College football will be played this month. Full stop.
Thanks to the glorious existence of Week 0—the sport's version of brunch and Bloody Marys to kick off the season—meaningful games with real-life point spreads are now just weeks away.
Like a full day of tailgating before a night game, we must pace ourselves. It's a marathon not a sprint. With that acknowledged, this is the appropriate time to ensure all future bets are accounted for heading into the year. If you're in search of direction in that department, you've come to the right place.
For nearly a decade, I have delivered my Locks of the Week throughout the college football season in written and video formats at Bleacher Report. I am thrilled to say that this ritual will continue during the preseason, regular season, bowl season and playoffs this year.
To kick things off, we are starting Locks of the Week early—diving into a series of preseason gambling options before the actual games begin.
This week, I'm picking my favorite conference winners on the board using odds from our friends over at DraftKings. It's part one of our three-part preview of the action leading into the start of the season.
After that? You know the drill. Every week, I'll pick my favorite games, totals and prop bets in hopes of making us all money.
We'll get there. Remember, proper pacing is crucial. With that disclaimer out of the way, here are conference championship picks I'm in on.
USC (+380, $100 bet wins $380) to Win the Pac-12
No need to ease into this one. I really like USC heading into the season. I know that we, as a collective group, have said this same sentence a time or two before. As such, I understand why you might be hesitant to share the same optimism.
But the more I look at this roster, the more I like it. It starts with quarterback Kedon Slovis, who I think has a chance to shine in a full season. Although he lost some targets on offense, he is still surrounded by plenty of quality weapons. If the offensive line can do its part—and the majority of the starters are back—this group could cook.
Arizona State and Utah are both interesting teams in the Pac-12 South. And maybe, just maybe, UCLA will take a step forward. I get a sense, however, that the Trojans could thrive in their division into the conference championship game. The schedule is plenty manageable, especially when you consider how much more explosive this team can be than the majority of its opponents.
USC is currently third on the board behind Oregon (+250) and Washington (+360). I don't just love the value here; I think this team could make a real run at the playoff.
Please delete the previous sentence if the season goes sideways.
Georgia (+225) to Win the SEC
Yes, this is a spot typically reserved for Alabama. It feels strange to suggest that another program could actually win this conference given how ritualistic it has become, although Georgia is poised to shake things up.
Although he didn’t start right away, what we saw from JT Daniels last season in Athens was encouraging. Daniels threw for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns in the team's final four games.
Helping matters, of course, is a supporting cast that is stockpiled with talent. The injury to wide receiver George Pickens (ACL) during the spring certainly hurts, but this group is loaded. New transfer Arik Gilbert is a future star, and Darnell Washington at tight end is an enormous mismatch.
In terms of coming out on top in the SEC, this schedule is conducive to winning a lot of games. And the Bulldogs' primary competition, the Florida Gators (+1600), just saw many of its biggest contributors leave.
The same can be said for Alabama, which is the first choice to win the conference at -170. Just think of the sheer talent that exited this offseason, especially on defense. While no one replaces talent with talent like Nick Saban, this is a tall order.
Georgia has the talent to compete to not just win the SEC but also a national title.
Ohio State (-190) to Win the Big Ten
And now, chalk.
For as much as Ohio State has coming back, -190 actually feels like a fair price.
I know, I know. Justin Fields is gone, and the Buckeyes have yet to officially name his replacement. But the talent that will surround this player—who is likely to be the very capable C.J. Stroud—is rather absurd.
Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave are the best one-two punch in the country at wide receiver, and it's probably not close. The offensive line has to replace some pieces, but it should be one of the best in the conference.
What excites me most about this team, however, is the defensive line. Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison and true freshman Jack Sawyer will terrorize offenses.
The schedule is not without intrigue, starting early with a home game against Oregon in September. The road slate includes visits to Indiana, Nebraska and Michigan. It's just hard for me to pinpoint anyone else in the conference that I feel confident in.
I just don't love any of the other teams in the Big Ten at their current prices. Sure, Wisconsin (+600) and Iowa (+850) figure some because they play outside of Ohio State's division. But they don't figure enough.
Could the Buckeyes lose a game? Of course.
It just feels like the talent gap between the rest of the conference is growing wider. And even in a season in which it will have to replace its most important player, the program has the perfect coach (Ryan Day) to execute the task and a roster filled with both youth and experience to see it through.
Texas (+800) to Win the Big 12
First and foremost, a disclaimer.
When I bet futures, I look for value. It's not just picking a team to win a conference; it's about finding the appropriate odds and mapping out a scenario in which said odds could deliver.
That is an important talking point when it comes to Texas. It starts with distancing oneself from the many narratives that surround this program—the expectations, the struggles and, more recently, the seemingly inevitable Big 12 departure. Although this can be challenging.
At +800, however, I'm willing to take a stab.
For as important as Sam Ehlinger felt to the program, I think the offense could be better with Casey Thompson or Hudson Card under center saddled with head coach Steve Sarkisian. Add in a superstar running back, which is precisely what Bijan Robinson is, and I feel like this group will score points.
In terms of scheduling, the Longhorns will likely decide their fate during a five-week stretch in the heart of the season. In this stretch, they play Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, at Baylor and at Iowa State. A win against the Sooners, of course, feels the most critical—as is the case most years. But going 3-1 during this stretch, which is by no means unreasonable, will likely keep this bet alive.
Texas is the third choice in the conference behind Oklahoma (-180) and Iowa State (+275). That feels right. Oklahoma is still the class of the division, but I could see Texas making a run. At +800, I'm comfortable with that.
Clemson (-750) to Win the ACC
I despise myself for this pick. Let's start there. I don't love betting massive favorites when it comes to future wagering, although I simply can't pull the trigger on North Carolina (+800), Miami (+900) or any other team.
Clemson is the class of the ACC, and the talent gap between it and the rest of the conference is enormous.
Yes, it lost some superb players, starting with Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne. But D.J. Uiagalelei should be another star at QB, and he is surrounded by gifted playmakers.
The 2021 schedule, with the exception of the opening game against Georgia, is the kind of schedule you want your team with playoff hopes to have. The most difficult conference road game?
Maybe Louisville? N.C. State? Pittsburgh? This is what we're talking about. While there are no sure things in CFB, Clemson is the closest thing we have. It's an enormous price to pay, but it's worth paying it.
Begrudgingly bet the chalk here. It doesn't feel like you will regret it.
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