College Football Odds, Picks, Futures: The 655-1 Power Five Conference Champion Parlay to Bet
Alika Jenner/Getty Images. Pictured: Tavion Thomas.
Unlike the Group of Five, which produces its fair share of longshot conference champions each season, the Power Five has been less chaos-inclined in recent years.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be mined across the country, but it does mean you can rule out nearly 70% of the teams out before their band strikes up the fight song for the first time this fall.
With that in mind, I’ve laid out my five picks to take home conference titles in the Power Five this season, balancing chalk with a few teams that are on the outside looking in this preseason.
NC State to Win ACC (+900)
Despite a letdown season — by Clemson standards — Dabo Swinney and company still won 10 games in 2021. And their losses included a single-possession defeat to the eventual national champions and an overtime heartbreaker against NC State.
Both of these season-tilting setbacks came away from Death Valley. Suffice to say, the ACC still runs through Clemson.
So why, given the orange and regalia lovefest above, am I on the Wolfpack and not the Tigers (-125) to win the ACC? In a word, continuity.
Only 19 programs in the entire country return their head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, and starting quarterback. NC State retained head coach Dave Doeren (17-7, 13-5 ACC last 2 years), OC Tim Beck (1st in ACC passing efficiency), DC Tony Gibson (1st in ACC defensive passing efficiency) and starting quarterback Devin Leary (7:1 TD-INT ratio).
NC State, as a program, returns 77% of its offensive production and 90% of its defensive production from 2021, according to our Collin Wilson. This includes nine starters on defense, not including former All-American candidate Payton Wilson, who returns from injury this fall to anchor the linebacking corps.
The Wolfpack defense finished top-20 nationally in points per game (20.8), yards per play allowed (4.9), opponent third-down conversions (30.1%) and opponent completion percentage (53.1%).
Clemson, meanwhile, has a quarterback competition on its hands should D.J. Uiagalelei falter at all in fall camp or against the Tigers’ cushy nonconference slate (Furman, La Tech).
If Big Cinco is stuck in neutral, I fully expect Swinney to hand the keys over to true freshman Cade Klubnik.
Defensively, the Tigers must replace both starting cornerbacks and will be guided by a first-time defensive coordinator in Wes Goodwin. This will be Goodwin’s first crack at calling plays as a DC.
Brandon Streeter has more experience as an OC (FCS OC stints at Liberty and Richmond), but he’s replacing former Broyles Award winner Tony Elliott.
There are prices out in the market north of 10-1 on the Wolfpack, which is far too high for a veteran team that beat Clemson last season.
Books are pricing Clemson as prohibitively as juggernauts Ohio State and Alabama as though Clemson didn’t put together the worst offensive campaign of the Swinney era in 2021 (26.3 PPG, 82nd).
Toss in the potential loss of Sam Hartman at Wake Forest, and it appears this is a two-horse race in the ACC.
Take advantage of this generous number on the Wolfpack.
To Win ACC
Baylor to Win Big 12 (+650)
The Baylor Bears are the defending Big 12 champions and were selected by the media to win the conference again in 2022. So naturally, they check in at fourth in oddsmakers’ pecking order. Wait, what?
The Big 12 has long been viewed as an offensive conference, and the fact that Baylor is replacing four skill-position starters and putting its faith in a green starting quarterback with all of two career starts has sportsbooks skeptical.
But I’m bullish on what Blake Shapen can offer a previously one-dimensional BU attack (10th in rush, 92nd in pass).
In the Big 12 Championship gainst Oklahoma State, which finished fourth in total defense, Shapen completed 82% of his passes and three touchdowns, earning title game MVP honors. He’s a solid improvisational runner and has tremendous touch.
The offensive line in front of Shapen returns nearly intact with four starters coming back.
The beef up front will allow OC Jeff Grimes to keep his RVO (reliably violent offense) rolling. The Broyles Award finalist unleashed a devastating running game that paired perfectly with the Bears’ stout defense last season.
As for the running game this fall, Craig “Sqwirl” Williams could be a breakout star if he can stay healthy. The former four-star recruit is a home-run hitter capable of replacing a big chunk of Abram Smith’s 2021 production that included 1,601 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, Baylor returns a ton from a front seven that helped generate 104 tackles for loss last season (7th nationally). The key will be in the secondary, where Dave Aranda’s team needs to break in three new starters to their 3-3-5 look.
Luckily, the new faces in the secondary are highly-touted, headlined by Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson, a former four-star recruit out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Jalen Pitre won the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in the same role that Johnson will be playing this fall.
Given all of the new starters in Stillwater, an overhaul of the Oklahoma coaching staff and the crushing weight of outsized expectations on the Forty Acres, I’m confident Baylor can at least return to the conference title game in 2022.
To Win Big 12
Ohio State to Win Big Ten (-210)
The trio of C.J. Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba is arguably the best “Big Three” in the history of Ohio State football, which is saying a whole lot. For my money, they’re already in a dead heat with the ‘95 legends of Bobby Hoying, Eddie George and Terry Glenn, just needing to stay healthy this fall to rewrite records books in Columbus.
As for the road ahead, Ohio State plays its first five games at “The Shoe” and catches tricky games against Iowa and Michigan at home as well. The Buckeyes even have the benefit of a bye week immediately after their first road test of the season — at Michigan State on Oct. 8.
The offense has a chance to be historically good, but how far can the defense progress in Year 1 under Jim Knowles?
The Broyles Award finalist is known for complex schemes and a lot of pressure. Last season at Oklahoma State, Knowles’ defense led the nation with four sacks per game, mixing 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 looks, while unleashing a hybrid edge rusher position (Leo), which he now calls Jack at Ohio State.
Zach Harrison and Jack Sawyer will get a crack at the position. If either proves to be effective in the role, that really increases the Buckeyes’ ceiling on defense.
At the end of the day, the Big Ten still runs through Columbus because of Ohio State’s talent advantage and intimidation factor. Ryan Day is 23-1 in Big Ten play as the Buckeyes’ head coach, and now they have a chip on their shoulder after dropping two games last season and getting bullied by their archrival.
Look out for Stroud and the Silver Bullets on their revenge tour.
To Win Big Ten
Alabama to Win SEC (-145)
If you like one blue blood getting off the mat in 2022, how about another coming off of a “rebuilding” season?
Nick Saban may have said that tongue-in-cheek during the offseason, but given how much talent Alabama lost following the 2020 season, it’s not an entirely outlandish statement to make.
After replacing a pair of first-round NFL Draft picks in their backfield and a Heisman Trophy winner on the perimeter, the Crimson Tide still finished top-10 in total offense (7th) and scoring (6th).
The noticeable struggle of course was along the offensive line. Bama’s O-line finished 68th in Sack Rate, 46th in Power Success Rate and a shocking 70th in Stuff Rate.
Essentially, that means three things:
- Bryce Young was under duress a lot.
- The Tide were mediocre running the ball in short-yardage situations on third and fourth down.
- Far too many of their carries were stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.
Offensively, this is the only concern I had about Alabama by the end of last year, and there’s reason to expect a turnaround.
The Tide return both guard positions in Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Javion Cohen. Vanderbilt transfer Tyler Steen moves into the left tackle position with a mountain of SEC experience. At right tackle, super-highly touted sophomore JC Latham will help bookend the line.
And finally, Alabama has two experienced options at center in Darrian Dalcourt and Seth McLaughlin. If McLaughlin plays as he did in the final four games, it’ll be his job to lose.
I fully expect the line to improve this fall with Saban bringing to bear his and his staff’s full attention this offseason.
As for the defense, SP+ projects it to finish with the fourth-best unit in all the land. And it makes sense considering it returns all-world linebacker Will Anderson and six other starters. Pepper in the significant transfer portal coup that was Eli Ricks, and it’s easy to envision a slight improvement on its 2021 performance (20th in scoring, 7th in total defense).
At the end of the day, the three best quarterbacks Alabama will face in the regular season this fall may very well be Quinn Ewers, Hendon Hooker and Jaxson Dart. Two of those high-upside passers have little to no experience, which isn’t a recipe for upsetting Saban.
I’ll stick with the chalk here.
To Win SEC
Utah to Win Pac-12 (+250)
Utah has been waiting for a quarterback with moxie since Brian Johnson upset Alabama 13 years ago. In the last decade, Tyler Huntley was better than Travis Wilson, who was an upgrade over Jon Hays.
It’s been a gradual improvement from below average to decent to really good. But can Cam Rising be great? That’s the question — and the early results are very promising.
Once Rising took over the starting role in September last fall, the Utes went 9-2 straight up, scoring 38 points per game. That included a pair of blowout wins over Oregon and a 42-point outburst against USC.
The dual-threat scored rushing touchdowns in six of his 11 starts and has provided Utah not only with a schematic edge but an emotional one as well.
Utah’s preseason offensive outlook is as good as it has ever been under head coach Kyle Whittingham, buoyed by eight returning starters.
Tavion Thomas at running back and the tandem of Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe at H-back and tight end allows the Utes to present a “pick your poison” scenario to defenses in short-yardage situations.
Defensively, I’m putting my faith in Morgan Scalley. He has to replace six starters, including Devin Lloyd, who was a wrecking machine in 2021. But Scalley has been in Salt Lake City for 15 years, and he knows how to coach up his side of the ball.
Utah has led the Pac-12 in rushing defense in five of the past six seasons, including a four-year streak. It’s also been noticeably more disruptive in recent years, leading the Pac-12 in both tackles for loss and sacks last season.
If it can escape a difficult opener on the road in Gainesville, it’ll have the entire month of September to shore things up on defense with a host of underwhelming offenses on tap (Southern Utah, San Diego State, Arizona State).
Getting USC at home is a major boon, but traveling to Oregon and a potentially tricky game on the Palouse isn’t doing it any favors. Luckily, the Utes have a bye week between USC and Wazzu, allowing them to sidestep a letdown while preparing for a new offensive system from the Cougs.
To me, Utah is the only complete team in the entire conference with a veteran coaching staff to boot. I’ll bank on an Oct. 8 triumph over USC sealing the deal.
To Win Pac-12
Power Five Conference Champion Parlay (655-1)
To borrow a phrase from our own Stuckey, throw some “couch change” on this parlay and pray that NC State can hold up its end of the bargain.