March Madness is upon us, which means college basketball to most people. However, there are a few strange people out there who spend March working on college football power rating adjustments, projecting win totals and looking for value in the futures market. I happen to be one of those strange folks. After the Sun Belt and Mountain West recently released the last pending schedules, I projected point spreads for every game and win totals for every team.
Once you start assigning point spreads, it’s pretty easy to see why a team like Alabama is priced around +220 for the National Title.
When looking at college football futures, it’s important to consider which games will serve as a steppingstone to the College Football Playoff. Generally, Power 5 conference championships are a good starting point. With a good set of power ratings and win total projections, picking futures in March for next January becomes possible.
Below you will find three longshots that I have personally invested in. I also briefly touch on my potential hedge strategy, which is critical when investing in such longshots.
Michigan State 60/1
There is plenty to like about Michigan State heading into 2018. The Spartans rank first in overall Returning Production entering the season. That includes QB Brain Lewerke, RB LJ Scott, and almost every defender from the fourth ranked S&P+ Defense from a season ago. The only key contributor they will need to replace is second-team All-Big Ten center Brian Allen. There have been some changes with the assistant coaches, especially on the defensive side of the ball. However, those new coaches all have previous experience at Michigan State, even the new “Freshman Coordinator” position held by Don Treadwell.
Michigan State’s schedule even sets up favorably. Sparty should roll in nonconference play against Utah State, Arizona State, and Central Michigan. Conference road trips to Indiana and Maryland along with home tilts against Northwestern, Purdue, and Rutgers also look like wins. The Big Ten East is the toughest division in the nation, but Michigan State fortunately plays two of its three toughest opponents at home. Penn State serves as its toughest road trip. Even with a first loss at Penn State or at home to Michigan, a victory in East Lansing over Ohio State may win the East, which would should put a one-loss Sparty team in the College Football Playoff.
I will wait for that first loss to come before implementing a hedge strategy. Make sure you shop around for the best number. For example, Westgate has 60/1 on Michigan State, while 5Dimes has 35/1. That is a huge difference, especially in regard to hedge flexibility.
Those of you who listened to episode 33 of our Degen and Juice podcast this week already know about this one.
The marriage of Kevin Sumlin to Khalil Tate should be music to the ears of Arizona fans, alumni, and investors. Sumlin has always done well with mobile quarterbacks, as he simply knows how to get them in the right offensive sets to maximize their potential. Tate will have a bevy of weapons returning to his arsenal, including RB JJ Taylor, WR Tony Ellison, and WR Shun Brown.
Defensively, Arizona returns plenty of freshmen from a unit that ranked 23rd in the nation in takeaways. This unit should get better at limiting high-powered Pac-12 offenses from staying on the field, which ultimately keeps the ball out of Tate’s hands. The Wildcats should be double-digit favorites in five of their first six games. A visit from USC on Sept. 29 will provide the first real test. Similar to the Sparty future, the goal is to have Arizona win the Pac-12 South with only one loss.
Speaking of which, I think the Pac-12 South is completely up for grabs. In fact, I have the top teams all separated by just 5.5 points. With no Washington and Stanford on the schedule, I can’t pass up on such a huge number with the best player in the division. I will wait until the first loss of the season before I even consider any type of hedge strategy. At a price of 400/1 (currently at 5Dimes), there are various ways that this future can profit.
My love for Dan Mullen knows no boundaries. Serving as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator, coaching Tim Tebow, keeping Mississippi State out of the basement every year, and putting Dak Prescott on the map all factor into my man crush. Mullen is exactly what this Florida program needed after Jim McElwain’s love-hate relationship with alumni and ex-offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s failure to make necessary offensive adjustments. Florida was a toxic environment, as illustrated by the multiple suspensions and embarrassing losses.
Mullen will provide the one element that the Gators have been missing for years … an offensive identity. Florida is probably a year or two away, but that doesn’t mean 100/1 (Westgate) won’t present an opportunity to make money.
We will get our first real view of what Mullen decides to do with the offense in the Sept. 8 opener against Kentucky, including whether Feleipe Franks or Emory Jones is under center. Mullen will be very familiar with his toughest opponents in the first half of the season. Former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is the new coach at Tennessee. Mullen’s offense gave Alabama’s defense everything it could handle in last year’s seven-point loss. Mississippi State averaged seven plays per possession, which neither Clemson nor Georgia could do. Florida travels to Mississippi State on Sept. 29. The Cowbells will be deafening, but probably not enough to overcome Mullen’s familiarity with his former team.
Assuming the Gators are undefeated heading into the LSU game, I still will not consider hedging. Their season should come down to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against Georgia in Jacksonville on Oct. 27. That game could ultimately serve as the tiebreaker for the SEC East. Georgia should be favored by anywhere from 9.5 to 14 points. If Florida can pull off the upset, we may be sitting with a huge ticket headed into the SEC Championship.
Photo via Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports