I always love doing futures odds for a following season's championship immediately after the conclusion of a title game or series. It gives you a sense that the next season really isn't all that far away, although in college football it's about eight months before we see game action again. In some ways, handicapping college football National Championship futures odds is easy because you don't have to worry about free agency or trades. You know who graduates and what the schedule will be.
On the other hand, you don't know perhaps which coaches may stay or leave, and I mean coordinators as well. You don't think Clemson would be hurt if offensive coordinator Chad Morris took a head coaching job? Or Michigan State if defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi left? And there can be player movement. The main one being draft-eligible underclassmen deciding whether or not to enter the draft. This year, that deadline is Jan. 15. So my advice is this: Take this story with a grain of salt and wait to plop down some early money for next season until you see who is coming back and who isn't.
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Projecting next season's National Champion might be the hardest it ever has been. That's because the BCS era is over -- and what a tremendous finish with four terrific BCS bowls and a National Championship Game for the ages -- and the new four-team College Football Playoff begins, culminating in the national title game on Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas. It still hasn't really been made clear how the new commission will chose the final four. Yes, strength of schedule matters. How about point differential? Does a one-loss runner-up in the SEC deserve a spot over four other teams that might be unbeaten? No one seems to know yet. I expect plenty of controversy in Year 1.
But let's give this a shot with the favorites, odds courtesy of BetOnline.
Florida State (+300): Some say this year's Noles might have been the most talented team overall, in terms of future NFL talent, since the 2001 Miami team that was ridiculously loaded. We still don't know about some key underclassmen like receiver Kelvin Benjamin and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. My guess is both leave. The key returnee of course is Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The QB looked like a redshirt freshman for the first half of the title game against Auburn but certainly the Heisman winner in the second half and especially the fourth quarter. Coach Jimbo Fisher has been recruiting as well as anyone, and the roster is stacked with five-star recruits. The nonconference schedule is tougher this year but no true road games: Oklahoma State in Dallas, Notre Dame and Florida in Tallahassee. Clemson there too in ACC play, and the Tigers seem likely to take a step back. The toughest road games: Louisville (without Teddy Bridgewater) and Miami (also breaking in a new starting QB).
Alabama (+650): The Tide lose their most important offensive player in QB A.J. McCarron, one of the most successful quarterbacks in NCAA history, and best defensive player in linebacker C.J. Mosley. I'm sure Nick Saban has future superstars waiting in the wings. The Tide should again be embarrassed about their nonconference schedule: mediocre West Virginia (Georgia Dome to open season), Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Western Carolina. Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn all visit Bryant-Denny Stadium in SEC play. No Georgia, South Carolina or Missouri. So really the only possible losses I see are Oct. 4 at Ole Miss and Nov. 8 at LSU before the SEC title game.
Oregon (+700): The defense might be an issue as six starters are likely gone as is long-time coordinator Nick Aliotti. But QB Marcus Mariota is coming back, and the Ducks didn't lose a game in which he was healthy this year (knee issue against Stanford and Arizona). The schedule looks good. Michigan State is on the nonconference slate but in Eugene. The Stanford game also is there as is Washington. The big test should be Oct. 11 at UCLA.
Ohio State (+1200): Four offensive linemen and stud running back Carlos Hyde move on, as do possibly the two best defenders in cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier, but QB Braxton Miller is back. The nonconference schedule is typically weak, with the only notable game against Virginia Tech in Columbus. OSU's first Big Ten game is against newcomer Maryland. No Nebraska. No Wisconsin. No Iowa. Michigan game also in the Shoe. Circle Nov. 8 at Michigan State (+2000). Remember, those two teams (and Michigan) are now in the same East Division. The West looks like a cakewalk for Wisconsin (+3300).
Oklahoma (+1200): This seems optimistic to me, and it tends to happen when a team finishes a season strong. The Sooners looked pretty average much of 2013 but then clobbered Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Game and dominated an uninterested Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl. I think oddsmakers are getting a bit too excited about what QB Trevor Knight did in that bowl game. He wasn't even assured to be the starting QB leading into the game. The schedule does set up nicely. Both Oklahoma State and Baylor come to Norman, and of course the Texas game is in Dallas. Frankly, I don't see a game right now where OU might be an underdog unless Texas Tech (in Lubbock Nov. 15) is better than I think.
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Auburn (+1600): This is the last team under +2000. The big question is whether stud running back Tre Mason goes pro, and I would imagine he does because his stock will never, ever be higher. Top offensive lineman Craig Robinson already has declared. As well as Auburn played against FSU, I still think the Tigers were the luckiest team in years to even be there. They could lose out of conference at Kansas State and also have to visit Georgia and Alabama. There will be no repeat SEC West title.
Notre Dame (+3300): I threw the Irish on here just because, well, it's Notre Dame. Remember that QB Everett Golson is back after missing all of last season, presuming he doesn't have more academic troubles. The Irish schedule is a killer: Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina (should be much better this year), at Florida State, at Arizona State, Louisville, at USC. Good luck with that.
I might put some money down on Oklahoma because I think the Sooners have the easiest path to the final four with that schedule and no conference title game. FSU seems pretty likely to be there as well. If you are looking for a longer shot consider LSU at +2500. Zach Mettenberger is gone but running back Jeremy Hill is coming back. The Tigers open with a tough game against Wisconsin in Houston but avoid both Georgia and South Carolina from the SEC East. They are at Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M but get Alabama in Baton Rouge. However, I believe this is the year Oregon finally breaks through.
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