Best College Football Value Bets to Throw Down This Summer
If the offseason is a tunnel, we have come to its darkest point. There is no time with less relevant college football news than mid-June and early July. This is as bad as it gets.
However, because we have made it through the false illumination of recruiting season and spring practice, being in the darkness does not seem so bad. For the first time since we entered this tunnel six months ago—since we were forced to take the on-ramp in Pasadena—we can properly see the light on its other side.
One of the rays that is irradiating from that light is the release of early prop bets. Whether they be player-, team- or even Week 1-specific, these bets give us something to talk about, argue over and—if you live in Nevada, of course!—wager on in the run-up to the season.
Deriving value from these numbers is a difficult exercise. A sharp would recommend some sort of algorithm or power number, and a square would bet with his heart. I fall somewhere between these two extremes, preferring to think like a sharp—I understand the basic tenets of gambling—but not having access to their super-arcane data.
Which means these bets were derived from a combination of the two. I looked at the rosters, the schedules and the advanced stats to determine where some value might lie, but I also, in a couple cases, went with my gut or on a whim. Why not?
Sound off below and tell me where you disagree.
Alabama to Make the College Football Playoff (5-4)
Yes, Alabama has some questions at quarterback. Big questions. Questions that involve a presumed starter—Florida State transfer Jacob Coker—who Nick Saban admits he hasn't seen "throw a ball since high school," according to George Schroeder of USA Today.
But this is still Alabama. This is still the program whose last four recruiting classes have finished first, first, first and first on the 247Sports team rankings. And it still has Saban on the sidelines.
If not for a late-game collapse against Auburn last season, the Crimson Tide would likely have played for their third consecutive national title and fourth in five years. And a lot of talent returns.
Their running backs, receivers and offensive line could all make a case for being the best in the country, and their defense has a potential All-American at every level with A'Shawn Robinson along the line, Trey DePriest at linebacker and Landon Collins in the secondary.
Getting 5-4 odds to make the Playoff are not great, but it's better than you could have gotten on 'Bama the past few seasons.
And this team, despite Coker, is not discernibly worse.
LSU to MISS the College Football Playoff (2-7)
How much attrition is too much attrition?
LSU might be raring to find out.
The entire Tigers defense, essentially, declared early for the NFL draft for the second straight season, leaving the unit loaded with talent (as always) but thinner on experience than it's been in a long while.
Last year, the offense was able to compensate for a distinctly un-John Chavis-like defense, thanks to talented players such as Zach Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
This year, all five of those guys are gone.
There's a distinct chance that LSU's top passer (Brandon Harris), rusher (Leonard Fournette) and receiver (Malachi Dupre) are all true freshmen this season. Having all three happen is unlikely, but a betting man might wager on hitting two, which is terrifying.
The Tigers will still be good, borderline great considering context.
But they aren't going to win the SEC.
Miami UNDER 7.5 Wins (6-5)
Miami is a team with a storied history and two of the best skill players in the country—running back Duke Johnson and receiver Stacy Coley.
Unfortunately, it is also a team without a defense and that lost its presumed starting quarterback (Ryan Williams) to an ACL tear this spring. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen—the younger brother of Greg Olsen—did not look up to par during the UM spring game, and his biggest competition this fall will be a true freshman in Brad Kaaya.
Getting an underdog value at 7.5 wins is intriguing. What you're betting on, essentially, is that there are five losses on the schedule.
I see eight potential losses with varying degrees of certainty on UM's schedule, starting with Week 1 at Louisville and continuing at Nebraska, vs. Duke, at Georgia Tech, vs. Cincinnati, at Virginia Tech, vs. North Carolina and at Florida State.
The Hurricanes won't lose all of those games—they aren't finishing 4-8 or worse—but with the juice on my side, I'm willing to wager on 3-5.
Or, if they find a way to go 4-4, I don't think it's crazy to say Virginia, Pittsburgh or even Arkansas State could hand them an upset loss.
With the juice at 6-5, I am all about that.
[cue Miami fans calling me an idiot...now]
Dak Prescott to Win the Heisman Trophy (33-1)
The Dak Prescott bandwagon is not empty, but it is not nearly as full as it will be in three or four months.
Hop on while there's still some room.
In fact, hop on the Mississippi State bandwagon while there's still some room. Dan Mullen has gotten this team to four consecutive bowl games despite playing against a stacked deck of talent in the SEC West. But this is the most talented team he has had in Starkville, and the Bulldogs could win enough games—something in the nine or 10 range—to foster a Heisman Trophy candidate.
And Prescott himself is good enough to be that guy.
He finished No. 10 in ESPN's Total QBR metric last season, one spot ahead of AJ McCarron (the Heisman runner-up), three spots ahead of Braxton Miller (the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year) and four spots ahead of Teddy Bridgewater (Teddy Bridgewater).
With his top four receivers—chief among them Jameon Lewis—all returning and the dual-threat skills to put up giant yardage numbers, Prescott has the makings of a bona fide Heisman dark horse.
At a number like 33-1, it is hard to turn that down.
If you can get him at an even better number, which I believe you can at some places, don't even hesitate.
North Carolina over 7.5 Wins (5-7)
Even with the juice going against it, 7.5 wins does not seem like enough for a North Carolina team that covered (and won) five of its final six games in 2013 and returns a whole mess of talent in 2014.
Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer said this "might just be the best value on the board," going on to explain:
The offense should be Larry Fedora's best yet; it simply comes down to taking that next step and winning games that haven't gone their way over the last few years. Even if just one or two of those games go in the Tar Heels' favor, the over should be feasible.
The schedule is difficult but not unmanageable, especially given the plain-to-see absence of Florida State. A revenge-fueled road trip to East Carolina and a tough game at Notre Dame present problems in nonconference play, but this team is good enough to overcome.
There are five losses, technically, sitting on the Tar Heels schedule, so I would understand backing away. But if you have faith in the roster Larry Fedora has assembled—and in Coach Fedora himself—it is easy to look at this number and see the glass half full.
Which is precisely how I see it.
Northwestern to Win the Big Ten (30-1)
Will Northwestern win the Big Ten this season? Probably not. With a gun to my head and all teams getting the same odds, I would choose Ohio State in a heartbeat. Michigan State would be a close second. Everyone one else would be a distant third-through-14th.
But can Northwestern win the Big Ten this season? Sure. And if you played the season out 30 times, I contend that it would at least once.
Which is why I think this bet gives great value.
I wrote at greater length about Northwestern last Friday, and I won't rehash my point with the same amount of detail here. Just know that the Wildcats play in the (much) easier Big Ten West, do not have Michigan State or Ohio State on their schedule and return more senior starters than every power conference team in America.
If they can edge out Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa to reach the conference title game, they will be rightfully favored to lose by more than a touchdown. But anything can happen in a 60-minute sample.
And Northwestern is due for some luck.
TCU over 6.5 Wins (6-5)
TCU was a train wreck last season, turning preseason optimism into postseason cynicism and forcing us to consider whether its move to the Big 12 was a case of biting off more than it could chew.
I, myself, was duped by the Horned Frogs, whom I thought would win the Big 12 and play in a BCS bowl. So much for that.
But I'm not yet ready to quit on Gary Patterson. Not by a long shot.
The addition of Matt Joeckel, who came over from Texas A&M, gives TCU some options under center. He and Trevone Boykin are both capable of running this offense, and the latter is also capable of sliding out to join a deep and experienced group of receivers.
Devonte Fields never looked like himself in 2013, owing much of that to injuries and an early season suspension. But he was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, and he leads a defense that should again be one of the best in the conference.
The talent is there for this team to win seven games, and the schedule looks nice also. Nonconference games against Samford, Minnesota and at SMU should result in a 3-0 record—one would hope—at which point only four Big 12 wins would be needed to hit the over.
Don't mind if I do.
Utah State (+6.5) at Tennessee in Week 1
Not every Week 1 line has been released, but of the ones that have, Utah State getting nearly a touchdown at Tennessee jumped out.
Jumped far out.
According to the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, Utah State was the No. 17 team in the country in 2012 and the No. 32 team in 2013. By the same metric, Tennessee was No. 57 and No. 72, respectively.
And yes, the Aggies lose a lot of talent, and the Vols bring a lot of blue-chip young players in. I get that. But the Aggies also return star quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who missed most of last year after blowing out his ACL and MCL against BYU.
Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer called Keeton the "most exciting talent" in college football in an excellent feature from May. Giving him close to a touchdown, on the road, against a team his team has been significantly better than for the past 24 months is ludicrous.
But I'll happily scoop up the number.