new doors. No longer a hunt for the two best teams in the sport, the four-team bracket will provide others a chance to play their way in. That’s significant, and it’s also why the days of live 150/1 and 200/1 shots for these bets are likely dead.

The good news for UNC is it appears to be trending up. Larry Fedora’s bunch won six of the last seven games in 2013.

It will lose playmaking tight end Eric Ebron—an impossible weapon to replace—but it will also return a lot of key parts, especially on offense. Youth will be on its side, and so will uncertainty with the rest of the conference. The Tar Heels won’t have to play Florida State during the regular season, which is an enormous plus. They will play on the road at Notre Dame and Clemson, although these teams have ample questions heading into the offseason.

The rest of the schedule features winnable games, although that depends on which UNC team shows up. If it’s the one that lost 55-31 to East Carolina, this long shot won’t last long. If it can build on its strong second half and win a few coin-flip games, then perhaps 75/1 will look like a fascinating steal as November approaches.

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