In two years of the College Football Playoff we have seen four different conferences represented in the finals. The Big Ten beat the Pac-12 in the inaugural season then the SEC beat the ACC last year. That is much more diverse than what we had seen before - seven of the last eight BCS champs were from the SEC. This year we again seem to have a pretty wide-open race, with top contenders in four of the Power 5 conferences. Only the Pac-12 doesn't really seem to be a top contender for a title.
So, which conference will produce the champion? Luckily, we don't have to just talk about it - we can bet on it. BetOnline offers odds for each of the major - and minor - conferences out there to win the title. This has the potential to be more interesting right now than betting on individual teams because we don't have to decide on which top team we prefer in the individual conferences. Let's take a look:
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I like Houston a lot, but the path to a title is far too steep, so the American Athletic Conference is a lousy bet at +5000. The Mountain West would have to be five times higher than the +10000 they are at now, and even then they wouldn't be attractive. Obviously, the MAC (+20000), Conference USA (+25000), and the Sun Belt (+50000) are not going to happen, either. And then there are the independents (+2000). With all due respect to BYU and the service academies, this is obviously all about Notre Dame. They are at +2000 to win the national title themselves, so there is no advantage to betting this number - and I don't see any value in that price at all.
The SEC (+200)
We have Alabama as the favorites to win it all at +600. LSU is the second-biggest threat from the conference at +900. Those two teams are in the same division, so it is unlikely that both can be in the playoff. Tennessee is getting plenty of respect - more than they deserve in my eyes. Teams like Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida are on the next tier of teams. So, at its simplest we have a conference with one and a half truly elite contenders and several teams with a lot of nice pieces but some big questions. I don't necessarily have an issue with the SEC being favored, and I certainly think Alabama should be the favorites themselves, but I can't help but think that this price is biased by their past success. No value here.
The Big Ten (+300)
There are 14 teams in this conference. Eleven of them have absolutely no chance of winning the national title. Michigan State has been a serious national player the last few years, but they feel like they could be forced to take a slight step back to regroup and rebuild this year. They will be good, but perhaps not good enough, And then there were two. Ohio State won it all two years ago and is loaded with talent as always. They lost a stunning amount of talent to the draft, but they have depth and a strong quarterback and should be fine. Michigan is working to become nationally relevant after some dark years. They don't have a clear QB choice as of yet, but they have a tremendous amount of talent elsewhere and have a chance to have the best defensive line in the country. Like in the SEC, one of the best teams will knock the other out of the conference title game - and the playoff in all likelihood as a result. I like this price a whole lot more than the SEC - though there still isn't any value here.
The ACC (+350)
Stop me if you have heard this before - there are two teams that are heads and shoulders above the rest, and their success will determine whether or not the conference can win it all. Clemson plays a very manageable schedule aside from a trip to Florida State, and have the Heisman favorite at QB. The Seminoles have a slightly tougher schedule and have to break in a new QB, but if they can beat Clemson they will be well positioned to win the conference and quite possibly make the playoffs. I like Clemson a whole lot more than Florida State right now - the QB situation plus last year's experience gives them the edge. They are appropriately the third team in the hierarchy, though, so since I didn't love the last two prices I don't like this one, either.
The Big 12 (+550)
This probably comes down to Oklahoma - TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor all have too many questions to make them viable national threats at this point. The Sooners are good - and potentially very good - but with very tough nonconference games against Houston and Ohio State, they are in a tough spot. They are in a tougher spot than the best from the previous three conferences, and the conference lacks the depth of those three, too. No value here - which means there isn't any value anywhere in this prop, sadly.
The Pac-12 (+650)
The conference is deep and competitive, with five or six teams you could make a case for to win it. The problem, though, is that they are competitive more because they all have big issues than because they are all elite. This feels like a conference that is going to beat each other up all year. The conference winner could easily have three losses - and that's not getting them into the playoffs. I could very easily have put them into the No-hopers. Really, I should have. This is not the Pac-12 we have gotten used to in the last decade, and this price is horrible.
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