Teams Whose National Championship Chances Are Undervalued by Vegas Lines

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Teams Whose National Championship Chances Are Undervalued by Vegas Lines
Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Vegas doesn't often make mistakes. When it acts, it acts with reason. Whenever a line that looks anomalous gets posted, you must pause and take a second to question: Why does it look anomalous? Is it supposed to stick out as anomalous?

Am I slowly being lured into a trap? 

In this regard, it is hard to name with confidence any teams that Vegas has undervalued. However, the exercise takes place every year.

Hindsight tells us that Auburn and Missouri would have been good bets last season. Even Florida State, which dominated from the first to the final whistle, was not one of the favorites back in June.

Here are three teams that might make Vegas look stupid—if that is even possible—come January. One is a bona fide favorite whose numbers seems a bit inflated, one is a name-brand program whose reputation has fallen back a bit and one is a scrappy upstart with enough young talent and the lack of competition to make a run.

Check out the odds at Vegas Insider, and sound off below with whom you think has been undervalued.

 

Alabama 7/1

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Think of what these odds really mean. If the 2014 season was played seven times, would Alabama win at least one national title?

The smart money probably says yes.

Alabama did, after all, win three of the final five BCS National Championships. If not for a late-game collapse against Auburn last season—and make no mistake, that's what it was—it would have had a shot at winning a fourth. It might have even been favored to do so.

There are questions at quarterback. We know this. If you think the stories about Jacob Coker and Blake Sims have been overblown this winter, just get ready for what will happen at SEC Media Days and in the run-up to the season. It is all anybody will be talking about.

A healthy part of that is justified. Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and Alabama doesn't have a proven commodity to play it. That is the reason, ostensibly, that you can get the Tide at 7-to-1 when they usually cost a great deal more. Uncertainty.

What's not uncertain, though, is the rest of that Alabama offense.

T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake might form the best backfield trio in America; the offensive line has a high ceiling and a great coach in Mario Cristobal; and according to Charles Hollis of AL.com, pass-catchers Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard were voted to the All-SEC first team by league Sports Information Directors.

On defense, the combination of tackle A'Shawn Robinson, linebacker Trey DePriest and safety Landon Collins gives the Tide a potential All-American at every level. Beyond them there are questions, but Alabama has finished first in the country in recruiting the past four seasons, according to the 247Sports team rankings.

Do you really want to bet against Nick Saban and Kirby Smart coaching a defense filled with 4- and 5-star recruits?

Me neither. I would take Alabama on a neutral field against anyone.

(And no, commenters, I am not a fan of the team.)

 

 

USC 40/1

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

This seems like a pretty high number.

Despite coaching turmoil and uneven play at quarterback, USC was quietly one of the best teams in America last season. It finished No. 11 on the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, two spots ahead of last year's Pac-12 South champion (Arizona State) and four spots ahead of this year's tentative Pac-12 South favorite (UCLA).

And both of those "despites" should be fixed. New head coach Steve Sarkisian comes over from Washington to provide some stability on the sidelines, and Cody Kessler—who, it should be mentioned, got better almost every week last season—has a full year of experience under his belt and looks like one of the Pac-12's best QBs.

And man, what about those skill players?

Nelson Agholor is one of the favorites to win the Biletnikoff Award, and he is just the tip of the receiving iceberg.

Sophomore Darreus Rogers, a practice favorite who has always been nicked up with injuries, appeared to be stronger than ever this spring and is drawing some flattering comparisons.

USA TODAY Sports

"He kinda reminds me of (NFL great) Sterling Sharpe," said receivers coach Tee Martin, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports (then with CBSSports.com). "He really competes and challenges for balls (in traffic), has great hands and is a great route runner."

On defense, end/tackle Leonard Williams is one of the best players (if not the single best player) in the country, checking in at No. 3 overall on Rob Rang's first 2015 big board at CBSSports.com.

There is some intriguing young talent at linebacker, and the secondary, led by cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Su'a Cravens, was ranked No. 3 in the country in Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview.

The only thing holding USC back is the offensive line, and on that front, bringing in new position coach Tim Drevno could have a major impact. Drevno served as the O-line for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2013, molding that unit into (probably) the best in the NFL.

At 40-to-1 odds, I am willing to bet he can make a difference.

 

North Carolina 110/1

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

North Carolina got off to a disastrous start last season, losing five of its first six games including a 55-31 beat-down on its home turf against Conference-USA foe East Carolina. Woof.

But things turned around in the second half of the year, when UNC won six of its final seven games—including five in a row—before barely losing to Duke in the regular-season finale.

In 2014, the Tar Heels could prove to be a lot like Missouri last season. They have two capable quarterbacks in Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky, a deep group of running backs, some good receivers and a scrappy upstart defense, and they play in the (much) weaker division of a power conference.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote the following of North Carolina when the odds were first released, calling them a good value bet even when the number was 75-to-1 instead of 110-to-1:

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.

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.

Yes, Adam, those days are dead and gone. But 110-to-1 is not the worst consolation one could think of—especially with a high-upside team such as UNC and a high-upside coach such as Larry Fedora.

Why not take a stab and let it ride?

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