Longshot Predictions for BCS National Championship
by Josh Nagel - 08/19/2008
There will be some considerable betting support for the favorites to win the Bowl Championship Series this year. Given the wealth of talent boasted by top-ranked Georgia, USC and Florida, this is understandable.
But the way things have panned out over the past few years, a member of the chalk club usually slips up along the way. Even so, last year's pre-season No. 1, LSU, survived two losses to still reach the National Championship Game and win it all. So if you must, go ahead and back the favorites with a realistic chance to get some return on your money.
Even so, recent seasons have proven that BCS contenders can appear out of nowhere, such as Boston College and South Florida did last year. Each rose to No. 2 in the national rankings before falling out of contention.
Thus, it makes sense to consider some fairly significant underdogs to win the BCS title game. There is bound to be at least one under-the-radar team that bursts into contention and, with a few fortunate breaks and a favorable schedule, could find itself competing for a BCS title.
Here are a few candidates at 15/1 or better - or worse, depending on your perspective - that might have a shot at giving bettors a legitimate sweat for their underdog money:
(Odds provided by Sportsbook.com as of Aug. 17)
West Virginia 15/1 - Although the Mountaineers have a couple of things working against them, there's undeniable value in them at this price. The main hurdle will be finding out whether Bill Stewart is cut out to be a head coach. West Virginia appeared to make an impulsive decision in the hiring of Stewart, who helped sooth the pain of a lot of wounds that were opened by Rich Rodriguez's departure to Michigan when he led the team to a romp over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. He was named head coach the next day, despite limited experience and a losing record in his one brief stint as a head coach. Watching the numerous sideline shots of Stewart during the Fiesta Bowl, he looked more like a proud grandpa watching Junior play hi first Pop Warner game than a Division I head coach.
Stewart was hired despite the big-name credibility and track record of available candidates such as Terry Bowden. But many of West Virginia's key players - including two-time Big East offensive Player of the Year Pat White - roundly supported Stewart, citing his hiring as a major factor in their return to the controversy-plagued school. With White and emerging tailback Noel Devine leading a talented returning cast for the Mountaineers, a spot in the BCS title game isn't out of the question. They have a relatively favorable schedule, with road games at Colorado, Connecticut and Pitt posing the biggest threats to spoil their BCS run.
LSU 20/1 - Despite losing a wealth of talent to the NFL in players such as defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey and quarterback Matt Flynn and facing a notoriously brutal conference schedule, LSU has proven it is a program to be reckoned with until proven otherwise.
Players we've never heard of are sure to become fast stars, and coach Les Miles is a good enough motivator to ensure this team will play with a "no-respect" chip on its shoulder. Miles also is gutsy enough to gamble in situations where other coaches wouldn't - remember him going for it on fourth down at several critical junctures last season and living to tell about it - and this mentality might help LSU win games they shouldn't.
Texas Tech 40/1 - Granted, there's no "D" in Texas Tech, and Mike Leach's clubs have long been noted for giving up points as swiftly as his team seems to score them. But the Red Raiders showed surprising grit in their 31-28 win over Virginia in their New Year's Day bowl, overcoming a late 14-point deficit to defeat the physical, Chris Long-led Cavaliers. Tech's defense also improved tremendously under new coordinator Ruffin McNeil, who took over mid-season and lowered Tech's points-per-game average from 27 to 19.
What's never in doubt is Tech's potent offense. Graham Harrell is poised to break all the school's passing records - in what seems to be a yearly tradition - and All-American receiver Michael Crabtree and friends will provide more than enough firepower for the Red Raiders to run up touchdowns and style points on their opponents. They typically struggle against more physical teams, and must face Oklahoma and Kansas on the road, as well as rival Texas at home. But the Raiders beat Oklahoma last year and, if their defense continues to improve, this is a team that could have a memorable season.
Alabama 75/1 - Nick Saban is being paid a king's ransom, not to simply get the Tide over .500 and into a bowl game, but to contend for championships. And not just of the SEC variety, either. Lost amid all the bitterness surrounding his departure from the Miami Dolphins for the Tide is the fact that Saban remains an elite college football coach.
While this team might be a year away, as it breaks in a highly-ranked recruiting class this year to go with a handful of veterans, it's not out of the question that Alabama could have a breakout year. Quarterback John Parker Wilson was maddeningly inconsistent for most of his first three years behind center, but late last year finally showed signs of coming into his own. He had a terrific performance in Alabama's 30-24 Independence Bowl win over Colorado, tossing three touchdowns in the first half while hitting 13 of his first 15 passes. He should return confident and prepared for his senior season, and he is supported by a solid offensive line and capable playmakers. The Tide's wicked road schedule includes visits to Georgia, LSU and Tennessee, but last year is proof that a two-loss SEC team can land a berth in the BCS title game.
Wake Forest 100/1 - Now that you are done chuckling, listen in for a minute and give this pick a chance. There are many reasons why this bet might not look as far-fetched as it first appears, chief among them the fact that the Demon Deacons have one of the country's most underrated coaches in Jim Grobe, who has been hell bent on changing the Wake's image as a basketball school. He has done so, and Wake is just two seasons removed from a BCS appearance in which it gave a more than respectable effort against heavily favored Louisville.
The Deacons return 15 total starters that include up-and-coming quarterback Riley Skinner and host of competent playmakers, as well as nearly their entire defense. Wake got off to a difficult start last year with two early losses, but turned the season around with a string of wins and an impressive 24-10 bowl win over Connecticut. Plenty of their returnees are eager to prove that the school's BCS run was no fluke.
Wake also has an extremely favorable schedule, with Clemson, Boston College and Virginia each making trips to Winston Salem. The schedule does include trips to both Florida State and Miami, but the days of counting those dates as automatic losses have long since passed. There isn't a single game on the schedule that the Deacons couldn't realistically win and, if they run the table, there's no keeping them out of the BCS title game.