College Football Odds & Futures: Why to Bet TCU & Illinois Before Week 6
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Illinois defensive back Jartavious Martin.
We’re nearly halfway into the season, and not much has changed at the top of the national title markets. Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia still sit at the top. All three come in around +200 each with Clemson being fourth at +1200.
It may seem like a three-team race right now, but that doesn’t mean any of them are a guarantee to make it to the playoff. Each championship-contending team has looked vulnerable at some point this season.
Alabama survived a thriller against Texas, benefiting from a Quinn Ewers injury and a final-minute drive. Dealing with an injury themselves with Bryce Young getting hurt last weekend, it may have to rely on backup Jalen Milroe to get the job done until Young returns.
Georgia made a statement to the rest of the nation in Week 1 by dominating Oregon but has regressed ever since. Kent State moved the ball with ease, and the Bulldogs needed to make a comeback against Missouri in a four-point win.
With more uncertainty at the top with each passing week, now is the time to fire on a familiar face that was featured in this duo’s last installment.
National Championship Picture
TCU to Win National Championship (+15000)
I wrote about the Horned Frogs to win the Big 12 in our last installment at 25-1, and that number has now dropped down to +450 after their dominant win over Oklahoma.
Now, I have my eyes on the bigger prize for TCU.
Like Miami that crashed and burned, this number is far too large to not take a nibble on for a team that can realistically win its conference.
The Frogs have improved throughout the season as they continue to play under new schemes on both sides under new coaching regimes. New head coach Sonny Dykes has implemented a more modern Air Raid style of offense that has shown immediate success.
While last year was abysmal for the defense — it ranked near dead last in multiple advanced metrics — Dykes brought in one of the nation’s best defensive coordinators in Joe Gillespie to turn it around with his 3-3-5 scheme.
While still prone to explosiveness, the defense has steadily improved as it prepares for a stretch that will make or break its season. It now gets the task of limiting a Kansas offense that has led it to an undefeated record so far.
While I’m still low on Kansas, it catches TCU in a sandwich spot with Oklahoma State on deck. Should TCU get past Kansas and win another big one over Oklahoma State, it will firmly find itself in playoff talks to squeak into the fourth spot.
I will take the Horned Frogs at 100-1 for their potential to run away with the conference. What was once my favorite sleeper going into the season has now turned into a longshot for a playoff opportunity. If they make it all the way, we will have plenty of room to play with at this price.
Conference Championship Picture
Illinois to Win Big Ten (+4200)
This is just as much a play on how poorly the Big Ten West has looked as it is a play on the Illini. While the Big Ten East is arguably the strongest division in all of college football, the West has looked anything but that through five weeks of the season.
Minnesota was the trendy pick heading into last week, and then the Gophers went out and dropped a home game to Purdue. Everybody knows about Nebraska’s struggles, and Northwestern managed to go 0-3 in nonconference play. Every single team in the West has at least one conference loss.
The one team in this division that has gotten off to a positive start is Bret Bielema’s squad. Illinois should probably be 5-0 right now but squandered a late lead in its Big Ten opener to Indiana. The Illini rebounded nicely from that loss, however, dominating Virginia at home and then beating the Badgers in Madison last week in Bielema’s return to Camp Randall.
I believe the time is now to take Illinois at 42-1 because if the Illini can beat Iowa at home on Saturday, their odds will drop considerably. Illinois also gets other Big Ten West contenders in Minnesota and Purdue at home, and the Illini don’t have to face Ohio State or Penn State in the regular season.
Now, I’m certainly aware the Illini would be massive underdogs in a Big Ten Championship game, but with odds this big, the hedge opportunity would still make this a profitable play.
Ohio State would be the opponent that would make Illinois a really sizable dog. But if the Buckeyes fall to Michigan or Penn State, the price won’t be nearly as steep.
I give Illinois as good of a shot as any to win the West, so fire the dart on the Illini to win the Big Ten and prepare to hedge in Indy. I would also endorse a play on Illinois to win the division if you can find a book that offers it.
Conference Bet to Watch
Race for the Big 12
I’ll be monitoring two games in the Big 12 pretty closely this week for a potential Big 12 future next week.
TCU heads to Lawrence to take on undefeated Kansas, and Kansas State heads north to face a desperate Cyclones squad. If one or both are able to secure a road victory, there could be some real value in a Big 12 title ticket.
Kansas State, in particular, has already won in Norman, and the Wildcats get both Oklahoma State and Texas in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
KSU is really strong in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and Adrian Martinez is playing the best football of his well-documented career.
If the Wildcats can survive a tricky road game in Ames, I will look to add a play on them to complement my OSU +700 Big 12 title ticket from the preseason.