Coming off of our 2016 Super Bowl predictions, we’d like to take a run at the next College Football Playoff National Championship. We’ve already talked about some of these teams before, when we discussed which NCAA teams were generating the most futures bets. But covering only five teams does not present a very fair view of the field. And, as every year, there are far more than five schools vying for the 2016 College Football Championship. So we’re going to look at some of the likeliest contenders, as well as those who don’t stand much of a shot.
Much as we did with our Super Bowl predictions, we are going to be discussing the Vegas odds quite a bit. Note that every team in the FBS will not be mentioned. Only forty-nine teams are mentioned in the Vegas odds. This accounts for betting the field (betting that the winning team will be a team which isn’t listed). The top twenty-five teams on the Vegas odds are the teams with the greatest chance of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. The bottom twenty-four teams are all given worse odds than betting the field. Since betting the field is given 200/1 odds, any team with worse odds can be considered to have extremely low chances of winning.
We’re going to do this a little bit differently than usual. In our Super Bowl and World Series predictions, we mentioned each division before going into their championship before finally graduating to the main event. For the purpose of discussing the 2016 College Football Championship, we will examine each conference with at least one team that made the Vegas odds. These conferences will be taken as a whole. We’ll then end by lumping together the top teams from each conference and examining which has the best chances of winning the 2016 College Football Championship.
Note: Many of the below numbers are subject to change. For instance, Louisville’s odds have dropped to 9999/1 and Texas has dropped to 5000/1. Meanwhile, TCU is now 13/2 while Ohio State is now 7/4. If there is a particular team that catches your interest, always check these figures every week or so to see if anything’s changed.
There were previously four teams without a conference, but the Navy Midshipmen are now a part of the American Athletic Conference. The American did not make it into the Vegas odds, nor did the Army Black Knights, so anyone rooting for either of these teams to win should try their luck in betting the field. The leaves only two independent teams, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the BYU Cougars.
BYU has been given 500/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. And while they managed to make it through their first two games undefeated, fortune hasn’t necessarily smiled upon them. They lost QB Taysom Hill in their first game, and both of their first two wins can be attributed to touchdown passes by backup QB Tanner Mangum. In a preview of their game against the UCLA Bruins, WR Mitch Mathews (who caught the 42-yard Hail Mary to win their first game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers) said that the team’s surprising success is not luck-based at all. Instead, he claims that their unlikely 2-0 start is mostly due to the support they have given one another. Motivation can be a powerful tool, but rarely can it fuel an entire season. They might subvert some expectations, but they won’t be champions.
Notre Dame was mentioned as one of the teams generating the most preseason futures bets. Vegas certainly favors them more than they favor BYU, giving the team 40/1 odds of becoming champions this year. It should be noted, however, that BYU isn’t the only non-conference team to lose their quarterback to injury. The Fighting Irish no longer have Malik Zaire, and have replaced him with DeShone Kizer. While Kizer proved his chops against the Virginia Cavaliers, subbing in and throwing a winning pass, it’s hard to call in favor of a team putting so much faith in a redshirted freshman. Notre Dame is usually a good enough team that they won’t have to rest on the merits of their quarterback alone, especially if they deliver the type of defense they’re promising this year. But either way, it’s doubtful that a non-conference team will be taking home the 2016 College Football Championship this January.
Boise State is the only Mountain West team to earn a mention in the current Vegas odds. Unfortunately, that’s not a great distinction. They were ranked in the bottom twenty-four, with 500/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. The Broncos were the second team to lose to BYU this season, and it didn’t help that they lost QB Ryan Finley in the first quarter. But they rallied, and they managed to shut out the Idaho State Bengals in a 52-0 win. The win was largely credited to RBs Kelsey Young and Jeremy McNichols, but they didn’t do it alone. The second half of the game saw the Broncos sub in their first true freshman quarterback since 1993, Brett Rypien. A skilled passer, he went 8 for 9 on passes, scoring on every possession. We don’t necessarily see him leading the team to a championship. But Boise State coach Bryan Harsin thinks Finley might recover during the season, which will raise Boise State’s chances of securing a ranking.
Of the seven Big 12 teams specifically listed in the Vegas odds, only two of them are listed as worse than betting the field. The first is Kansas State, with 300/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. The Wildcats have suffered a string of early-season injuries, eviscerating the depth of their position lineup at quarterback. While they previously had four men at the position, they’re down to one starter and one backup. Losing that kind of depth is going to put the pressure on. They do have a pretty experienced coaching staff, but that’ll only take them so far.
The Texas Longhorns are ranked even lower, with 1000/1 odds on the 2016 College Football Championship. Frankly, those odds seem a little mean (our head writer may or may not be from Arlington, TX). The good news is that UT just got rid of abrasively thick-headed athletic director Steve Patterson, which should calm things down a bit at their school. But the team itself has been struggling to recruit a solid defensive line, and it looks like this trend may actually persist through next year. We definitely don’t see the Longhorns hooking a championship any time soon. They lost their game against the California Golden Bears 44-45, failing to tie the game when they missed the PAT on their last touchdown. That’s almost more disappointing than losing by 20 points. They are not playing well. Still, 1000/1 seems a little mean.
West Virginia is one of two college football teams with an interesting position in the Vegas odds. The Mountaineers have 200/1 odds, meaning that a winning futures bet on West Virginia would pay just as much as betting the field, despite the added risk. It’s a moot point, since the news has been talking more about WVU’s off-field problems than their on-field performance. First there was the issue of the team dismissing two players who were stabbed in a fight, and now Morgantown is trying to find a way to keep fans from starting fires after Mountaineers games. As for their chances of winning the 2016 College Football Championship, we aren’t really rooting for them. While they won both of their first two games with more than 40 points (the first game being a shutout against Georgia Southern), their schedule is due to get a bit more difficult. We doubt they’ll keep up the same performance level once it starts to get tougher.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys and Oklahoma Sooners are in better position, with respective odds of 60/1 and 35/1 for winning the 2016 College Football Championship. Thanks to the efforts of QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State had been moving up in the AP polls. It’s now believed that they could make it to the playoffs. But they still have some improvements to make, and we aren’t too comfortable calling them potential champions just yet. If you want to lose some money, go ahead and put down a futures bet for Oklahoma State.
As for the Sooners, they’re desperate to prove themselves after last season. Unfortunately for them, that means very little if they can’t deliver. And while the Laters have been putting on a decent show in their first few games, we don’t predict that it’ll last too long. They may not like being disregarded as a potential championship team, but they’ve been discarded for a reason. Like Oklahoma State, the Sooners could pull out all the stops and make it to the playoffs. But those with even a shred of rational sanity can see that this year’s Oklahoma is not a championship team, nor do they deserve to be treated like one.
Baylor is the second-most favored team in the Big 12, with odds of 12/1 for the 2016 College Football Championship. Baylor actually has a lot in common with most of the teams we’ve discussed so far, in that they’ve done well enough for themselves at the start of the season but don’t appear as if they could possibly keep it up. They won their first two games by 35 points each, but neither of those games was against a particularly tough opponent. They’re certainly better than they were a few years ago, so they might be able to continue blowing past their easy schedule and make it to the playoffs. But they’re still massive underdogs as far as the championship is concerned.
The most favored team in the Big 12, and second-most favored of all teams gunning for the 2016 College Football Championship, is the TCU Horned Frogs. A number of analysts have picked them as favorites this year, and Vegas has given them 7/1 odds. But we still need to see a bit more proof that they can take it all the way—a 70-7 win against a team like the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks just doesn’t prove too much. While railing the Lumberjacks up and down the field may not prove much in terms of championship potential, it still helped the Horned Frogs work on their defense a little. This is important, since they’re without some of their key defensive players right now. It showed, too, in their opening road game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Now that their defense has improved drastically, they can work on offense while they make a run for the 2016 College Football Championship. We already know that QB Trevone Boykin is shaping up to be one of the greatest passers in the team’s history. He might help them take this all the way.
There are eight teams from the Big Ten included in the Vegas odds, but six of them are given worse odds than betting the field. Actually, the Big Ten has the interesting distinction of containing both the most and least favored teams by Vegas standards. We’ll start at the bottom of the list and work our way up.
The least favored team is the Penn State Nittany Lions, with 5000/1 odds. Really, the biggest story going on at Penn State right now is the push to have the school’s statue of Joe Paterno restored. But while there’s some appreciate for the team’s linebackers, there isn’t much to say about their performance right now. They’ve been pretty underwhelming, opening the season with a 10-27 loss to the Temple Owls. If they can’t get it together against a team with almost no recognition, then there’s no point in speculating whether or not they’ll subvert expectations this year. They won’t.
Minnesota is stuck at 2000/1 odds, and the Golden Gophers haven’t done much to demonstrate any particular reason for Vegas to place them higher on the list. They opened with a loss, and at the time of writing they have yet to win by more than three points. Unlike Penn State, the Gophers might actually surprise us a bit. They’ve got a fairly experienced defensive backfield, and they just about held their own against TCU. Granted, that was a game in which TCU lost their starting quarterback. Still, while we aren’t about to predict huge things for Minnesota this season, we’re willing to bet they’ll wind up higher on the list in terms of NCAA rankings than they are in terms of Vegas odds.
Nebraska hasn’t had the best season so far. Not only have they lost to two other teams that are pretty low in the Vegas odds, but their seemingly singular 48-9 win was against a team that didn’t even warrant a specific mention in the futures books. It’s frankly not too surprising that they’ve been given 1000/1 odds. That said, you can bet that they’ll be getting support from their fans regardless of whether or not the Cornhuskers prove Vegas wrong. In fact, at the start of the season, Merril Hoge of ESPN all but declared Nebraska fans to be the best fans in college football. Not only does he praise their volume, but also their respect. Given some of the fans we’ve covered before, we have to give Nebraska some credit for the quality of their spectators. Even if we can’t give them credit for much else right now.
Wisconsin opened with a pretty hefty loss to Alabama before moving on to win a 58-0 shutout against the Miami (OH) Redhawks. They also took home a 28-3 win against the Troy Trojans, but neither of their wins really say much. They do have a pretty impressive two-way player in Tanner McEvoy, who is currently demonstrating his skills in both the safety and wide receiver positions. But aside from that, there doesn’t seem much to set them apart as contenders this year. Their 300/1 odds are probably right on the money.
The Michigan Wolverines also have 300/1 odds, although nobody probably saw that coming before the start of the season. When we wrote about the teams receiving the most futures bets, Michigan was sitting pretty at #5. This was largely due to Jim Harbaugh becoming head coach, but he’s been something of a disappointment. To be fair, they’ve won more than they’ve lost, so their emphasis on turnovers might be working. It’s quite possible that the backlash they started receiving after their loss to the Utah Utes was a little bit overblown. But they still have yet to make the top 25 in the AP polls, and we’re not sure they’re going to turn that around in the very near future. Still, Harbaugh thinks the team is making progress, and we’re actually inclined to agree. Their defense is especially making some improvements, largely due to the efforts of DE Chris Wormley. We should also mention Taco Charlton, just in case you didn’t know they had a defensive end named Taco. The point is, Michigan is an improving team with a solid defense. We doubt they’ll be champions, but it’s still likely that they’ll finish better than they started.
Iowa has 300/1 odds on the 2016 College Football Championship, with the Hawkeyes currently undefeated in Week 3. As ESPN points out, Iowa hasn’t opened a season this well in the past six years. And their latest win shows that the team certainly has potential, as they ended the game with a 57-yard field goal by Marshall Koehn. The last time Iowa had a season this good was their undefeated non-conference season in 2009. We aren’t positive that they’ll pull off the same feat, but they should play some pretty good football this season.
Michigan State is leaps and bounds ahead of the other Big Ten teams we’ve talked about. The Spartans are at #5 on the list of Vegas odds, with their odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship currently placed at 12/1. They’re also at #2 on the AP polls. They remain undefeated as of their win 35-21 against the Air Force Falcons, but it’s that same win that has some people scratching their heads. See, that 14-point win wasn’t enough to cover the point spread. If the Spartans can’t cover the spread in a game against one of their less formidable opponents, how can we predict them as possible champions? The answer is simple: we can’t.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are #1 on the AP polls, as well as in Vegas, with odds of 8/5 for winning the 2016 College Football Championship. There are many who suspect that they could take it all the way, but the holes in their offense are starting to show. They took a narrow win against the Northern Illinois Huskies, barely scaring by at 20-13. An instant recap of the Buckeyes-Huskies game maintains that the Buckeyes’ success is largely due to the strength of their defense. But the problem (and it’s the same problem we’re finding with Michigan State) is that Northern Illinois isn’t really one of the tougher teams on their schedule. If OSU is struggling against their simpler opponents, then they can’t rely on their current strengths. They need to raise their level of offensive prowess if they want to hold on and keep their position at the top of the food chain. It’s a tall order, but it isn’t beyond their capabilities.
Similar to the Big Ten, the ACC is pretty divided as far as the Vegas odds are concerned. Out of eight teams listed specifically on the Vegas odds, five are listed below betting the field while three have fared much better. However, since none of these teams has even made the top ten on the Vegas list, it could be said that this is expected to be something of a weak conference.
North Carolina is one of the least favored teams in Vegas, with 5000/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. The Tar Heels have had a couple of big wins in terms of scoring, but they weren’t so big in terms of the teams being played. They do, however, have a couple of key weapons at their disposal. In special teams, they have Nick Weiler, a placekicker who has yet to miss a field goal this season (even when close to the 50-yard line). Their offense has WR Ryan Switzer, who managed 168 punt return yards in North Carolina’s game against the Illinois Fighting Illini, including a 71-yard return and an 85-yard return resulting in a touchdown. The offense also owes a debt to QB Marquise Williams. We doubt it’ll happen, but North Carolina is one of the few dark horse teams with worse odds than Boise State that has a real chance at shooting up in the rankings this season.
Louisville is also 5000/1, although the Cardinals are not the same team as North Carolina by any means. They took on a tough schedule, which is something that very few of the teams we’ve mentioned can say for themselves. But there’s only so much merit to taking on a tough schedule when you don’t have the chops to handle it. They’ve lost every game, with the closest being their 17-20 loss to the Clemson Tigers. Based on their new uniforms, it seems like the team is trying to look tough without having much to back it up. That tough schedule is going to come back to bite them when they don’t get invited to a single bowl game this year.
The Virginia Tech Hokies are doing alright for themselves at the moment, but “alright” is still far from fantastic. The Hokies have odds of 1000/1 on the 2016 College Football Championship, with one loss under their belt. To be fair, that loss was to Ohio State. But to be even fairer, the fact that they lost to a good team rather than a mediocre one does not get them any closer to the playoffs. If Virginia Tech is hoping to rely on one defense strategy this season, it’s sacks. They’ve got two of the best players for the job, DEs Ken Ekanem and Dadi Nicolas, but they haven’t been recording as many sacks as they’ve hoped. Still, they’ve got a pair of talented defensive ends who know how to put the pressure on. They might not be champs, but they have a shot at being one of the better defensive teams of the season.
NC State has won each of their first three games, including a 35-0 shutout against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. So you might wonder why the Wolfpack is stuck with 1000/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. Well, as far as we can see, their biggest issue is going to be defense. You might have seen the video of DB Dravious Wright pummeling the Troy Trojans’ quarterback with a strip sack that knocked the guy’s helmet right off. That was amazing, but the team hasn’t built a reputation for plays like this. Their defense has given up a lot of big plays, and they need to tighten it up before they face some stronger teams.
The Miami (FL) Hurricanes are the last team in the ACC with worse odds than betting the field. Their odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship are currently placed at 220/1, and they’ve won all of their games so far. They opened with a shutout against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, and their most recent win was a 3-point lead in overtime against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. But Hurricanes coach Al Golden doesn’t really get to enjoy the 3-0 opening record, since Miami fans are actively pushing to have him fired. So, let’s get this straight. The team’s doing better than usual, and the fan reaction is to stress out the coach with negative feedback? If he’s a true professional, then it shouldn’t knock him off his game too much. But it can’t help. And given Miami’s schedule so far, we aren’t convinced that the Hurricanes are ready to face a real team. Nebraska was the closest they got, and they barely pulled it off. With or without Golden, this is not a championship team.
Georgia Tech is doing a lot better than the previous ACC teams as far as the Vegas odds are concerned. Their chances of winning the 2016 College Football Championship are currently set at 60/1, although their current record is somewhat dubious. They opened with a 69-6 win against the Alcorn State Braves before taking a 65-10 win against the Tulane Green Wave, but no one generally expects much of these teams. When finally faced with a formidable opponent, the Yellow Jackets lost 22-30 to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Part of the problem with Georgia Tech is that, even though they’re one of the better rushing teams in the country, they’re small. They don’t have huge players because their ground attack revolves primarily around an option that demands speed over strength. They have no tight end, and their defense cannot practice against their offense in any way that would prepare them to defend against most other teams. This puts them at a stark disadvantage, and their attempts to work around it have so far fallen flat.
Florida State currently has 30/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. They’ve done alright so far, although the heaviest part of their schedule is certainly still ahead of them. And while their last game was a shutout, a score of 14-0 against a team like the Boston College Eagles might actually be cause for alarm. It certainly didn’t help FSU in the rankings, since they dropped a place in the AP polls this week. Granted, that was more due to the performance of other teams. But the Seminoles’ wins have still been pretty underwhelming, so it’s hard to expect much from them at the moment.
Clemson is the best team in the ACC by Vegas standards, which isn’t too surprising. The Tigers currently have 25/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship, and they’re opening the season undefeated. As with most teams we’ve discussed, this is largely due to the fairly boring schedule they’ve undertaken. We’ve already talked about their win against Louisville, and their other wins are hardly worth mentioning. Nonetheless, they’re at the top of the ACC power rankings right now. Sophomore QB Deshaun Watson has given up a couple of interceptions, and defense could be a little stronger (with the exception of powerhouse OLB Ben Boulware), but they’re still a solid team right now. They’ve still got a powerful weapon in RB Wayne Gallman, whose explosive plays are accounting for a large percentage of the team’s rushing success. And most of the significant gaps in their team are simply due to injuries. After a few of their key players have healed, they should be able to rise a bit past their current #11 spot in the AP polls.
Every team in the Pacific-12 with the exception of the Colorado Buffaloes and Washington State Cougars has warranted a specific mention in the Vegas odds. The ten teams mentioned are split pretty evenly, with five listed below betting the field and five listed above. But each of those mentioned is certainly worthy of discussion.
You probably don’t hear much about the Oregon State Beavers on a regular basis, unless Oregon State happens to be your alma mater. Vegas doesn’t expect that to change much this year, seeing as they’ve given the school 5000/1 odds in the 2016 College Football Championship. They won against the Weber State Wildcats and San Jose State Spartans, with the most notable mark on their record being their 7-35 loss to the Michigan Wolverines. They only made one touchdown in that game, thanks to the efforts of RB Chris Brown. To be fair, they’re a pretty young and inexperienced team. If they can even make it to #25 in the AP polls this year, people will be congratulating them on a strong showing. We don’t necessarily see that happening, but they’ve got a lot of heart and a lot of hope. They’re going to try their best, and that’s the most you can ask from a team at such a strong disadvantage.
The Washington Huskies are at 1000/1 odds, which sounds about right for a team that lost its opener to Boise State. They did manage a win against the Utah State Aggies, and their 49-0 shutout against the Sacramento State Hornets wasn’t too shabby. If there’s one thing that could allow the Huskies to make a strong showing this year, it’s the perseverance of QB Jake Browning. In many ways, Browning is a model quarterback. He takes a lot of missteps, but he dusts himself off and gets back out there. Having only played three games, he’s thrown for 368 yards. So he can be forgiven for a couple of bad reads and an interception. Nobody really expects Washington to be a championship team. But remember how we said in our Super Bowl predictions that we’d like to see the Titans win for the sake of Marcus Mariota? We could say the same thing here for Browning. It isn’t likely to happen, but we’d sure as heck feel pretty good for the kid if he could lead his team to a Cinderella-style victory.
California beat the Longhorns by one point this weekend, so good for them. Actually, the Golden Bears have yet to lose once. Their other two wins were a 73-14 win against the Grambling State Tigers and a 35-7 win against the San Diego State Aztecs, so Texas was the first real team they played. Sure, it was close. And sure, the only reason it didn’t go into overtime was because the Longhorns’ placekicker shanked it on a game-deciding PAT (and to think, we gave Nick Rose his own article once). But Cal has a long of strong points as they get ready to face their conference opener against the Huskies. Not the least of which is QB Jared Goff, possibly the best passer the team has ever had. With 300/1 odds, no one’s expecting them to win the championship. But Goff might set one or two more school records before the season ends.
The next two teams are pretty much neck and neck in the Vegas odds, with both set at 250/1 for the 2016 College Football Championship. These are also the last two Pac-12 teams we can talk about that are favored below betting the field. The first is Arizona State, which has done alright with the exception of their opening 17-38 loss to Texas A&M. The Sun Devils have two main things that will require some focus moving forward. The first is their defense against the triple option, which has made a few improvements. The second is their offense, which they are looking to make a little more explosive. It’s hard to picture them as champions, but they could at least get a bowl game under their belt this year if they improve in these areas.
The Arizona Wildcats have the same odds as the Sun Devils, with a 3-0 opening record that means next to nothing when considering the teams they’ve played thus far. Their Pac-12 opener against UCLA is going to require a bit of explosiveness, which they luckily know how to deliver. We saw it in the second quarter of their game against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, when they managed to bag 35 points. In that same game, they had more rushing yards, total yards, and points scored than in any other game in Arizona’s history. The 77 points were great, but it’s the 499 rushing yards and 792 total yards that really pique our interest. They won’t get those kinds of numbers against UCLA. But if they can deliver the same energy against the better teams on their schedule that they delivered against their easy non-conference schedule, then they can definitely make a strong showing this year. They might even make the top five in their conference, but it’ll take a lot of work.
The Utah Utes are in an interesting position as far as Vegas odds are concerned. Their odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship are currently listed at 200/1, exactly the same as betting the field. This means that, as we mentioned before with the West Virginia Mountaineers, a futures bet on the Utes may be inadvisable. It’s riskier than betting the field, but only offers the same payout. Of course, the numbers may change as the season wears on. Utah opened with a 24-17 win against Michigan, before going on to win against the Utah State Aggies and Fresno State Bulldogs. But despite a successful non-conference schedule and a few scares to Michigan fans, Utah hasn’t given us much. Their offense isn’t bad, and yet somehow it just…isn’t much. The Salt Lake Tribune notes a few issues, such as a lackluster passing game and, on the defensive side, failure to net more sacks. Nonetheless, they claim that the Utes are “halfway to another bowl game.” They just aren’t on their way to much more than that.
Stanford is currently given 110/1 odds on the 2016 College Football Championship, but there’s actually some hope for the Cardinal moving forward. Their third game of the season was a 41-31 win against the USC Trojans, a victory that few could have seen coming. Sports Illustrated made some notes on the game, assessing the performance of each team. Most of their notes pertained the USC, which we’ll get to in a bit. The main note they made on Stanford was that QB Kevin Hogan seems to be improving. He knows how to get the ball to WR Devon Cajuste and TE Austin Hooper, and he’s grown in general as a playmaker. Stanford could lead their division this year, as long as Hogan stays on top of his game.
Oregon hasn’t had much of a chance to prove themselves against a real opponent just yet, so it’s difficult to tell whether or not their 40/1 odds are justified. Either way, they should be pretty exciting to watch this season. FishDuck, a website specializing in Oregon football analysis, notes the mental effects of Oregon’s fast-paced offense. We’ve all heard of trying to get inside of the opponent’s heads, but Oregon does that unintentionally through the sheer offensive prowess they bring to the field. It got them pretty close to becoming champions last year, up until they lost the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship in a 20-42 game against the Ohio State Buckeyes, failing to score at all in the final quarter. If the Ducks can build upon their speed and add some more solid strategy to the mix, they could take it all the way. Will this be their year?
UCLA is the second-most favored Pac-12 team in Vegas (and tenth-most favored overall), with 22/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. They’re currently #9 in the AP poll, which is better than any other team in the conference. Still, their narrow win over the BYU Cougars presents some cause for concern. We should be able to expect a team like the Bruins to win by more than one point against a team that’s barely ranked at #22 on the poll. Their other wins were against unranked teams, the Virginia Cavaliers and the UNLV Rebels. Regardless of whether or not we’re impressed with their performance thus far, USA Today thinks they could be championship contenders. They point out the general physical stature of the team, their current mentality, and their ability to blow past mistakes and keep playing without becoming overly affected.
Standing at the top of the conference, ranked #6 in Vegas odds and #19 in the AP polls, are the USC Trojans. Vegas gives them 14/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship, and the only questionable mark on their record so far is their surprising loss to Stanford. According to SB Nation’s Conquest Chronicles, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is largely to blame. USC doesn’t seem able to run a solid blitz, and they made a lot of missteps that don’t fare well as they ready themselves for a tough conference schedule. If they keep playing like they did against Stanford, then we’re going to have to disagree with Vegas on this one. We’re sure the Trojans will try their hardest, but Oregon and UCLA actually seem to have much better chances of leading the conference. Frankly, all three have got some issues that they’ll need to fix, especially if they want to become this season’s champions.
The SEC is mentioned in the Vegas odds more than any other conference. They’re also the strongest conference by these standards, since only four teams are ranked below betting the field while nine are ranked above. The only team not to receive a mention in the Vegas odds is the Vanderbilt Commodores. So why is there speculation that the SEC is in trouble? Why do people have more faith in the Big Ten making the playoffs? Well, as we examine the following teams, you might start to get an inkling.
South Carolina currently has 1000/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. They’re currently 1-2 as of Week 3, having only managed a narrow win over the North Carolina Tar Heels. An open letter published on SB Nation’s Garnet & Black Attack predicts that the Gamecocks are not going to improve much, if at all, throughout the course of the season. We’re inclined to agree. The letter in question also states that the Tar Heels, the one team the Gamecocks have beaten, is more likely to make the College Football Playoff than the Gamecocks. We don’t have much faith in the Tar Heels, but we’re inclined to agree there as well. The simple fact is that we don’t expect much out of South Carolina this year.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs also have 1000/1, and their performance has not been leaps and bounds greater than South Carolina’s. They’ve had a couple of big wins against subpar competitors, and their loss to LSU was just narrow enough to convince us that they might know what they’re doing, but they have yet to make a strong showing against a truly good team. That’s pretty unfortunate, since their next two teams are Auburn and Texas A&M. It’s worth noting that QB Dak Prescott had a pretty good game against the Northwestern State Demons, with the team netting 647 yards as Prescott completed pass after pass. It was a good show. Heck, he might even be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. But there are teams with quarterbacks who have had better games against better teams, so we still don’t see Mississippi State rocking our world too hard this season.
If Kentucky’s football team performed this season the way their basketball team performed last season, they probably wouldn’t have 500/1 odds against winning the 2016 College Football Championship. But suffering a 9-14 loss against the Florida Gators on their third game was not a great way to draw such comparisons. People are clearly expecting big things from Kentucky this year, since they’ve sold out their home games twice in a row. But we aren’t too confident. Their second win of the season was a narrow 4-point lead against the Gamecocks, a team we’ve already discussed as being supremely disadvantaged this year. We frankly don’t have much faith that the Wildcats will make a single bowl game, let alone the College Football Playoff National Championship.
There’s only one more team ranked below betting the field, the Missouri Tigers, with 300/1 odds in Vegas. So far, they’ve won three games against teams that didn’t make this list. Which doesn’t prove much, other than that they should maybe be on par with the field. Mizzou has a tough time ahead of them right now, having lost multiple players to a string of auto accidents. Not all of these players are out for the season, but it’s racked the team physically and emotionally to worry constantly about the well-being of their teammates. So far, it hasn’t slowed them down too much. They’ve got a defense that manages to hold it together under pressure, so a combination between skill and motivation to do right by their injured comrades might push Missouri ahead a bit in the rankings. They’re currently #25 in the AP polls, so a few wins could push them higher. As for going all the way, we’d frankly be a bit surprised.
Tennessee hasn’t played too many notable teams, so it’s hard to assess the validity of their 110/1 Vegas odds. Their most notable game was a loss to the Oklahoma Sooners, a team by which no one with a proud bone in their body enjoys being beaten. They say they’re learning from their experiences, and that they understand how much more difficult their conference schedule is going to be than the games that preceded it. We hope for their sake that they’re right. But the farthest that’ll get the Volunteers this season is a low rank in the AP polls, if that. Maybe there are years it’s happened, but we aren’t predicting that any team beaten by the Oklahoma Laters this year will make the championship.
Florida has won each of their games so far, including the previously discussed victory over the Kentucky Wildcats. They currently have 110/1 odds on the 2016 College Football Championship, which feels right for a team that’s opening its season undefeated against a string of subpar competitors. We’ll have a clearer picture after their upcoming game against the Tennessee Volunteers (losing to a team that lost to Oklahoma is even worse than losing to Oklahoma), but for now we have to go by what we’ve seen. And what we’ve seen isn’t great. This is a very young, very inexperienced team that failed to score at all in the second half of their Kentucky game. This is not the year of the Gator. The Gators are going to have to grow a lot if they even want to get ranked, let alone take it any further than that.
The Arkansas Razorbacks, with current odds of 110/1 for the 2016 College Football Championship, are not making a strong showing. They’ve lost twice so far out of three games, and neither loss is great for their record. The first was a 12-16 loss to the Toledo Rockets, and the second was a 24-35 loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Texas Tech game was especially disappointing. This was the third game in a row in which Arkansas managed more than 400 offensive yards, with 170 of their rushing yards attributed to RB Alex Collins. If that’s an achievement, then we don’t like their chances against some of the top teams in their conference. Someone once told us that it’s hard to be an Arkansas fan. With what the Razorbacks have given us so far, we’ll buy that.
Auburn is currently unranked in the AP polls, which must be uncomfortable for a team that tends to get pretty hyped. When we were looking at which teams were getting the most futures bets before the start of the season, Auburn was in the top three. Vegas gives the Tigers 30/1 odds of becoming champions this year, but we just aren’t seeing it. They opened with a 31-24 win against Louisville, but LSU wiped the field with them in a crushing 45-21 defeat. The LSU game definitely plays a role in the team being unranked, considering they were previously #6. Coach Gus Malzahn, speaking on Auburn’s narrow win over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, had attributed their poor performance to “growing pains.” Now, he’s changing his tune. He admits that they haven’t been at the top of their game, and there’s speculation that QB Jeremy Johnson won’t be starting much longer if he keeps getting sacked. Auburn has a chance of pulling it together, but what we’ve seen thus far just doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Texas A&M is currently #14 in the AP polls, with 25/1 odds in Vegas. They’ve taken on a shamefully easy non-conference schedule, so it’s difficult to rate their performance thus far. Their next games are against Arkansas and Mississippi State, so we’ll be surprised if they don’t start off 5-0 this season. They took over 500 yards in their game against the Nevada Wolf Pack, but that doesn’t mean it was a great game. Their offense needs to learn a little something about protecting the quarterback, or else the stronger defensive teams in the SEC are going to eat them alive. The Aggies also allowed a few turnovers, and failed on more than a couple of third down conversions. This year’s Aggies are a team that can really shine against subpar competitors, but they’re lacking something that they need to find if they want to succeed this year. It’s hard to see them becoming champs.
Ole Miss is one of the top teams in this conference right now, which has some people on edge. An article we linked earlier claimed that, if Alabama lost to Ole Miss, the SEC’s chances of making the playoffs would be greatly diminished. Guess what happened. Not that we can fault the Rebels, who are now #3 in the AP polls with 22/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. Their 43-37 win against the Crimson Tide marked the first time Ole Miss has beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa since 1988. To be honest, we’re thinking Ole Miss might have a shot at the College Football Playoff. True, they were something of a disappointment last year. SB Nation points to the primary issues last season as being a shaky offense in terms of both rushing and passing. They also point to a lack of depth. But it’s hard to say anything negative about their offense right now. If anything gets in their way, it’ll be defense. They had a significant lead against Alabama, and just barely managed to keep the Tide from closing the gap. But if they can resolve those sorts of issues, we could easily see this team rising to the top of the NCAA by the end of the season. They’ve got some real championship potential this year.
The LSU Tigers have also been given 22/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship, and they’re making a decent showing in the rankings with a current place of #8 in the AP polls. After their first three games, they’re currently 2-0. They barely won against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, which would be more alarming for LSU fans if not for their surprisingly steep victory against Auburn. As for the missing third game, they were rained out of their opener against the McNeese State Cowboys. Some have speculated that this could cost them a spot in the playoffs, while others have strongly disagreed with this theory. We’re inclined to disagree as well. Still, there’s a huge part of us that doesn’t want LSU to win (their fans are so cocky, not to mention awful at parking). So while we’ll praise RB Leonard Fournette, a possible Heisman candidate who appears to be all but unstoppable, we’ll also say that LSU’s competitors need to grow a pair. Stop diving around him. Stop trying to leap over his head, or diving from five feet away. He’s not that scary, and failing to tackle him head-on doesn’t make your defense look good. We’ll say again that this is a team that barely won against Mississippi State. LSU fans can hide behind the “they have Dak Prescott” defense all they want, but LSU is ultimately a team with only moderate chances of making a championship appearance this year.
Georgia is currently #7 in the AP polls, with 22/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. No one on their schedule so far has given us a great deal of insight regarding their chances of becoming champions, and no team will provide such a glance until they play Alabama in early October. After Week 2, Bleacher Report ran through the Bulldogs’ major concerns. They seem to have a pretty firm grasp of rushing, whether on the offensive or defensive side of things. The only major concern that Bleacher Report noted was in Georgia’s quarterback, with some mild concerns for their pass defense. It isn’t that QB Greyson Lambert is bad, necessarily, but that he’s simply inconsistent. With a quarterback who nails eight of twelve passes one week and then chokes on his first five the next, it’s hard to say where the Bulldogs are headed this season. Probably not to a championship. They did a lot better in their third game, but we just don’t have enough evidence to belief that they won’t hit a downhill slope when they get into the meat of their conference schedule.
Alabama is at the top of the SEC in terms of Vegas odds, with 9/1 odds of winning the 2016 College Football Championship. Previously #2 in the AP polls, the Crimson Tide plummeted to #12 following their loss to Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa. They had won both games beforehand, but Ole Miss was the toughest opponent they had faced up to that point. This has a lot of Bama fans wondering just what they can expect from their beloved team in the future. See, this one loss has made it extraordinarily difficult for Alabama to secure a spot in the playoffs. If the Crimson Tide manage to win their next nine games, and no one else manages to do the same, then they’re golden. But it’s a tight race against either Ole Miss or LSU. A lot of SEC fans are giving it to LSU, but we’re actually thinking this might be the year for Ole Miss to shine. Alabama may have generated a lot of futures bets before the start of the season, but now we’ve seen them play a quality team that they’re usually accustomed to beating. This is not the Alabama we anticipated. Sorry Nick Saban, but we don’t see your boys making quite the turnaround they need.
2016 College Football Championship
Now for the main event, the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. Of the teams we’ve discussed, our top picks are probably the Ole Miss Rebels (SEC), the TCU Horned Frogs (Big 12), the Oregon Ducks (Pac-12), and the Clemson Tigers (ACC). We know that we talked about rumors that the Big Ten would beat out the SEC for a spot in the playoffs this year, but we just don’t see it happening.
Of these four top picks, the Clemson Tigers are probably our least favorite. There’s no doubt they’re the best team in the ACC right now, but it’ll take more than that to win the 2016 College Football Championship. As we noted earlier, QB Deshaun Watson has made some mistakes here and there. Furthermore, Fox Sports notes that his admirable stats are complemented by a terrible history of broken bones and torn ACLs. We also haven’t seen quite the performance we’d like to see out of Clemson’s defense. To be frank, we’re not sure the team we’ve seen thus far would have much chance of besting any of the other three teams we’ve named as our finalists.
The Oregon Ducks rank a bit higher on our list. We acknowledge that they are not ranked highest in the Pacific-12 conference. We also acknowledge that their #13 spot in the AP polls is the lowest rank they’ve received in four years. But we just can’t stop praising the speed of their offense. It’s something that a lot of their competitors aren’t ready for, no matter how many times they encounter it. Sure, some teams are catching on. But that hardly matters, because Oregon plays next to nobody. They don’t have a game we’d be truly worried about until late November, when they play USC. And if we had much faith in USC, they’d have this spot on our list. An easy conference will allow Oregon to make it to the championship, provided they don’t suffer too many more performances like the one they gave against Michigan State. However, if the Ducks do make the championship, then they’ll have to put on a much better show than they put on against Ohio State last year.
We already mentioned that the TCU Horned Frogs have been improving their defense, while their offense has benefitted from the efforts of QB Trevone Boykin. Coach Gary Patterson wants his players to focus on the task at hand, avoiding the temptation to get swept up in the buzz that the team might be headed for a national title. So far, that mentality has served them well. If they keep it up, they might even go undefeated. Of course, TCU is similar to Oregon in the sense that they aren’t really playing anyone of note. So while they might have the opportunity to make the 2016 College Football Championship, there’s no telling whether they’ll actually be prepared to win it. As long as they keep up the hustle this season, we’re inclined to agree with ESPN’s assertion that their game against Baylor will be a deciding factor. Frankly, we kind of like their odds.
The Horned Frogs are currently at #2 in the coaches’ poll, and are tied with Ole Miss at #3 in the AP poll. Which is fitting, because we think this will ultimately come down to either of these two teams. The Ole Miss Rebels already took a relatively historic win against Bama in Tuscaloosa. Even though they won in Oxford last year, winning in Tuscaloosa was a big deal, and it’s no surprise that it’s gotten so much press. Heck, they were even wearing the same helmets they wore for their win back in 1988. So now that one of their greatest hurdles has been overcome, it seems as if they have a lot of potential for taking the conference and making it to the playoffs. Yes, we discussed earlier that the road ahead of them is far from easy. This year’s SEC isn’t the best, but it’s still formidable. If the Rebels can overcome it, then they’ll have proven they have the chops to take on whoever they face in the championship as well.
So our call for the 2016 College Football Championship is something of a toss-up. Of the four teams we’ve just discussed, TCU and Ole Miss seem like the strongest contenders. If the two wind up against one another, than Ole Miss will be a little more battle-hardened by their regular season schedule. But bear in mind that TCU has an easier road ahead of them in terms of getting to the playoffs, whereas Ole Miss only needs a couple of major missteps to keep them (and possibly the SEC) out of the running. We firmly believe that Ole Miss is the stronger of these two teams, but we’re going to have to give our prediction to TCU based on the sheer likelihood of them having a better regular season.
Either way, we look forward to watching both teams as they make their way toward the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. It should be quite a season. We hope you’ll be watching.