Best & Worst Early BCS Title Bets

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hacheman@therx.com
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Best (and worst) early BCS title bets

A look at the programs being over- and undervalued heading into spring practice

By Will Harris
ESPN Insider


Favorable situations are rare in the college football futures market. High-vigorish propositions are the norm, making value scarce. Typically the most exploitable offseason offerings are the season win totals props (i.e., Georgia over or under 9.5 wins) widely posted on each team in late summer.

First out of the box, though, are the odds to win next season's BCS title. National championship odds are usually one of the worst futures markets to mine for value, but they do give us some early insight into the oddsmakers' projected 2012 pecking order.

The numbers quoted here are from a top British sports book, and are reflective of the general market. Let's take a look at the kind of value the favorites, contenders and long shots are offering:

The favorites

LSU Tigers: 4.5 to 1 odds
Alabama Crimson Tide: 5 to 1
USC Trojans: 8 to 1
Oregon Ducks: 10 to 1
Oklahoma Sooners: 12 to 1
Florida State Seminoles: 12 to 1
Georgia Bulldogs: 12 to 1

LSU is the team most likely to disappoint here. The Tigers had a really special mojo last year despite having to overcome quite a bit in the offseason, but that chemistry finally wore out in the title game. At best, it will be very difficult to replicate those elite intangibles next season. At worst, the championship loss is the program's Gettysburg, and in five years LSU fans will look upon the Alabama rematch the way Fresno State fans regard the 2005 USC heartbreaker or Penn State fans think about the 1999 Minnesota debacle.

Alabama could repeat, but the team possesses few of the advantages it enjoyed last year, when it was priced at 6 to 1. Last season featured the confluence of a once-in-a-generation defense, a favorable schedule, a special hunger born of community tragedy and a BCS system that produced a second chance to beat LSU. This is a less experienced team with a couple of tough early-season matchups away from home.

USC isn't a top-three pick, either. Matt Barkley is back, the bowl ban is over and the Trojans are feeling good. But this is still a young team with overall depth issues and an inexperienced coach. Lane Kiffin has flashed an intriguing skill set, but we need to be holding more proven coaching to bite at 8 to 1.

Oklahoma just endured a season of turmoil and is pretty much at the low point of the Bob Stoops era, but there has been a housecleaning of both the roster and staff and Stoops is an elite coach who is capable of getting the Sooners back on track quickly. If this team finds better leadership and unifies in camp, Oklahoma could rebound big, although Landry Jones is a deal breaker given that the Sooners' odds are just 12 to 1.

The Seminoles may be one of the two or three most athletically gifted teams in the nation, but an unbeaten season is unlikely without an elite head coach at the helm, especially given a road date in Blacksburg. Georgia has few weaknesses and might get a look if its number was around 20 to 1, but the Bulldogs have a lot of ground to make up along the offensive line. Oregon capped 2011 by conquering multiple demons, beating a physical team in a big game away from Autzen. The Ducks unexpectedly lost quarterback Darron Thomas to the NFL draft and return just five starters on offense, but figure to score plenty anyway.

Like Alabama, the Ducks have a real shot at a title berth but have too many holes to back at such a short price. We'd hold our nose and take Bama or Oregon if forced to choose from among the favorites.

Among the least likely to live up to their place in the oddsmakers' pecking order are Florida, West Virginia (both at 33 to 1) and Nebraska (40 to 1). The issue is the same in all three cases: First-time head coaches who have failed to assemble strong staffs. Dana Holgorsen just lit up the Orange Bowl, but a national title is way out of reach for this team in Year 2, especially given the pending relocation to the Big 12.

The trials of rookie Florida boss Will Muschamp were painful to watch at times last year. This program is not healing on his watch, and the current gap between Georgia/South Carolina and the rest of next year's SEC East is significant. The fact the Gators and Gamecocks are both opening at 33 to 1 could mean that Florida is overvalued again this season.

Nebraska is treading water after four years under Bo Pelini and a weak offensive staff. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is a symbol of the team's trademark lack of ball security, and a defense built to stop Big 12 spread attacks is suffering at the hands of the Big Ten's downhill offenses. Don't look for any of these three teams to show real improvement from last season's results.

As noted before, futures markets carry far more punitive vigorish than standard game lines. With title futures, the thing to keep in the front of your mind is that an undefeated regular season isn't enough. To cash the ticket, your team has to actually win the title game.

See past the 2012 rosters and schedules to the big picture. Give credit to consistently strong programs whose organizations won't be intimidated by a top opponent, overwhelmed by a title shot or "just happy to be there." And choose teams whose coaches and players are proven, experienced and accustomed to the big stage.
 

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This would be a GREAT thread for.....wait for it....the COLLEGE FOOTBALL forum!!!

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I'll be in the Bar..With my head on the Bar
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I think LSU could go either way. Winning cures a lot of ills and if they come out the gate firing they will be tough to beat again next year. They really only lose about 4 players whos replacements are not on the same level as the guys they replace....And they will have no less than 5 RB's who could start for virtually every team in the country, they will have an experianced QB who can actually throw an SEC quality pass....replacing the 2 Def lineman will be tough. They will still have far and away the best special team play of anybody... Has the loss shaken Les Miles confidence in himself? highly possible but its a wait and see thing...

Ala has to replace a lot of people but if their offense improves ( and it almost has to) they could make up for a less than top-notch defense.

USC has the offense next year and could put up Loyola-Marymount type numbers...If your defense never sees the field they dont have their weaknesses exposed much, y would they need to stop the run when they'll be leading 21-0 most games in the 1st quarter, etc...
 

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Oregon at 10:1 has value, imo.
 

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^I agree. You are basically getting them at 10:1 in the Pac 12 Championship. Could easily hedge later in the season.
 

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