College Football Betting Odds, Picks: Best & Worst Conference Futures Value From Circa’s Opening Lines
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Michigan State defensive end Michael Fletcher.
Game of the Year and win totals have slowly leaked as we officially turn to summer, but Circa Sports became the first to market with full conference odds this week.
Predicting the winner of conferences and divisions is a much more complex mathematical issue than predicting win totals.
Power Ratings are used to create individual point spreads that determine the probability of a game’s winner. The summation of those game probabilities equals a win total.
For conference odds, the exercise is much more tedious.
College Football 🏈🏆
Conference Champions pic.twitter.com/8WGr80hY7A
— Circa Sports (@CircaSports) June 20, 2022
Leveraging Poisson for College Football
With a distribution model, conference and division odds can be calculated with respect to a win total.
The dynamics are increasingly in flux, as the Sun Belt added a handful of teams that have departed from Conference USA. Even with 14 teams, the Sun Belt will continue to play an eight-game conference schedule.
The American Athletic Conference and Pac-12 no longer work with divisions, giving a different set of rules to the distribution model.
This article will look at each conference and call out the teams that have a number ready for betting action and a few of the entries that have no value from an investment standpoint.
These numbers are based on the Poisson Distribution, using conference win totals as the random variable and the number of conference games as the average rate of success.
Not every longshot mentioned will win its respective conference, but the odds are notable when it comes to taking a position and creating a hedge strategy.
Click any logo to navigate directly to that conference’s breakdown.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Best Value: Virginia Tech +6000
The Hokies ended the 2021 season with a 44-point loss to Maryland in the Pinstripe Bowl, capping off a six-win campaign that was filled with struggles.
Their Success Rate and Finishing Drives numbers finished in the bottom half of all FBS teams on both sides of the football.
Long rumored to be on the hot seat, former head coach Justin Fuentes was canned before Thanksgiving, as Virginia Tech finished its search for a new coach within two weeks.
Former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry takes over head-coaching duties in Blacksburg, expecting to bring one of the most efficient and chaotic defenses to the ACC.
The transfer portal helped the Hokies earn plenty of positive points for their power rating, as quarterback Grant Wells transfers in from Marshall. Four-star wide receiver Jadan Blue joins from Temple, giving new offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen weapons for what should be a tight end-heavy set.
Virginia Tech is targeted for five conference wins, just shy of Miami and Pittsburgh. The schedule is manageable, playing host to Miami, catching NC State off a bye week and not facing Clemson.
There may not be an easier set of games than what the Hokies face in the month of November, making a small hedge position against the Hurricanes on Oct. 15 the supplement to this ticket.
Worst Value: Clemson +140
Will the Tigers’ chances of winning the ACC come down to a quarterback’s dieting decision?
DJ Uiagalelei has seen his weight fluctuate to as high as 260 in the past, but a target weight of 230 by fall camp may produce better footwork and more accuracy from the pocket. With his weight down to 240 in the spring game, the Clemson quarterback continues to struggle with his command of the offense.
biggest takeaway from Clemson's spring game is that there are still some serious issues with DJ's mechanics pic.twitter.com/NyZ6Nx6pfL
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) April 14, 2022
Clemson is projected at 6.5 conference wins, making the NC State game the biggest on the Atlantic Division slate. Per a Poisson Distribution, the Tigers have a 31% chance to sweep the ACC schedule and true odds of +210 to win the ACC.
This number is currently out of range from a value perspective, as all eyes will be on Uiagalelei when fall camp breaks.
Big Ten Conference
Best Value: Michigan State +4000
The Big Ten East is one of the toughest divisions in all of college football, but this Michigan State number deserves attention in preseason betting.
Head coach Mel Tucker continued a blitz on the transfer portal, bringing in four-star edge Khris Bogle from Florida and tight end Daniel Barker from Illinois. A TARP number of 68% on offense and 79% on defense is excellent news for a program that posted top-35 ranks in Finishing Drives.
JAYDEN REED HOUSE CALL @BarstoolMSU
— Barstool Detroit (@BSMotorCity) October 2, 2021
Quarterback Payton Thorne returns one of the most explosive weapons in the nation, as Jayden Reed will be complemented by a host of talented skill position players looking to replace NFL talents Kenneth Walker III and Jalen Nailor.
Our distribution model sets Michigan State at 6.1 conference wins, just short of Michigan and nearly 2.5 games less than Ohio State. There’s plenty of work to be done with this ticket, as the Spartans would be more than a two-touchdown underdog against the Buckeyes.
This number should be closer to 20-1 with the obvious hedge coming against an Ohio State team that will be -850 against Sparty in East Lansing on Oct. 8.
Worst Value: Indiana +12500
These are dark times for the Hoosiers after a 2020 Outback Bowl trip against Ole Miss.
Indiana lost eight consecutive games to end last season and must now decide between five different quarterbacks for a new starter.
The Hoosiers posted offensive ranks outside of the FBS top 100 in Success Rate, Finishing Drives and Havoc Allowed during the 2021 season.
Indiana’s defense will also look to rebuild, as TARP calculates just 25% of returning starters and experience gained from the portal. Head coach Tom Allen has seen a drop off in his defense’s production, including a fall outside of the top 100 in Havoc.
Conference road trips to Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State set Indiana’s conference number closer to +25000.
Best Value: Washington +1010
Washington is under new management with head coach Kalen DeBoer coming in from Fresno State.
DeBoer will have a southpaw quarterback battle between former protege Michael Penix Jr. from Indiana and five-star local favorite Sam Huard.
The new Huskies head man has his work cut out from him after the failed Jimmy Lake era, as the offense proved to be one of the worst in the nation in scoring on drives that passed the 40-yard line.
The Huskies return 81% on the offensive side and a mediocre 56% on defense, but the schedule may make the difference.
Michael Penix Jr. and Sam Huard pic.twitter.com/07c8PH8OYE
— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) April 11, 2022
The announcement that the Pac-12 will play without divisions this season allowed some of the schedules to be easier than most.
The Huskies do not play USC or Utah in the regular season, pinning Washington’s entire conference title hopes on winning games at Oregon and at UCLA.
The conference win total projection comes in at 6 — well below Utah and USC — but the schedule remains soft, hosting Stanford, Arizona and Colorado. The Pac-12 Championship will be played by the two teams with the highest winning percentage in the conference, giving Washington a 44% chance of finishing with just two losses and being in the mix for the title.
Take the Huskies number down to a projected number of +700.
Worst Value: USC +232
As inflation hits consumers worldwide, there may be no other commodity that is more overpriced than the USC Trojans.
As mentioned in Action Network’s Pac-12 Preview, head coach Lincoln Riley has a lot of mouths to feed and not a ton of footballs to go around on offense.
This will be one of the most electric views each Saturday, but questions persist on the defensive side of the football.
First drive of the USC spring game finishes with Caleb Williams finding Mario Williams for six. Sounds familiar.
Williams was 5/5 passing on the opening drive. #FightOnpic.twitter.com/8kWNe2Tibh
— CJ Vogel (@CJVogel_TFB) April 23, 2022
There’s no doubt USC will compete for the conference crown with a win total of 6.2. The issue is that the true odds of finishing in first or second place in the Pac-12 rest at +210.
Tack on any opponent from the championship game, and that number exceeds the posted +232, especially against Utah or Oregon. There’s simply no value on the Trojans from a conference perspective.
Best Value: Kentucky +7000
The Wildcats are about as loaded as a football team can be in Lexington.
Kentucky returns more than 71% on both sides of the ball — and that’s after the defense posted top-50 ranks in Finishing Drives, Success Rate and Havoc last season.
Heisman hopeful quarterback Will Levis returns to lead an offense that finished top-10 in Success Rate in 2021.
.@will_levis hit circle on 'em. 🎮⭕️ | 😼🏈#ForTheTeam 📺 – @SECNetwork – https://t.co/6abWyURPxupic.twitter.com/0iuw0LnDT5
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 10, 2021
Head coach Mark Stoops named Rich Scrangarello as offensive coordinator this offseason, looking to liven up one of the most conservative offenses in the nation.
Scrangarello comes straight from the San Francisco 49ers’ run to the NFC Championship. His last stint in college came in 2016 at Wagner, where the Seahawks attempted more than twice as many rushing plays than passes.
Kentucky is projected to win 5.3 conference games in the SEC, placing Stoops’ team well below Georgia in the East Division. No other team is projected higher in the East, giving Kentucky true odds of +440 to make the championship game.
Even facing Alabama for the SEC title wouldn’t put the Wildcats close to the posted number of +7000.
Worst Value: Mississippi State +15000
No other team may have a tougher road schedule in the SEC than the Bulldogs. Head coach Mike Leach will travel to Alabama, Kentucky and LSU before ending the season with the Egg Bowl in Oxford.
Mississippi State loses boatloads of production on the defensive side of the ball after finishing inside the top 25 in Finishing Drives. The depletion of the secondary will not bode well against SEC offenses looking to go uptempo through the air.
🐶 415 Pass Yds
🐶 6 Pass TD
🐶 25-point comeback vs. Auburn
What a day for Will Rogers. What a game for the @HailStateFB. pic.twitter.com/1hpuyxT7Hj
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 13, 2021
Leach will have to claw to make a bowl with one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but from a conference perspective, only Missouri and Vanderbilt are expected to post lower win totals.
Mississippi State has true odds of 110-1 to make the SEC Championship, a number that doubles with the potential of playing Georgia.
Big 12 Conference
Best Value: TCU +2000
Best Value: TCU +2000
The Horned Frogs are all the buzz in the Big 12, starting with new head coach Sonny Dykes. The former SMU head coach will introduce the Air Raid offense to Max Duggan and Chandler Morris, who are both capable of creating plenty of highlights.
While there’s no shortage of excitement on offense in Fort Worth, the defense will look to rebuild after a number of subpar seasons under Gary Patterson.
Quentin Johnston is pretty versatile for his size (6-4, 212 lbs). He's a true X receiver but he's also a weapon with the ball in his hands. pic.twitter.com/Jz9t4TcDfX
— Luca Sartirana (@SartiranaLuca) April 23, 2022
Dykes pulled one of the best up-and-coming defensive coordinators in Joseph Gillespie from Tulsa. The Texas native took over a Golden Hurricane defense and created one of the best units during the pandemic season of 2020. That continued through last season, as Tulsa finished 33rd in Defensive Success Rate.
TCU’s conference win total sits at 6.3, inside a range that includes Texas and just shy of Oklahoma’s projection. There’s an argument to be made that TCU is the third-best team in the Big 12 entering the season.
Considering the round-robin scheduling of the conference, there are plenty of hedge spots in November that include Texas and a season-ending game against Iowa State.
Worst Value: Baylor +500
A secondary is needed to compete in the Big 12, and head coach Dave Aranda must now rebuild a unit that finished seventh in Defensive Havoc.
Less than 50% of the Bears defense returns in what will be a struggle to get defenders off the field in passing down situations this fall.
It may be more of a challenge to get the offense to produce at the level it did in 2021.
Oh my 😳
Baylor QB Blake Shapen just took a massive hit and is now back in the game pic.twitter.com/WcJuYwb75S
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 27, 2021
Quarterback Blake Shapen will work to take over duties after Gerry Bohanon elected to transfer to South Florida. The Bears lose almost every contributor at the running back and wide receiver positions, giving offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes one of his toughest tests to date.
Baylor is projected at 4 conference wins, giving the Bears true odds of +1950 to make the Big 12 Championship. No matter who the opponent would be, Baylor’s odds of +500 are highly inflated with so many questions heading into fall camp.
Sun Belt Conference
Best Value: Southern Miss +4000
Will Hall was considered one of the best Group of Five offensive coordinators before taking the head coach job in Hattiesburg last season.
After a disastrous start to the season, Southern Miss showed life in a 10-point loss to eventual conference champion UTSA. The Golden Eagles rattled off two consecutive victories over Louisiana Tech and Florida International, giving hope for a 2022 season that will be played in the Sun Belt.
Now just two years removed from a 2020 pandemic season that saw three different head coaches, Hall will lean even more on running back Frank Gore Jr. while keeping quarterback Ty Keyes healthy.
Ty Keyes has arrived 👀
#⃣5⃣ finds Caston for the first completion of his Southern Miss career!#AIE | #SMTTTpic.twitter.com/ZF76MwTZwb
— Southern Miss Football (@SouthernMissFB) September 12, 2021
The defense returns plenty of production from 2021, including eight starters in the linebacker and secondary units. Southern Miss finished 58th in Defensive Success Rate last season, and with healthy pieces on offense, there’s reason to believe a rebound is coming for the program.
The Golden Eagles are projected at 4.1 wins in the new Sun Belt. Only Troy and Louisiana are projected higher in the West Division.
Southern Miss receives plenty of scheduling breaks this fall from facing Troy after a bye week and hosting Louisiana. The cross-division schedule was kind in keeping Appalachian State and Marshall off the conference slate.
This is an uphill climb for Hall, who does not have any proven players at the quarterback position. If Keyes can perform in line with recruiting rank, the ground game with Gore will be one of the best in the conference.
The Poisson Distribution number makes Southern Miss +900 to win the West and +2000 to win the conference. Those numbers are well short of the posted +4000, which has small hedge windows against Troy or Louisiana.
Worst Value: Arkansas State +4500
How the mighty have fallen. Arkansas State was once a power in the Sun Belt annually but fell to a meager two-win season in 2021.
Head coach Butch Jones may already be on the hot seat in Jonesboro, as the TARP numbers indicate just 38% return on offense and 47% on defense. The transfer portal saw a mass exit of players from the roster without much return from other schools.
Arkansas State finished dead last in Defensive Finishing Drives last season, and the offense finished 123rd in Havoc Allowed.
The Red Wolves are projected at 1.7 conference wins in the Sun Belt, as ULM and Old Dominion serve as the best chances to win a game. True odds for Arkansas State sit at +10700 to win the Sun Belt, far from the posted +4500 in Jones’ second season.
Best Value: Miami (Ohio) +550
The RedHawks may win the MAC East simply by default. Akron, Bowling Green and Ohio continue to struggle in the development of players through multiple coaching regimes.
Joe Moorhead’s move to Akron is enticing, but the offense finished near dead last in Finishing Drives and Havoc Allowed.
The East features a half-dozen teams looking for an identity, with the exception of the RedHawks offense. Brett Gabbert returns to the Air RedHawk offense with plenty of weapons and a full offensive line that allowed minimal pressures.
Brett Gabbert lets it FLY for the Redhawks 🎯 pic.twitter.com/jU1vRCTpMr
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 17, 2021
There may not be an easier conference schedule in the MAC. Miami will travel to Akron, Bowling Green and Buffalo in the division. The distribution model sets the RedHawks at 6.3 conference wins, as no other team in the East projects over 3.1 MAC victories.
A projected championship game with Toledo or Northern Illinois gives head coach Chuck Martin true odds of +275 to win the MAC.
Worst Value: Kent State +550
Flash Fast may be on hold for head coach Sean Lewis. Kent State returns just 26% of a legendary MAC offense that finished top-10 nationally in Success Rate and Finishing Drives.
Quarterback Collin Schlee will take over for Dustin Crum, but an offensive line that struggled allowing pressure now loses over half of the snaps from the 2021 season.
The Flashes defense is also going through an overhaul, as new coordinator Jeremiah Johnson is expected to bring different schemes to brand new personnel.
It's a 50 🍔! Congratulations to Collin Schlee on his FIRST college TD, the THIRD guy to do that tonight! IT's 55-17!#FlashFAST | #BTApic.twitter.com/Gfackaitsb
— Kent State Football (@KentStFootball) November 11, 2020
While Miami (Ohio) doesn’t have to face Toledo from the West Division, Kent State will play the Rockets on the road after a road trip against the RedHawks. Even if the new players produce to previous Fast Flash levels, this is a difficult schedule that will limit Kent State in its chances to win the conference.
A projection of 2.4 MAC wins gives Kent State true odds of +2700 to win the conference, making the Golden Flashes a no-play this preseason.
Best Value: UTEP +3000
The hard work of head coach Dana Dimel has finally started to pay off. UTEP was a team total under for bettors every preseason, but that has changed since the 2020 pandemic season.
Hungry to not only exceed a low win total but to make the postseason, UTEP won seven games and lost by just one score to Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl last season. The hard work is far from over for Dimel, as Conference USA transitions three teams to the Sun Belt.
Gavin Hardison DIME to Jacob Cowing for the 76 yard TD!#UTEP#NorthTexas
— Sideline CFB (@SidelineCFB) November 13, 2021
Jacob Cowing exits as the deep threat on the Miners offense, but quarterback Gavin Hardison has the range to hit any skill position player on the field.
While explosiveness and Havoc Allowed are key on offense, the Miners return 63% of a defense that finished top-20 nationally in Success Rate.
UTEP’s raw conference win total sits at 3.8, well short of projections for the top teams in Conference USA.
Where the Miners have a break is scheduling, as UAB and Western Kentucky are not on a division-less schedule. However, conference bottom feeders in Rice, Florida International and Louisiana Tech are on the schedule, giving UTEP an outside chance of playing in the conference championship game.
Worst Value: UTSA +200
No team will suffer more turnover to the offensive roster in terms of production than UTSA. Running back Sincere McCormick moves on, as Arkansas transfer Trelon Smith looks to keep the ground attack moving for head coach Jeff Traylor.
Quarterback Frank Harris returns, but completing more big-time throws than turnover-worthy plays is the biggest handicap when teams don’t have to load the box to defend McCormick.
Spring is in the air, so is the football at UTSA's Spring Game. Here's some of the early action until we roll out some more at 9:45 on Max Sports. Frank Harris and Cam Peters with TD passes to this point. pic.twitter.com/4MsoVnxJ0C
— Chuck Miketinac (@MaxSportsSA) April 15, 2022
UTSA returns just 48% on the defensive side of the football, but maintaining a top-10 rank in Finishing Drives will be the key to winning Conference USA.
This is a tough schedule for the Roadrunners, who hit the road to face co-favorite UAB in November while hosting Western Kentucky and UTEP — two teams that are expected to compete for the conference.
Traylor is expected to win 4.7 conference games this season, putting UTSA in the mix for the championship game, along with UAB and Western Kentucky. Odds of winning Conference USA sit at +440, per Poisson Distribution, making the +200 odds inflated and a pass through the preseason.
American Athletic Conference
Best Value: SMU +850
If peanut butter and jelly make the best combination in the world, Rhett Lashlee’s style of offense coming in after Sonny Dykes may give the sandwich a run for its money.
Lashlee cut his teeth in the coordinator ranks with a two-year stint in Dallas, giving him plenty of familiarity with players on the roster.
Quarterback Tanner Mordecai will be challenged by Preston Stone for starting duties, but the bulk of the 2021 offense returns. The Mustangs finished top-35 nationally in Finishing Drives, Havoc Allowed and Success Rate, as the 2022 roster returns 75% of that production.
Tanner Mordecai and SMU are in that mode 👀🔥 #CFBpic.twitter.com/yv800ImNie
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 22, 2021
The defense is not far off from a returning perspective, with 63% of production intact following a season that featured a Finishing Drives rank in the top 40.
This SMU team is built to win immediately in Lashlee’s first season as a head coach. The Ponies are expected to win 5.5 conference games, more than any other American team not named Cincinnati or Houston.
Both the Bearcats and Cougars come to Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, putting SMU in the driver’s seat of the AAC with +440 true odds to win the conference.
Worst Value: South Florida +3200
South Florida’s AD and Board of Trustees swiped right on former Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott back in 2020. That swipe has resulted in just three wins through 21 games, but with a plethora of returning starters and an influx of portal production, the Bulls may have their best season yet.
The 73% of returning production comes from the portal with quarterback Gerry Bohanon leaving Baylor. Bohannon is expected to compete with Timmy McClain in a battle of who can protect the ball best for the offense.
South Florida struggles to keep any team off the scoreboard, evidenced by a Success Rate and Finishing Drives rank in the bottom 10 of the nation.
A new coordinator and expected shift in scheme will look to restart the defense, but South Florida does not have any retention in players or production gained through the portal for the 2022 season.
A conference win total of 1.9 gives USF a distribution number of +10800 odds to win the American. South Florida is still a year away from challenging in this conference, as gamblers look to swipe left on Bulls futures.
Mountain West Conference
Best Value: San Jose State +2500
No team in the Mountain West returns more offensive firepower than San Jose State, as Hawaii transfer quarterback Chevan Cordeiro will get behind a portal-built offensive line and a stable of reliable running backs.
All of the top targets from last season return for Cordeiro, who will improve numbers from outside the top 100 in Finishing Drives. The offensive line influx from Power Five programs will erase a 2021 mark of 104th in Havoc Allowed.
Head coach Brent Brennan has quietly put together an offense that will challenge in the last year the Mountain West will have divisions.
— Chev🤫 (@iam_clcxii) December 12, 2021
While the offense looks to change around Cordeiro’s strengths, the defense will be hot out of the box. The Spartans return nearly 70% of a unit that finished third in Finishing Drives. Defensive coordinator Derrick Odum also kept the Spartans ranking top-30 in Havoc and Success Rate, earmarking this team as a contender in 2022.
San Jose State is projected at 5.5 wins in conference, topped only by the projection of Fresno State in the West Division. The Spartans do travel to Fresno on Oct. 15 but have a gracious conference schedule that does not include contenders Boise State and Air Force.
Brennan will look to win the conference by making the championship game, as the hedge spot exists on Oct. 15. If this comes down to the final game of the season, Cordeiro blowing out Hawai’i would not be a shock to anyone who knows Mountain West football.
Worst Value: San Diego State +350
Action Network All-American punter Matt Araiza moves on, but key losses in several other units will keep the Aztecs short.
Head coach Brady Hoke returns just half of a defense that finished top-10 in Success Rate and Finishing Drives, possibly indicating more totals going over this season.
Only 56% of the offense returns for coordinator Jeff Hecklinski, who struggled to get into scoring position with a Success Rate rank of 99th.
The Aztecs project to be a contender in the Mountain West with 4.8 conference wins, just shy of Fresno State and San Jose State. The schedule is complicated with trips to Boise State and Fresno State, while it hosts Air Force.
Odds from the distribution model project San Diego State at +850 to win the Mountain West, far from the opening odds of +350.
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