College Football Betting: How To Handle Florida This Season
by Trevor Whenham - 8/28/2009
The Associated Press has released their preseason Top 25, and with it they have made some history - no team has ever been named No. 1 by a wider margin than Florida was. Fully 96.7 percent of first place votes in the poll went to the Gators. The two of the 60 voters who did not back the Gators had Texas as their top team. The Florida Gators are out to win their third national championship in four years. By doing that they would become only the third team ever to do so, and the first since Nebraska did it in 1997.
To say that Florida is heavily favored to pull of that feat would be an understatement. They are at 2/1 to win it all in futures betting. Oklahoma is second at 5/1, and Texas and USC are tied in third, but far behind at 7/1. The Florida price makes betting on them a truly ridiculous proposition even if you think it is going to happen. You'd be better off just putting your money in a pile and burning it. Having a preposterously heavy favorite is a big advantage if you like anyone but the favorite, though - the heavy action on one team means that several teams will be available at higher prices than they otherwise would be so that the books can attract money in places other than the favorite.
Based on the preseason poll you'd have to imagine that Florida is as close to a lock to win it all as a team can be. So, are they really? Here's a look:
History - Before Florida, the widest margin for a No. 1 belonged to the 2007 Trojans. You remember them, don't you? They're the ones who lost to 41-point underdog Stanford at home, and the lost again at Oregon. They still won their lousy conference, but they were nowhere close to national champions. Last year, Georgia was at the top of the rankings, with Ohio State close behind. Both teams wound up 10-3, with the Buckeyes' ninth-place final ranking outshining Georgia at 13. In total 10 teams have won national championships after being the preseason No. 1. That's not bad until you consider that the poll has been going since 1950. In other words, about one in six of the top preseason teams seal the deal at the end of the year. On that basis alone I'm not turned on by the 2/1 odds. Recent history has been only slightly more kind - USC in 2004 and Florida State in 1999 are the only two of the last ten preseason No. 1s to win national titles.
Defense - This is where this team should shine, and what probably gives them the best chance of pulling off the repeat. All 22 top players on the defensive depth chart from the National Championship Game are back. That's not a misprint - not only do they return all of their starters, but all of their top backups as well. Add in another stellar recruiting class and there is an embarrassment of riches. It's especially scary when you think that the team was already a Top-10 defense in most categories, and they'll only get better with experience. That's not to say that things are hopeless for the opposition, though. Their stats last year were somewhat skewed by a weak non-conference schedule, and teams like Ole Miss and other showed that it wasn't impossible to score against the Gators.
Offense - They have Tim Tebow and he walks on water, so they are obviously invincible. Or so the public believes, at least. I respect Tebow immensely, but I'm concerned on at least two fronts. First, Tebow has missed time this summer with a sore back - the same one he struggled with last year. An injury to Tebow would be a huge blow to this team. Heck, Tebow at less than his best is a big blow. The team also has to find a way to replace the explosive, game-changing ability of Percy Harvin. He's in the NFL now, and it's not immediately clear who will step in and be the new him. There are questions on offense for all of the top contenders, and Florida is no exception. That's not a reason to necessarily believe that they can't win it all, but it is a reason to demand a bit of value when you bet on them - especially early on.
Schedule - Florida should be banned from winning the national championship for their schedule alone. Their non-conference schedule would be embarrassingly easy for a decent MAC team, never mind one from the SEC. Florida State hardly counts because they play so often. Beyond that they face the terrifying triumvirate of Charleston Southern, Troy, and Florida International. There are at least 40 teams in the country that could run that gauntlet and wind up undefeated. Troy could be okay, but the other two just aren't. That schedule will save them from getting burnt out or particularly challenged, but it could backfire and work against them - if they lose a conference game then their strength of schedule might not be enough to get them into the BCS championship if there are multiple one-loss teams. The rest of the schedule is mostly favorable as well, though there are games that could pose problems - at LSU and South Carolina, and at home versus Arkansas. Florida is probably better than all of their opponents, but they'll have a target a mile wide on their backs, and every team will be looking to be giant killers.
Here's one thing I do know. When the public and the media get themselves whipped into a frenzy they tend to become blind to little details in favor of their grand, sweeping excitement. In this case, the betting public see an air of invincibility surrounding this team, and they are going to be willing to bet on them regardless of the spread. They'll probably be just as enthusiastic about the over as well. That should mean that there will be value on the opposite sides in some circumstances for astute bettors.
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