Way-too-early betting preview: 2019 College Football Playoff contenders
With the College Football Playoff in the books, it’s time to shift our attention to the 2018 season and look at next year’s potential title contenders. As national signing day, spring practices, and offseason activities continue, The Action Network will keep readers informed on all things college football betting.
Advanced statistics updated following the conclusion of the college football regular season from Football Outsiders.
Recruiting rankings provided by 247sports.
All future odds via Westgate Superbook on Jan. 8. Other books should post numbers soon. As always, shop around for the best numbers.
The Playoff Contenders
Alabama Crimson Tide (2018 odds: +250)
Who is back: QB Jalen Hurts, QB Tua Tagovailoa, 4 OL starters
Who is gone: Jeremy Pruitt (defensive coordinator), Rashaan Evans (LB), early NFL entrants
Rundown: Different year, same story, as the Crimson Tide are once again favored to win the national title. There are plenty of storylines to track here, from a handful of players leaving early for the NFL Draft (Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Minkah Fitzpatrick) to Tua Tagovailoa challenging Jalen Hurts for the starting quarterback position. There is no player that cannot be replaced by a blue-chip prospect waiting in the wings, as Alabama has finished No. 1 in the final recruiting rankings every year since 2010. Not that they need the help, but the deck is also stacked in Alabama’s favor from a scheduling standpoint next season. The Tide opens the season with a Lamar Jackson-less Louisville team, draw Tennessee and Missouri from the SEC East, and get a bye or FCS team before games against LSU and Auburn.
Georgia Bulldogs (2018 odds: +800)
Who is back: Jacob Fromm (QB), D’Andre Swift (RB), J.R. Reed (DB), 4 OL starters
Who is gone: Sony Michel (RB), Nick Chubb (RB), NFL early entrants (Roquan Smith)
Rundown: Kirby Smart has put together some fantastic recruiting classes to keep the roster full of talent. Expect Georgia, currently No. 1 in the 2018 recruiting rankings, to be a staple in the College Football Playoff picture for years to come. Georgia also has a manageable 2018 schedule, with nonconference games against Middle Tennessee, UMass and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs avoid Alabama out of the SEC West, and a trip to LSU could be their only hurdle. Despite some key losses, I think the 8-1 number provides value, as not much stands in Georgia’s way from making the de facto national quarterfinal more commonly known as the SEC Championship Game.
Clemson Tigers (2018 odds: +600)
Who is back: Kelly Bryant (QB), Travis Etienne (RB), Tavien Feaster (RB)
Who is gone: 3 OL starters, NFL early entrants (mostly defensive)
Rundown: Clemson had an excellent season, winning the ACC Championship before falling in the Sugar Bowl to Alabama. The one noticeable stat that may have cost them a return to the national title game was explosive plays, as the loss of Deshaun Watson dropped the Tigers to 119th in IsoPPP in 2017. Keep tabs on the No. 1 pro-style quarterback recruit in the 2018 class, Trevor Lawrence, who signed with Clemson during the early period. No matter who lines up under center, the Tigers will need to replace most of its production on the offensive line. Clemson may also have to replace a large chunk of an elite defensive line that many expect will suffer from early entries to the NFL draft. Clemson has road trips to Texas A&M and Florida State, with the latter perhaps deciding which team will represent the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship Game. Ultimately, I don’t see much value in this number, especially with the amount of turnover expected on the offensive line and all levels of the defense.
Oklahoma Sooners (2018 odds: +1800)
Who is back: Rodney Anderson (RB), Marquise Brown (WR), Kyler Murray (QB)
Who is gone: Baker Mayfield (QB), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (DE), Mark Andrews (TE)
Rundown: The loss of Baker Mayfield will sting, but the Oklahoma offense will ultimately be in good hands with Kyler Murray under center. In fact, he could add a different dimension to the Oklahoma offense, as Murray spent his offseason using his speed on the base paths for the Sooners’ baseball team.
— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) May 25, 2017
Oklahoma must also replace their starting left tackle and plenty of players on defense. The Sooners should come out as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, but a conference finale at West Virginia against a possible Heisman contender in Will Grier could keep them out of the dance. We will know plenty about the Sooners after the first two weeks of play, as Oklahoma opens with Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin) and UCLA (Chip Kelly). While 18-1 may look tempting on the surface, keep in mind that the rest of the Big 12 may take a step up in talent, and the OU schedule certainly presents challenges. I will pass here, and dig deeper into other potential Big 12 futures, such as Iowa State and West Virginia.
Ohio State (2018 odds: +800)
Who is back: J.K. Dobbins (RB), Mike Weber (RB), Nick Bosa (DL)
Who is gone: QB J.T. Barrett, 3 OL starters
Rundown: Most believe Urban Meyer will hold a quarterback competition between a number of talented players, but after the Buckeyes got a taste of QB Dwayne Haskins this season, it’s hard to envision anybody else getting the nod to open up next season as QB1.
Not to downplay the day J.T. Barrett had, but this pass by Dwayne Haskins… pic.twitter.com/8OlvIDLC8T
— Garrett Stepien (@GarrettStepien) September 23, 2017
Whoever wins the job under center will have the benefit of working with a receiving corps that will stay intact. They will experience departures along the offensive line and on defense, but Ohio State is one of the select few programs that can simply reload each year. An early season test at AT&T Stadium against TCU should see the Buckeyes favored by a touchdown. A win would set the Buckeyes up nicely for a trip to the Playoff, as they have a favorable Big Ten schedule that consists of Nebraska, Minnesota and Purdue as the cross-division games. Michigan will also have to make the trip to the Horseshoe, which leaves a road battle against Michigan State as their one true test in 2018. The opening 8-1 odds may be the best number we see all season, as the Buckeyes’ hype should continue to build up unit their games against Michigan State and Michigan.
The Playoff Value Teams
Wisconsin Badgers (2018 odds: +2500)
Who is back: Jonathan Taylor (RB), Alex Hornbook (QB)
Who is gone: Troy Fumagalli (TE), Nick Nelson (CB)
Rundown: With an offensive line that runs two deep at every position in 2018, it’s hard not to like Wisconsin to repeat what they accomplished in 2017. The Badgers absolutely mauled Miami in the trenches in the Orange Bowl, and should continue that momentum next season with a number of their best skill position players returning. I think their schedule sets them up for success, as road games at depleted Northwestern and Penn State will not be as tough as they sound on paper. If the Badgers can pull out a road win against an offensively inept Michigan team, I think they run the table in the regular season again. A lot of value at 25-1, especially considering Wisconsin can avoid the two best teams in the conference in Michigan State and Ohio State until the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State Spartans (2018 odds: +2500)
Who is back: LJ Scott (RB), Brian Lewerke (QB), 4 OL starters
Who is gone: Chris Frey (LB)
Rundown: The Spartans have everything you want in a preseason future. They return 10 of their 11 top tacklers from the No. 4 S&P+ Defense, four offensive linemen, their starting quarterback, running back, and a coach with the experience of winning the conference and competing in the College Football Playoff. The schedule is kind as well. Michigan State gets Herm Edwards in his second game at Arizona State, and the Spartans miss Wisconsin out of the Big Ten West. The biggest tests for Michigan State will come against Michigan and Ohio State, but they will play both contests in East Lansing. Westgate posted a very sharp 25-1 opener, so I will continue to shop for a better number before making an investment on the Spartans.
The Playoff Group of Five Challenger
Boise State (2018 odds: +10000)
Who is back: Brett Rypien (QB), Alexander Mattison (RB), 4 OL starters
Who is gone: Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Cedrick Wilson (WR)
Rundown: The Broncos’ defense, which ranked 30th in S&P+ in 2017, will return 10 of 11 starters in 2018. With a loaded offense set to return, Boise State may represent the best chance to get a Group of Five team into the College Football Playoff for the first time. UCF loses plenty of defensive players, and the 2017 Knights never had the schedule to get the necessary bump in the playoff rankings. However, Boise State has a trip to Oklahoma State early in the 2018 season, and the Pokes must fill big shoes at quarterback and wide receiver. The Broncos’ conference road games should present no real issues, and they will play their toughest opponents at home (San Diego State, Fresno State). For those of you looking for a long shot future if chaos ensues, consider investing in a Boise State team that should dominate any Group of Five playoff discussion next season.
The Playoff Ultimate Darkhorse
Florida Atlantic (2018 odds: +50000)
Who is back: Devin Singletary (RB), top 12 returning tacklers
Who is gone: 3 OL starters
Rundown: If Florida Atlantic played Oklahoma tomorrow, I would make the Sooners 14.5 point favorites on their home field. We will see that exact matchup in Norman on Sept. 1 during the first week of college football next season, which sets up well for an FAU team returning a plethora of starters against an OU team that will need to replace a number of key players. If Florida Atlantic can pull off the upset against Oklahoma, the current 500-1 will plummet. The Owls also have a trip scheduled to Orlando to take on Central Florida. While the Knights now have more name recognition after this season, they will need to replace most of their front seven, while dealing with the coaching transition from Scott Frost to Josh Heupel. FAU’s Conference USA schedule contains a number of road games against bowl teams from this season (FIU, Marshall, North Texas, Middle Tennessee), which could potentially help get the CFP Committee’s attention if they run the table.
Images via USA Today Sports