College Football Best Bets: Our Staff’s Top Futures & Win Totals for 2021
Alika Jenner/Getty Images. Pictured: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Football is back.
It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for. Now, after having a summer to recap the entire 2020 season and look up and down teams’ rosters for 2021, we can use what we’ve learned to our advantage.
Our staff has done exactly that. They’ve listed their 11 favorite futures and win totals bets for the new season, along with a complete breakdown for each and every section.
So, let’s celebrate the beginning of the new season now before cashing some tickets when it ends.
Our Staff’s Top College Football Futures & Win Totals
The set of college football team logos below reflects our staff’s favorite futures and win total bets for the 2021-22 college football season. Click any logo to navigate to a specific game discussed in this article.
Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.
Photos via Getty Images.
To Win CFP National Title +800
Success happens when opportunity meets preparation. Oklahoma has been to the College Football Playoff multiple times but has never sealed the deal.
That ends this year when the Sooners bring home the championship and potentially a Heisman Trophy honor.
Oklahoma brings back an Offensive TARP of 77%, spearheaded by the Sooners’ Heisman-contending quarterback, Spencer Rattler. The dual-threat quarterback enters the 2021-22 season highly touted as the leader in Heisman betting and the potential No. 1 draft pick in 2022.
Rattler had a fantastic season last year, throwing for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns while adding six rushing touchdowns. He will be surrounded by familiar faces at the receiver and tight end positions, as well as a viable running back transfer in Eric Gray from Tennessee.
It’s safe to say that Lincoln Riley will have plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal.
Last year, Oklahoma ranked 25th in the country in Success Rate and 14th in Expected Points. The Sooners will feature a more balanced attack this season and will leave defensive coordinators scratching their heads trying to figure out how to defend against OU’s potent offense.
While the offense will be a force, don’t sleep on the Sooners’ defense. That unit sneakily ended the season ranked seventh in Defensive Havoc and 16th in Success Rate in the midst of a winning streak.
If potential Heisman-winner Rattler and the Boomer Sooners win the conference championship over the likes of Iowa State and TCU, they will be slotted into the College Football Playoff.
Oklahoma’s number has crept up a little too high for my liking to win the conference; my eyes are more focused on the bigger prize.
You can find +800 on FanDuel for Oklahoma to win the National Championship.
To Win Pac-12 North +140
Editors Note: The following betting recommendation has been reproduced from Stuckey’s Top Futures Bets for 2021, published earlier this summer. Stuckey still advocates for a futures wager on Washington to win the Pac-12 North — especially given Washington’s recent move from +135 to +140 at BetMGM.
[…] Why did I end up siding with Washington +135 to win the North over Oregon (-125)?
Well, as with all of my preseason futures, it first comes down to price. I don’t have the gap between [Oregon and Washington] as wide as most of the market, which is critical in essentially a two-team race where the head-to-head meeting will go a long way in deciding the winner.
Oh, and that regular-season meeting will take place at Husky Stadium, presumably with fans in one of college football’s toughest environments.
Washington also hosts Arizona State and UCLA, while it avoids USC and Utah. That means the Huskies face each of their three toughest conference opponents at home. Meanwhile, Oregon has road dates with Washington, Utah and UCLA.
Both teams have a great home-field advantage, but Washington’s road conference schedule is much more manageable with games at Arizona, Stanford, Colorado and Oregon State.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
To Win Sun Belt Conference +220
Coastal Carolina quickly turned into America’s Team in college football last season, and I’m high on its chances to win the conference in 2021 after COVID-19 concerns canceled the Sun Belt Championship in 2020.
The Chanticleers return quarterback Grayson McCall, who dominated as a freshman and has the highest PFF passing grade among all returning quarterbacks going into 2021.
He also returns two elite weapons in tight end Isaiah Likely and receiver Jaivon Heiligh, who are both some of the best players at their position in the Group of Five.
The Coastal Carolina offense finished the 2020 regular season ranking in the top 15 in Expected Points Added Per Play, Success Date and Points Per Drive.
The defense, meanwhile, was one of the best in the conference as well, which helped the Chanticleers beat their opponents by nearly 19 points per game on average during the 2020 regular season.
The schedule breaks very well for Coastal, which avoids Louisiana — currently the conference favorite — and gets a bye week before its matchup with Appalachian State. Additionally, Louisiana could see regression this season after ranking as one of the luckiest teams in the nation last season in terms of Pythagorean Expectation. The Cajuns went 6-1 in one-score games last season, which is extremely unlikely to repeat annually.
At +220, these odds give Coastal Carolina an implied 31.3% probability of winning the conference. In my simulations, I have the Chants winning the Sun Belt just under 42% of the time. This would imply a +140 price, which is my biggest remaining edge in the conference futures market at this point in the year.
You can get some significant price discrepancies across different books, and BetMGM’s +220 price was the best I could find.
Over 6.5 Wins (-120)
Cincinnati’s still the American Athletic Conference cog, and UCF’s logo alone should instill fear into the AAC’s punching bags.
But dangling a 6.5 in front of Sonny Dykes, who’s 17-6 the last two years with a talent-laden 2021 roster, makes as much sense as allowing Akron to participate in the FBS.
Texas transfer quarterback Shane Buechele led the Mustangs to back-to-back top-10 ranks nationally in total yards per play the last two seasons. Those aren’t easy shoes to fill, but whoever gets the nod under center — either former Oklahoma QB Tanner Mordecai or dual-threat freshman Preston Stone — will put up absurd numbers with the amount of ammo in the supporting cast.
Tight end transfer and Mordecai’s teammate at OU, Grant Calcaterra, was a mismatch nightmare with the Sooners.
Reggie Roberson, a potential Day 2 pick next spring, has played in 11 games the last two seasons. SMU is 11-0 in said contests. Fellow pass-catcher Rashee Rice has more than 1,000 yards in two seasons, averaging 15.1 per reception.
Also, last year’s leading rusher Ulysses Bentley IV is back, as is the entire offensive line.
Frankly, it would have been a lot easier to list what the Mustangs don’t have going for them offensively.
The defense has typically lagged behind, but new coordinator Jim Leavitt has a plethora of veteran playmakers, including a familiar face out of the portal.
Isaac Slade-Matautia, who played under Leavitt at Oregon, tied for the Ducks lead in tackles (45) last year. He’s one of the various key additions for the Mustangs, who also shored up their special teams by plucking placekicker Blake Mazza from Pullman.
The market’s not exactly high on the Mustangs, but those who opt to pass — or fade — should prepare to deal with FOMO right out of the gates when the Mustangs hang 73 on Abilene-Christian, ping-ponging up and down the field draped in those dreamy, royal-blue Dallas jerseys.
I make SMU chalk in seven games, on top of very winnable matchups at both Memphis and Houston.
NC State Wolfpack
Over 6.5 Wins (+100)
Mike Ianniello: Dave Doeren might be the most underrated coach in the country.
After beginning his head coaching career with back-to-back conference championships at Northern Illinois, Doeren is entering his ninth season at NC State. After a rough first year in Raleigh, the Wolfpack have won at least seven games in six of the last seven years, with a dud in 2019 serving as the only season they missed out on a bowl appearance.
The Pack finished the 2020 regular season 8-3 despite losing starting quarterback Devin Leary in the middle of it. The top three pass-catchers are all back, as well as running backs Bam Knight and Ricky Person, who combined for 1,431 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
On the defensive side of the ball, NC State finished 34th in Havoc and 20th in Stuff Rate last season. It returns 10 starters with 90% TARP on defense.
The Pack’s top-12 leading tacklers last year are back, led by a pair of stud linebackers in Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore. Like Kevin Nash and Randy Savage, Wilson and Moore are the leaders of the Wolfpack, and the defense runs through them as they create Havoc.
While the schedule doesn’t do any favors for the Wolfpack — as they draw Clemson, Miami and North Carolina — they should pick up four clear wins against Furman, Louisiana Tech, South Florida and Syracuse. After that, NC State just needs to win three games out of Mississippi State, Boston College, Louisville, Florida State and Wake Forest. The Wolfpack will likely be favored in all of those games, except at Mississippi State.
All Doeren does is get his team ready to play and consistently put together seven-win seasons. With all the returning production at the skill positions and on defense, I fully expect the Wolfpack to be bowling and get to seven wins again.
Thomas Schlarp: Search for the word “consistency,” and a photo of Dave Doeren is likely nearby.
While perennially trapped under the shadow of Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division, Doeren has built one of the more stable programs in the country. With the exception of a blip-on-the-radar, 4-8 season in 2019, NC State has won at least six games in each of the past seven seasons, including at least eight wins in three of the last four.
Building off an eight-win season and 7-4 ATS in 2020, the Wolfpack return 19 starters, including every single player on the offensive side of the ball. Their TARP O stands at only 60%, but that stems from this year’s starting quarterback, Devin Leary, only playing in four games last season due to contact tracing and a fractured fibula.
Defensively, NC State’s TARP D is 90%, as the defensive line — frequently a position of strength — is the only group on the whole team that doesn’t return every single starter, taking a big hit in losing All-ACC defensive tackle Alim McNeill.
NC State may not receive too much national attention, but there are a lot of draftable players on this team who will show up in a pro camp. It’s also worth noting that NC State retained nine of its 10 assistant coaches, something particularly important for the offense that welcomed new offensive coordinator Tim Beck last offseason during a pandemic-altered installation process.
Per Collin Wilson’s Power Ratings, the Wolfpack will be favorites in seven games this season, underdogs in four (vs. Clemson, at Miami, vs. Louisville, at North Carolina), along with a toss-up against Mississippi State, although the game is in Starkville. When accounting for home-field advantage, the game with Louisville will essentially be a pick’em.
I see NC State being much more likely to win eight games this season than six, so the fact that I’m getting 1.5 games of value at even money almost makes me nervous that I’m too high on the Wolfpack — but not enough to sway me from one of the best futures values in football.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Over 7.5 Wins (-105)
Aside from heavyweights Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson, there have been very few programs that have been more consistent over the last decade or so than Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Since 2008, guess how many times the Pokes have finished a season with fewer than eight wins? Just twice, in 2014 and 2018. They have made a bowl appearance every year in that span and have finished with double-digit wins an impressive six times since 2010.
With a 2021 schedule that includes five Big 12 games at home and seven total matchups at Boone Pickens Stadium, I can’t find much reason to doubt that the Cowboys will be knocking on the door of 9-10 wins yet again.
They will be healthy favorites in all of their non-conference tilts, and aside from road trips to Iowa State and Texas, most of their toughest league opponents will head to Stillwater.
Taking a look back at the 2020 campaign, Oklahoma State had one of the most productive defensive units in the conference and surprisingly struggled on the offensive side of the ball, which is a bit of a flip-flop from what a normal Mike Gundy-led team has looked like in his tenure.
With defensive anchors Malcolm Rodriguez, Tre Sterling, and Kolby Harvell-Peel all electing to return for their senior seasons, there’s good reason to believe that unit will be a force to be reckoned with once again.
On the offensive side, much of the Cowboys’ struggles last season can be attributed to an offensive line that got hit with a litany of injuries and COVID-19 opt-outs. There should be much more continuity within the OL group this season, and there are plenty of options in the backfield including LD Brown and Dezmon Jackson.
Combine that with an experienced and battle-tested Spencer Sanders entering his third season as the leader of this offense, and I think the Pokes can get back to the type of offensive efficiency folks around Stillwater are accustomed to witnessing.
With all these items considered, not only will I gladly hop on an over 7.5 win total ticket, but I also think there is some value in taking the Cowboys to make the Big 12 Championship game (+380 on DraftKings) and compete for a league title at JerryWorld.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Over 4.5 Wins (-130)
By Shawn Burns
Quarterback Austin Kendall transferred in after previous stops at Oklahoma and West Virginia. With last season’s quarterback, Luke Anthony, recovering from a knee injury, Kendall has a realistic chance to be the starter. If Anthony is available, the Bulldogs will have two quality quarterbacks to lead an offense that is motivated to bounce back after last season.
The offensive line returns four starters and has two talented transfers at tailback in Marcus Williams from App State and Keyon Henry Brooks from Vanderbilt. They will both help a ground game that was one of the worst in the country.
The receivers are a talented group led by Smoke Harris, but they all need to perform better after a disappointing 2020 season.
The defense was poor last season, but it does return 10 starters and acquired a host of SEC transfers in the secondary. This should help boost a defense that has athletic players across the board. All three linebackers return with Tyler Grubbs and Trey Baldwin leading the way with 184 combined tackles between them.
LA Tech has a tough nonconference schedule facing Mississippi State, SMU, and NC State, but it catches a break in conference play not having to face FAU, Marshall or Western Kentucky. The Bulldogs’ home schedule includes very winnable games against Southeast Louisiana, North Texas, Charlotte, and Southern Mississippi.
The win total set at 4.5 wins is incredibly low for a program that has been to seven straight bowl games and averaged over seven wins a season since Skip Holtz took over in 2013.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Under 8.5 Wins (-110)
Alex Hinton: In 2020, almost everything broke perfectly for Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish had a senior quarterback in Ian Book, who was protected by a dominant and experienced offensive line. They also got to face Clemson at home without Trevor Lawrence, and Notre Dame rode that win all the way to the College Football Playoff.
It’s unlikely the Irish will be in contention for the CFP this season.
Notre Dame is tied for last nationally in adjusted offensive TARP rating (Transferring Assets and Returning Production).
One transfer that will be coming in and starting is quarterback Jack Coan. At Wisconsin, Coan proved to be nothing more than a game manager and had superstar running back Jonathan Taylor behind him in the backfield.
Kyren Williams will be another elite back to take the pressure off of Coan, but the Fighting Irish will also have to replace four starters on the offensive line, three of which were Day 2 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. True freshman Blake Fisher is projected to start at left tackle, which is a tall order for any true freshman.
Defensively, the Fighting Irish will have a new defensive coordinator in Marcus Freeman, who comes over from Cincinnati after Clark Lea left to become the head coach at Vanderbilt. Freeman is seen as a future head coach himself, but he is actually a slight downgrade in terms of creating Havoc.
Notre Dame returns future top-10 draft pick Kyle Hamilton at safety. However, replacing last year’s Butkus Award winner in Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will be difficult, as well as the disruptive defensive end tandem of Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji.
It does not help matters that Notre Dame’s schedule features four preseason AP Top 25 opponents. The Fighting Irish face Wisconsin in a neutral-site (a term I use very loosely) game at Lambeau Field. It also gets Cincinnati, North Carolina and rival USC at home. Notre Dame also has road dates at Virginia Tech and Virginia.
Kyle Remillard: Notre Dame ran through the ACC during the 2020 COVID-19 filled season, but it looks like the luck may be running out for the Irish this year.
Brian Kelly’s team started out winning by winning its first 10 games last season before dropping the ACC Championship and Rose Bowl by a combined 41 points. This program has significant challenges to overcome if it wants to come close to replicating the success of last year’s group.
Unlike most of the country, Notre Dame will lose a ton of production on both sides of the ball as it returns only nine starters — three on offense and six on defense. The Fighting Irish return the lowest offensive TARP rating of any team in the country at just 25%.
Among the group that departed is the program’s all-time win leader, Ian Book, and three of his top receiving threats. The offensive line is in rebuild mode, having lost three starters to the NFL and one to graduation.
Notre Dame also has the deck stacked against it this season in terms of its schedule, which includes a grueling two-month stretch. The Irish’s top-six opponents will have a bye week to prepare entering the matchup.
That stretch begins in Week 4 when they will face three consecutive teams off a bye in Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. The Irish will then face USC, North Carolina and Virginia, which are all also off a bye.
San Diego State Aztecs
Over 6.5 Wins (-110)
San Diego State enters its second season of Brady Hoke’s second stint as head coach. The Aztecs will look to improve on a 4-4 season in which they lost two out of conferences games to Colorado and BYU.
They’ve taken measured steps to improve on offense after lackluster years in 2018 and 2019. The SDSU defense was a stalwart last season and should be able to easily replicate the success it found last season.
The Aztecs were worst in Mountain West scoring in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski made incremental progress without a true QB1.
This season, dual-threat quarterback Jordon Brookshire has earned the starting job after coaches praised his composure under pressure during a camp-long QB competition. Brookshire has plenty of talent to work with the receiver corps, which will feature Mississippi State transfer Tyrell Shavers.
SDSU utilizes a running back by committee, anchored by Greg Bell, who rushed for 637 yards and six touchdowns last season. Showcasing RB depth, three other running backs racked up over 200 yards last season as well.
Quarterback play will improve this season, and a strong running game will help Brookshire ease into the starting role.
The 3-3-5 stack on defense has worked wonders for the Aztecs. Last season, they were one of the top units in FBS in scoring defense. Additionally, they allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards per game.
The front six will be exceptionally strong again this year with defensive end Cameron Thomas and linebacker Caden McDonald returning. Cornerback
Darren Hall will have to be replaced after being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. The Aztecs have veteran depth in the secondary to make the necessary adjustments to compensate for his loss.
Expect SDSU to be a top defense in the Mountain West again.
I simulated the SDSU season using my model and project the Aztecs finishing the season 9-3.
Taking a deeper dive into their schedule, their road schedule is favorable with the toughest matchups being at Arizona and San Jose State. Home games against New Mexico State and FCS opponent Towson in September should help build confidence as they reach the bulk of their conference schedule later in the fall.
SDSU has made marked improvements on offense with a coordinator change and a dual-threat QB to complement an excellent ground attack. The defense is primed to pick up where it left off last season as a top unit in all of FBS.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Over 8.5 Wins (-110)
By Doug Ziefel
The Sun Devils showed great strides on both sides of the ball in their shortened 2020 season. Offensive coordinator Zac Hill’s installment of a pro-style offense led to an exponential jump in production, as the unit averaged 459 yards of total offense and 40 points per game.
Nine of Arizona State’s 11 offensive starters from last year return and are entering the second year of their pro-style system. While this offense may not average 40 ppg again, it will remain much improved from 2019.
The changes on the offensive side of the ball were not the only ingredient to Arizona States’ success in 2020.
The Sun Devils defense switched from a 3-3-5 to a four-man front that led them to allow only 23.7 points per game. This defensive unit is deep and experienced, as all 11 starters return along with 19 other lettermen who can be confidently utilized by defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce.
Arizona State has some tough matchups in 2021, including the likes of Utah, UCLA and Washington all on the road. The Sun Devils are fortunate they avoid Oregon and have what may prove to be a critical matchup against USC at home.
Let’s not forget that last season the Sun Devils led very late in the fourth quarter of both their losses, which came against USC and UCLA. Losing late leads is a definite indicator for positive win regression in the 2021 season.
Herm Edwards and his team should start the season hot up until they travel to Utah. They may very well be 6-0 heading into that matchup. We have already seen that they have the ability to defeat the top teams in the conference and should give Utah and Washington all they can handle.
Over 7 Wins (-120)
One of the first pieces of advice someone ever gave me when I started gambling was, “bet with your mind, not with your heart.” But to this day, I find it a lot easier said than done.
It’s easy to go into every season thinking this is the year, but after the first few years of losing win total tickets, I’ve almost completely sworn off betting on any team I root for in any capacity.
But after seeing Kentucky’s win total this year, I have run out of ways to talk myself out of it.
I believe the Wildcats are set for a great year.
Kentucky brings in Liam Coen at offensive coordinator from the Los Angeles Rams and quarterback transfer Will Levis from Penn State, who Coen recruited when he was in high school.
The Cats return 60% of their production from last year on both sides of the ball and are expected to have one of the top-five offensive lines in the SEC and a top-five running back in Chris Rodriguez.
While all of this is exciting, none of it is why I’m betting their win total. It’s the schedule.
Kentucky has the easiest schedule in the SEC. The Wildcats avoid Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas and Ole Miss. Two of their hardest games (LSU and Florida) are at home, and they play five first-year head coaches.
The only game I see on Kentucky’s schedule that it has almost no chance to win is against Georgia, which is the favorite in the SEC East.
The layout of Kentucky’s schedule is what finally sold me on the over. Its first four games are all more than winnable — Louisiana Monroe, Missouri, Chattanooga, and South Carolina. If Kentucky goes 4-0 here, you are off to a great start.
If things go south, the middle of the schedule gives you a great opportunity to hedge, should you find yourself in that scenario. Kentucky is set up to be a solid favorite against Vanderbilt and New Mexico before closing the season against rival Louisville.
I’m taking the Kentucky win total at 7 (-120) and will look to make a hedge decision after the LSU game if Kentucky is worse than 4-2. While I would take odds up to -150, I would not bet it at 7.5.