2015 NCAA Football Champion Predictions

The Ohio State Buckeyes are no strangers to the championship title. Will they see victory again? (Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports)

The Ohio State Buckeyes are no strangers to the championship title. Will they see victory again? (Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports)

We’re currently about a month off from the start of the 2015 NCAA football season, and many college sports fans are already starting to run some numbers so they can handicap their wagers once the season begins. Of course, there isn’t too much to focus on right now, but that hasn’t stopped people from throwing money into futures and prop bets regarding who the next Division I champion of the NCAA will be.

There are currently five frontrunners for the national title, going solely on which teams bettors have been wagering on the most. Below, we’ll examine each of these five teams and whether or not they have a solid chance of taking the title at the end of the 2015 NCAA football season. Also feel free to check out our complete beginners guide to sports betting for more information on how to handicap these teams, or sign up for our handicapping consulting services if you’d like a little bit of guidance when it comes time to bet on the actual games this season.

5. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan is the fifth-ranked contender based on futures bets, with rival OSU ranking as the most popular among bettors. (Wikimedia Commons)

Michigan is the fifth-ranked contender based on futures bets, with rival OSU ranking as the most popular among bettors. (Wikimedia Commons)

Jim Harbaugh played quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines back in the 1980s, but they haven’t been a part of his coaching career until just recently. This has created quite a bit of buzz, to the extent that Michigan actually got its own Big Ten Media Day so that Harbaugh could voice his opinions on the team before the start of the 2015 NCAA football season. He’s managed to maintain his humility (which is good), but the fact still stands that the guy most recently worked in the NFL. He should be able to bring something to the table at the collegiate level.

This might have some people wondering why Michigan is only fifth on the list. After all, it would seem to some as if Harbaugh would have would it takes to turn Michigan into a pro-ready team. Unfortunately, that issue is largely dependent on the personnel with which he’s working. And he’s been keeping oddly silent about his opinions regarding the team and its players. Either he doesn’t like talking to the media, or he simply can’t discuss the team’s chances at taking the 2015 NCAA football title because he honestly doesn’t know what their chances are to begin with.

Some are saying that one of the best players to come out of Ann Arbor right now is running back Ty Isaac. This 240-pound behemoth stands at 6’3, but size isn’t everything. He’s been fighting injuries during spring training, as have fellow RBs Derrick Green and Drake Johnson. That doesn’t make them any less vital to the team, but it’s important to remember that Harbaugh is a smart coach who won’t be putting all of his eggs in one giant-sized basket. He knows that his players are not invulnerable, and a versatile offense is needed. Isaac will contribute to any successes the team experiences during the 2015 NCAA football season, but he won’t necessarily lead the team.

Speaking of team leaders, there are some questions regarding who Michigan’s starting quarterback for the 2015 NCAA football season will be. As with everything else, Harbaugh has been keeping silent on this particular issue, which implies that he needs to see a little more from both Jake Rudock and Shane Morris before he makes his decision. As of now, it appears that starting QB will not be Shane Morris. His history isn’t what it could be, and Rudock offers a bit more experience. It’s still a close bet for either of them, but those who are handicapping their games early should probably do more research on Rudock than Morris. Just remember that until the media gets a straight answer out of Harbaugh (which is unlikely until he’s made a solid decision), it couldn’t hurt to run some stats on both.

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

If you’re placing wagers on the Fighting Irish this year, it’s best to cut potential losses and watch the games on TV. Rising ticket prices might put your winnings out the window if you attend the games in person. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

If you’re placing wagers on the Fighting Irish this year, it’s best to cut potential losses and watch the games on TV. Rising ticket prices might put your winnings out the window if you attend the games in person. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

Clearly, Notre Dame is expected to perform well this season. That’s usually the case (given the school’s extremely loyal fan base), but expectations for the 2015 NCAA football season are so high that ticket prices for home games have gone as high as $293.85 when purchased on the secondary market. Ticket prices were already high last season, but this year’s raise has put them almost a third higher than they were before. The real question for sports bettors, however, is where this raise comes from and whether or not it’s justified.

First of all, it should be mentioned that there are a few questions in the air as far as Notre Dame is concerned. Michigan is not the only school with uncertainties regarding who is going to be filling certain positions during the 2015 NCAA football season. There are a lot of backup positions that haven’t been filled, but they also need to figure out who’s going to be starting at left guard. The two main candidates for starting LG are Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson. Bars hasn’t practiced much for the position, so the main consensus is that Nelson will be taking the job.

Some insights into Notre Dame’s strategies for the 2015 NCAA football season might be gained by looking at their recent recruiting visits. They’ve largely been focusing on defensive backs, as well as other defensive positions such as cornerback Damar Hamlin. It’s worth noting that many of their prospects will not be graduating until 2016 or 2017, so they might not technically indicate much about Notre Dame’s plans for the coming season. Still, it appears that they feel a need to bone up on defense right now. They had some notable defensive weaknesses last season, but they’re clearly trying to do everything they can to resolve that issue. With the help of players such as nose guard Jerry Tillery and linebackers Nyles Morgan and Jarrett Grace, they might be a much stronger team this season.

There’s been a bit of talk about whether or not Notre Dame has an easier schedule due to not being part of a conference. And sure, maybe a conference championship won’t be on their agenda for the 2015 NCAA football season (or any season, if they have anything to say about it). But they had one of the top 15 toughest schedules last season, even if that isn’t the case this season. With a stronger defense and easier competition, they could be decent title contenders this year. We aren’t saying they’ll be champions, but they should have a decent run.

3. Auburn Tigers

As usual, Auburn is pumped for the 2015 NCAA football season. And they’re showing it, with new uniforms and a humongous video board. (John Reed/USA TODAY Sports)

As usual, Auburn is pumped for the 2015 NCAA football season. And they’re showing it, with new uniforms and a humongous video board. (John Reed/USA TODAY Sports)

Auburn is the third most popular selection for those placing futures on the 2015 NCAA football season, and they’re getting ready for the fall in exorbitant fashion. First of all, they unveiled the largest video board in college football, with an amazing measurement of 10,380 square feet. They also have something in common with Notre Dame this season, which is that their new Armourgrid uniforms by Under Armour are supposed to be “ungrabbable.” But don’t run to the sportsbooks just yet. As pointed out by SB Nation, the school isn’t likely to win the season based solely on some implausible boasts about Under Armour’s new fabric.

What might help them is that, like Notre Dame, they’re going into the 2015 NCAA football season with a pretty strong defensive team. This is largely due to DTs Montravius Adams, Dontavius Russell, and newcomer Jaunta’vius Johnson. Aside from having the coolest names in college football, these three players are expected to do big things for the team this year. And since the Tigers like to keep their defensive linemen in rotation, each of them should get some solid playing time. The only real issue with Auburn’s defensive line-up is that four of their most experienced tackles are departing, so the rest of the defensive team will have to step up their game a bit this year.

But the team still has some experienced players, and they’re going to be training themselves in some new strategies when the team begins fall practice this week. By Saturday, they’re expected to have their first padded practice. Depending on how big their schematic changes for the 2015 NCAA football season are going to be, they really can’t wait much longer. Things get real once the pads go on, so they need to make the most of their practice runs throughout the week and start giving it their all if they want a shot at the title this year.

According to head coach Gus Malzahn, the chances of Auburn taking a title during the 2015 NCAA football season are pretty great. Not only does he believe that the Tigers are one of half a dozen teams that have a decent chance at becoming champions any year, but he notes that odd years are not as difficult as even years because they don’t have to contend with facing both the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide while on the road. He notes that they still usually have a difficult schedule, but Malzahn doesn’t seem to believe that there’s any challenge Auburn can’t handle. With a new defense and some revised strategies, this could be a key year for them.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

The Tide were one of the reigning teams in college football a few years back, but they’ve been experiencing something of a dry spell since 2012. Now, they’ve released a hype video indicating that they expect things to turn back around in time for the 2015 NCAA football season. Of course, the hype video is really just for fans. And as we’ve mentioned before, their fans—or Gumps, as they’re known—can be a bit overzealous at times. They don’t usually need a video in order to get hyped for the start of a new season.

This year, however, Bama has one of the strongest Division I defensive lines that anyone could hope for. This seems to be a theme with many of the teams on this list, but most of the teams on this list don’t quite have the depth of experience that the Crimson Tide have to offer. Expect some solid defensive play from Bama this year, with Rashaan Evans rushing passes as Jarran Reed, Jonathan Allen, and A’Shawn Robinson guard the line. Reserves like Dalvin Tomlinson and D.J. Pettway will help to round out the list pretty nicely, as both can offer the speed and strength necessary to serve up some successful quarterback sacks this season. To be honest, Alabama would deserve to be second on this list even if they weren’t drawing the second highest number of futures bets. They’re easily one of the top contenders for the 2015 NCAA football title.

That said, no team is perfect. Much like Notre Dame, Alabama is focusing on defense this year because they dropped the ball on that front last year. Head coach Nick Saban is bringing in some new personnel to coach secondary defense, but there are still unanswered questions regarding the offensive team. Jake Coker and David Cornwell are the two main frontrunners for starting QB, with Coker most likely in the lead for the position. But there are three others in the heated battle for starter, meaning that Bama’s offensive team currently has no idea who’s going to be leading them throughout the 2015 NCAA football season. Their roster for running backs also doesn’t go much deeper than Derrick Henry, which presents a problem we discussed earlier in regards to Michigan’s Ty Isaac.

In addition to roster questions, Saban is losing his players. He lost DT Jonathan Taylor due to a domestic violence charge (which he should have seen coming after Taylor was cut from Georgia for the exact same thing), and some key talent that could have rounded out the slim pickings in the running back department had to go and get their college degrees. Alabama hasn’t lost as many offensive players as Auburn, but they’re still in trouble if an injury puts anyone out for the season. Right now, they really need every man on the team for the 2015 NCAA football season if they’re going to stand a chance of ending their drought and return as champions.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Whether they win the 2015 NCAA football season or not, they’re bound to bring a high level of energy to their games. And while they aren’t perfect candidates, they certainly have a shot. (Photo via AthlonSports)

Whether they win the 2015 NCAA football season or not, they’re bound to bring a high level of energy to their games. And while they aren’t perfect candidates, they certainly have a shot. (Photo via AthlonSports)

It isn’t too surprising that the Buckeyes are the most popular choice for futures right now. Some of the more casual sports bettors out there have a tendency to just assume that champions will continue to be champions. And some might think that OSU is making the same assumption, since they seem to be going about the offseason pretty casually. The players have been busy pranking each other with mannequins and trash cans, while head coach Urban Meyer is clearly planning on making bank during the 2015 NCAA football season since he just trademarked his own name for the purpose of putting it on t-shirts.

The truth is, however, that there might be some cause for concern this season. First of all, the Buckeyes failed to impress the crowd that showed up in record attendance for their spring game earlier this year, and Meyer openly stated that the team had not improved. That’s not a good thing for a coach to say when his team is going to be starting the 2015 NCAA football season against the Virginia Tech Hokies without the help of four major players. A rash of one-game suspensions is going to be leaving them short of HBs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, as well as WR Corey Smith and DE Joey Bosa.

Bosa is the real loss on that list, as arguably the best draft prospect on the team. But Meyer isn’t too worried about losing him. Not just because it’s only for one game, but because—much like the other teams on this list—the Buckeyes are attempting to strengthen their overall defensive line in time for the start of the 2015 NCAA football season. DEs Jashon Cornell, Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Darius Slade are all talented in their own right. Meyer acknowledges that the team’s defensive line might not perform as strongly in their season opener as they would with Bosa on the field, but he thinks that anyone he picks to start as Bosa’s replacement should still be able to offer a decent performance. Meyer certainly wasn’t expressing this sort of confidence after the spring game, so it’s safe to say that he’s got a lot of faith in his defensive team.

Meyer might be working on his defensive team, but it was OSU’s offense that got them ranked first in the preseason coaches’ poll. One of their primary offensive players this year is going to be RB Ezekiel Elliott, and former QB Braxton Miller will likely be transitioning to wide receiver (which would be more worrisome if he wasn’t capable of making a one-handed catch while holding five footballs). As for starter, it could be either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones. Meyer’s even mentioned the possibility of playing them both at the same time. The Princeton Tigers have successfully run a three-QB offense in the past, so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It may sound iffy, but it just might be the kind of forward thinking that allows OSU to return as 2015 NCAA football champions.