College Football Futures: Betting Value on Cincinnati & Michigan Ahead of Week 5
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Blake Corum.
Mike Calabrese: Through the first month of the season, 25 teams in the AP Top 25 have fallen.
National heavyweights like Ohio State and Clemson have proven themselves to be mortal. The Buckeyes have fallen out of the top 10, and the Tigers appear to be in an uncontrolled dive, checking in at 25 in the AP Poll.
Even mighty Alabama slogged through a four-quarter scare against Florida in the Swamp, a near upset that could provide a team with an upset blueprint in the coming months.
If 2021 feels topsy-turvy compared to recent years, it’s because it is. But can any team with significant odds take advantage? Let’s take a look.
Odds as of Wednesday afternoon and via WynnBET
National Championship Picture
Mike Calabrese: The way I describe the national title hopes of Group of Five teams versus Power Five teams is that P5 programs control their own destiny while G5 schools are at the mercy of not only the committee, but the performances of other top-10 teams.
No Power Five team has ever run the table and been left out of the College Football Playoff. The Group of Five, meanwhile, has a rich history of undefeated teams not even getting a sniff of the national semifinals.
What it takes to crash the CFP party is simple, albeit difficult to achieve.
The team needs to be undefeated, have at least three top-25 wins — one being a marquee victory over a national power — and at least one unit that is recognized as dominant.
Cincinnati can control the 13-0 part, as well as fielding a dominant defense. As for the middle two elements — three top-25 wins and a marquee win — that was always going to be outside of its control.
Luckily, Notre Dame is providing the Bearcats with a perfect stage to showcase how good they really are this season. The Irish have shaken off a near upset at the hands of Toledo and fortified their position in the national pecking order with a beatdown of Wisconsin.
Nevermind that their victory was inflated by three fourth-quarter non-offensive touchdowns. This is Notre Dame, a program that is 38-5 in its last 43 games, with a pair of CFP trips to its name. It represents a golden springboard for Cincy, should it dominate the Irish.
As for the other top-25 opportunities, Cincy hosts SMU (4-0, RV in AP & Coaches) and could face a 10-win Memphis team in the AAC title game.
That final push, courtesy of a nationally-ranked win to cap its pre-bowl season, is the fly in the ointment for UC.
But at long odds, I’m more than willing to roll the dice given the vulnerabilities presented by the ACC and Big 12 thus far in 2021.
On the field, I’m bullish that Cincy can manhandle its remaining schedule, Notre Dame included.
The offense is fourth in points per play without relying upon Desmond Ridder to carry the offense. Last season, Ridder was “ol’ dependable” against ranked teams, boasting a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio, while punching in four more on the ground.
This season, the Bearcats nailed Indiana after a sleepy start without Ridder’s A-game (62 QBR). He’ll need to be decidedly better to hand the Irish a double-digit loss, but I’m confident the veteran field general can frustrate the Irish by extending plays and making them pay down the field.
Of starting quarterbacks nationally, PFF ranks Ridder 14th, and his play against the blitz has been tremendous (72%, 4:1 TD-INT, 7th nationally).
Why do I fixate on Ridder? Because if he plays at this level all season, I give UC a better than 50/50 shot at making the CFP.
And at 40-1, the hedge opportunities would be very lucrative once it’s punched a ticket to a national semifinal.
As for timing, according to FiveThirtyEight, Cincy’s playoff odds double after a hypothetical win over Notre Dame, making this the right time to grab a future on the Bearcats.
Alex Hinton: You may look at my Twitter bio before reading this and see that I went to Michigan and think, “Oh boy, here’s another overzealous Michigan fan. They can’t even throw!”
Well, I learned a long time ago to separate my bets from my fandom (By the way, betting against the Detroit Lions this season is a great way to make money, but back to Michigan).
I am also uniquely qualified to tell you why Michigan has a legitimate chance to win the Big Ten this season.
Does Michigan have a superstar at quarterback? No, but Cade McNamara is efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over. In fact, Michigan has not committed a turnover yet this season.
Michigan’s game scripts also haven’t asked McNamara to do much because it has been up big and the running game has been so effective. Michigan is fifth in the country in rushing at 290.8 yards per game.
Ultimately, McNamara (or five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy) will have to do more for Michigan to win the Big Ten.
However, in addition to the run game, Michigan’s defense has improved significantly under new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. The Wolverines are giving up 11.8 points per game, which ranks fourth in the country.
Two things Michigan has struggled to do under Jim Harbaugh is beat good teams on the road and beat Ohio State.
Michigan’s first opportunity to do the former comes this Saturday against Wisconsin. The Badgers fell out of the top 25 and sit at 1-2, but this will be a big test for Michigan.
Wisconsin has the best run defense in the country, surrendering only 23 yards per game. The strategy will likely be to stack the box and ask McNamara to beat them.
However, he may not have to do much. In its last eight games, Wisconsin is averaging 17.3 points per game, and Graham Mertz has five touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in that span. McNamara will likely be the best quarterback on the field on Saturday.
Next week, Michigan heads to Lincoln to battle Nebraska. It should be a win, but it’s also a trap following what should be a physical battle against Wisconsin.
Michigan closes the month at Michigan State on Halloween weekend. That will be a war, but Harbaugh boasts a 3-1 record against Michigan State in East Lansing.
Two weeks later, Michigan has Penn State in Happy Valley.
If you don’t trust that Michigan can survive that road slate, remember that it will likely be able to afford one loss. However, with its running game and defense, Michigan has two elements necessary for winning games on the road.
Additionally, according to the SP+ rankings, Michigan is eighth, Penn State is fifth, Wisconsin is 11th, Michigan State is 30th, and Nebraska is 47th. That suggests Michigan has a good chance to win most of those games.
If Michigan does get through that gauntlet with just one loss, it will likely set up an East Division championship with Ohio State in the regular-season finale.
Penn State has road trips to Iowa and Ohio State, and of course, Michigan can take care of Penn State itself.
Despite its early struggles, Ohio State is still the class of the Big Ten until proven otherwise, and Michigan will have to go through the Buckeyes.
But going through Ohio State might actually be Michigan’s best strategy.
Ohio State ranks 82nd in the country in rushing defense, giving up 155 yards per game. It’s very conceivable that Michigan could use its running game to control time of possession, keep Ohio State’s explosive offense off the field, and finally knock off the Buckeyes.
In the Big Ten Championship, Michigan would likely see Iowa or a rematch with Wisconsin.
If Michigan beats Wisconsin on Saturday, its odds to win the Big Ten will likely decrease. That means the time to take Michigan to win the Big Ten Championship is now.
What to Watch in Week 5 and Beyond
Alex Hinton: Iowa State was thought to be the biggest threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12 this season, but the Cyclones are now 2-2 and suffered their first conference loss at Baylor last Saturday.
Baylor now finds itself 4-0 overall and 2-0 in Big 12 play.
The Bears boast a solid offensive line and a lot of speed on offense. Quarterback Gerry Bohanon is efficient, and his running ability puts a lot of stress on the defense.
Running backs Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner are a potent tandem and are both averaging over seven yards per carry.
Head coach Dave Aranda is one of the best defensive minds in the country. The Bears give up 15.8 PPG, which ranks 19th in scoring defense. They also come in at 24th in total defense, allowing 296 yards per game.
Baylor has the kind of balance necessary to win the Big 12.
It also has a favorable schedule. The Bears have already taken down Iowa State. It travels to Oklahoma State this Saturday and TCU in November, but all of the other Big 12 contenders must come to Waco.
Baylor gets West Virginia at home next week, Texas on Oct. 30, and Oklahoma on Nov. 13.
If Baylor loses this week, you may get a slightly better number. They could also pull out an impressive road win to show that they are legitimate Big 12 contenders.
I will have my eye on the Bears this week.