College Football Futures Odds, Picks, Predictions: Stuckey’s Top Bets for 2021, Including Iowa State & Georgia
Brian Bahr/Getty Images. Pictured: Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15).
There are times in which betting futures over win totals is advantageous, and Stuckey lays out his reasoning for doing just that below with his seven favorite futures.
Catch up on all of Stuckey’s favorite bets ahead of the 2021 season, because after all, Week 0 kicks off in just over a week.
Editors Note: The set of college football team logos below reflects each of Stuckey’s positions in the college football futures market as of writing. Click any logo to navigate to a specific team section in this article.
Wisconsin to Win the Big Ten West -115
I’m predicting a very chalky Big Ten this year, as I think we see Ohio State take on Wisconsin in Indianapolis for all of the marbles in December.
I think you have to take all of Wisconsin’s results last year with a grain of salt as a result of COVID-19 impacts and key injuries on offense.
One player who I expect to break out in 2020 is quarterback Graham Mertz based on everything I’m reading. He had a very poor 2020 season but had to deal with both COVID-19 and a shoulder injury.
Not only is Mertz expected to be fully healthy, but he’ll also have a full offseason to prepare for his second year as a starter. And maybe more importantly, he will benefit from head coach Paul Chryst taking over as quarterbacks coach and primary play-caller.
Simply put, the play-calling last year was atrocious in a year when Wisconsin posted 15-year lows in both yards and points per game.
Mertz should also have a much healthier wide receiver group with “super seniors” Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor returning after combining for just five games last year due to injuries.
And we already know how much potential All-Big Ten tight end Jake Ferguson has. You can expect many more than just six plays of 30-plus yards, which is all the Badgers could muster up last year (127th in the nation).
I also expect the Wisconsin rushing attack to bounce back with Jalen Berger and an offensive line that returns four of its five starters. This offense should have much more balance and not look completely incompetent.
On the other side of the ball, I’m not too worried about the defense under coordinator Jim Leonhard, whose unit ranked in the top 10 in points, yards and third downs in 2020.
It’s also a good sign when you use five or more defensive backs 70% of the time and still boast a top-five rush defense.
The sacks should increase with a loaded linebacker group returning all four starters that Leonhard loves to bring pressure with. Having Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal at inside linebacker behind stud nose tackle Keeanu Benton will pose many problems for opposing interior offensive lines.
As long as it can find a third cornerback to replace Rachad Wildgoose (now with the Buffalo Bills) and adequately fill the void left by defensive ends Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand, this defense should once again easily finish in the top 20.
From a schedule perspective, the Badgers play only four true road games with the first not coming until Oct. 9. They can win all four:
- at Illinois
- at Purdue
- at Rutgers
- at Minnesota
That means Wisconsin faces all of its toughest conference opponents at home, where it will presumably have fans in one of the country’s toughest venues. That includes primary division contender Iowa, which I think ultimately decides which team comes out of the West.
Iowa State to Make the Big 12 Title Game -110
Iowa State 40-1 to Win the National Championship
This Cyclone team is the real deal. In his sixth year in Ames, head coach Matt Campbell has his most complete roster.
The offense is led by quarterback Brock Purdy — who enters his fourth year as a starter — and running back Breece Hall, who led the nation in rushing last season.
The offensive line returns all five starters, led by first-team All-Conference center Colin Newell.
Not only is this unit more experienced, but it will have a healthy preseason All-Big 12 Trevor Downing back after the left guard missed all but one half of football last year. Injuries along the offensive line last season will pay off with reliable depth this season.
I also expect a much more productive wide receiver group despite the loss of Landen Akers. Everybody else returns, led by Xavier Hutchinson in addition to Daniel Jackson and Tarique Milton, who both dealt with injuries last season. There are also some intriguing young names with big-play capability in the mix.
Plus, Iowa State has the best tight-end room in the country with Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen. This offense will have no issues moving the ball.
On the other side of the ball, the defense is stacked with elite talent and experience at all three levels:
- Defensive end Will McDonald led the nation in sacks last year.
- Linebacker Mike Rose won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2020.
- Anthony Johnson is an NFL-caliber cornerback.
- Safety Greg Eisworth has received All-Conference honors three times.
Iowa State did have some attrition along the defensive line, which has left some questions at nose guard and in regards to depth. If it can find the right mix up front, this 3-3-5 stack defense has zero weaknesses, especially after landing Villanova transfer Jaquan Amos to replace Lawrence White at free safety. And to speak to the continuity of this team, Amos is the only projected transfer or newcomer to get any real playing time on offense or defense.
The primary question with this team in recent years is whether it can avoid an early-season loss prior to October — or “Brocktober.”
This year, the Cyclones host Northern Iowa and Iowa (which has won five straight in the Cy-Hawk rivalry) with road games at UNLV and Baylor. It’s doable, and I’m trusting this veteran team to be focused from the jump after so much chatter about their slow starts.
This is a well-coached team with an identity that possesses extreme balance and experience on both sides of the ball. As a result, the Cyclones will find a way to win close games at a higher frequency than most teams.
They also added kicker Harrison Mevis from Fordham, and he should help solve their kickoff coverage issues with a higher percentage of touchbacks.
From a numbers standpoint, I’m simply higher on Iowa State than the market and think the gap between the Cyclones and Sooners is narrower than most.
Plus, they host Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU — the three teams they’ll likely compete with for that second Big 12 Championship spot if Oklahoma takes the other.
Lastly, the reason I mentioned the plural futures is I bet two, but some of the prices might now be hard to find. So, here are my wagers and the lowest levels I’d play them to for your reference:
- Iowa State -110 to make Big 12 title game (-130 or better)
- Iowa State 40-1 to win national title (30-1 or better)
It’s college football, so you can only make a realistic national championship case for six or seven teams at most. I think Iowa State is in that group this year.
Add in the fact that Alabama and Ohio State have new quarterbacks and Clemson is one quarterback injury away from potentially going to a walk-on, and this year feels more wide open than some we’ve seen in the recent past.
Western Kentucky 10-1 to Win Conference USA
Save room for me on the Western Kentucky bandwagon.
The Hilltoppers simply couldn’t find any offense last season. They averaged a mere 19.0 points per game as it simply just didn’t work with Maryland transfer Tyrell Pigrome under center.
Well, this year the Hilltoppers basically transferred in an entirely new offense from one of the most explosive units in the FCS ranks: Houston Baptist.
Head coach Tyson Helton not only brought in Houston Baptist offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, but he also snagged HBU’s starting quarterback, Bailey Zappe, and their top three wide receivers.
Zappe threw for over 1,800 yards with 15 touchdowns to just one interception in four games last year. Three of those four games came against FBS opponents, including a 567-yard performance on the road in a 35-33 loss to Texas Tech.
Can Kittley successfully implement the Air Raid at Western Kentucky? It’s a lot to ask, but the upside is high if it works out and the offense can’t get much worse than last year.
It’s also a high-variance situation on the defense, which lost a lot of production.
The defensive line, led by DeAngelo Malone, will be fine, but the Toppers will rely on many new faces at linebacker and in the secondary. If some of the transfers work out on both sides of the ball, look out.
I want no part of the win total since everything could easily blow up, but I love the upside of this team, especially in a wide-open East Division in which Marshall is undergoing a coaching change and Florida Atlantic needs to find a quarterback. I have no problem taking a small flier on high-variance teams in poor conferences, and Western Kentucky fits the bill.
Nevada to Win the Mountain West +500
Many of you who follow me on Twitter know I loved this Nevada team last year.
I really thought Carson Strong would take a huge step forward in his progress at quarterback in the second year of Jay Norvell’s Air Raid. And boy, did he shine in 2020, putting himself on the radar of many NFL teams.
If he continues this upward trend, don’t be shocked if he ends up getting drafted in the first round in 2021.
Overall, Nevada finished with the second-best net yards per play jump from 2019. It returns six all-Mountain West players on offense and will start 10 seniors on defense with a dangerous special-teams unit. The ceiling is high.
This offense could be special this year with an even more experienced offensive line and wide receiver Elijah Cooks returning from injury. Nevada’s 2019 leading receiver will make it much more difficult for opponents to double the electric Romeo Doubs on the outside. Throw in tight end Cole Turner, and Strong has three future pros to target.
Nevada also built its wide-receiving depth last year when Cooks went down early in the season.
The defense has had some holes in recent years, but there is finally depth and size along the line of the 4-2-5 base, led by Dom Peterson.
The secondary could use the most work, but I like the transfers Norvell brought in to contribute right away.
Bottom line, I have Nevada power-rated as the best team in the conference, so I had no qualms about hitting the Pack at 5-1 to win their first-ever Mountain West title.
I will say the schedule is absolutely vicious, which is why I prefer the higher upside of the division future. Facing Cal, Kansas State and Boise State all on the road in three of their first four games is cruel, but the Wolf Pack do at least get a bye week before that trip to Boise.
They also have potential tricky spots on the highway at San Diego State and Fresno State. It’s an unforgiving slate, but they at least face their biggest competition in the division (San Jose State) at home in Reno. That could ultimately decide which team moves on to the MWC title.
I know the Spartans are the defending champs with an abundance of experience, but I think they’ll sorely miss their two star receivers in Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither, both of whom entered the NFL draft.
Washington to Win the Pac-12 North +135
So, 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 these two teams 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 get the three toughest conference opponents on their schedule all 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.
Arizona State to Win the Pac-12 +500
I personally played ASU to win the Pac-12, which I preferred over the division price since I’m lower on both Oregon and Washington than most, as I mentioned before.
The investigation does concern me a bit, but it could end up working as a rallying point if there was a bowl ban, for example. The Sun Devils are loaded with experience on both sides of the ball.
It feels weird to say, but the Arizona State defense is legit and deep. This is a top-20 unit with stars at every level in defensive lineman Jermayne Lole, linebacker Merlin Robertson and arguably the best cornerback duo in the conference of Chase Lucas and Jack Jones.
There are more questions on offense, but the talent is there. If Jayden Daniels can get more consistent and accurate in his third year and a true No. 1 target emerges, the ceiling is astronomically high for this offense, as we know the run game will be there.
I also expect a jump in the second year of offensive coordinator Zak Hill’s scheme.
Arizona State does have two tough road trips to Washington and Utah, but the Sun Devils likely have the easiest overall conference schedule of any Pac-12 team.
Georgia to Make the College Football Playoff +175
The Bulldogs came excruciatingly close to winning a national title back in 2018, but their offense has really held them back from reaching that level in most years under head coach Kirby Smart.
Well, with J.T. Daniels under center, Georgia now has a unit that can finally complement its always-stingy defense.
Keep in mind that last year offensive coordinator Todd Monken prepared for the season with the assumption that Jamie Newman would start at quarterback. Then it ended up being Stetson Bennett. Daniels didn’t even play until the final four games.
To illustrate how much more potent the offense became, Daniels threw for 300 yards twice in those four starts. All other Georgia quarterbacks only did that four combined times in five years under Smart.
The first thing I like about Georgia is it’s the clear class of the SEC East after Florida saw an exodus of talent depart for the NFL. You can almost pencil the Bulldogs into the SEC Championship Game. Win that, and there’s a good chance you will see the Dogs in the College Football Playoff.
And considering I think Alabama might be a bit more vulnerable than the market, Georgia could certainly win that game — or maybe even it’s Texas A&M that comes out of the East.
Additionally, Georgia starts out the season with a blockbuster meeting with Clemson. A win would provide a massive boost to the Bulldogs’ resume and could get them into the College Football Playoff without winning the SEC.
Here’s a fun thought exercise — which team would the committee choose if there were only two spots left, assuming Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma went undefeated?
- One-loss Georgia that beat Clemson to start the year but lost to Alabama in SEC Championship
- One-loss Clemson that won the ACC but lost to Georgia
There’s a timing element here and the committee does value conference championships, but Georgia would have a strong case. My point is Georgia has multiple roads to the College Football Playoff, and I think there’s some value at +175.
I also played Georgia 8-1 to win the national title if you can still find that number out there.