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November 26, 2020

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Futures focus: Six of college football’s most tempting preseason bets

College Picks

AP Photo/John Amis

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm passes against Appalachian State during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 31-10.

Time is running out to get action down on arguably the best way to bet college football. There’s always plenty of value to be found in the preseason futures before the odds stiffen once the games get underway. After digging through the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook’s preseason offerings, here are some of the best-looking bets.

Game of the Year

Florida minus-6.5 points vs. Miami (August 24 in Orlando): Search through enough different sports books and you can find betting lines on almost 300 games for the upcoming season. Not many people want to tie up money for games months away, however, so let’s focus on the first matchup of the year — a pre-Week 1 appetizer of sorts matching up two storied, in-state rivals.

A lot of bettors look at this game, see two reputable programs that are roughly equal on the field and assume taking the points is the play. That’s a mistake; these teams do not look equal coming into the season.

Florida ranks near the top of the nation in returning 77% of last season’s production, compared with Miami’s below-average 60%, according to the S&P+ analytic system. At the end of last year, the Gators would have been a near double-digit favorite against the Hurricanes on a neutral field. And their advantage has only increased, not decreased, since.

Win total

Appalachian State over 9 wins at minus-135 (risking $1.35 to win $1): Defending champion Clemson is the most likely team in the nation to go undefeated, according to Football Outsiders’ F/+ projections. Appalachian State is the second-most likely.

A quiet juggernaut, the Mountaineers have roared loudly in winning the Sun Belt Conference in each of the past three years and might be even better this season with their entire offense returning. They’re currently projected as a favorite in all but one game — a November trip to take on South Carolina — which leaves a lot of wiggle room for this bet.

Texas under 9 wins at minus-110: The Longhorns are the classic case of a big-name team that ended last season on a hot streak to create undeserved hype going into the next year. Texas outperformed its statistical expectation and plus-73 point differential by going 10-4 last season, which can be partially explained by a hard-nosed, bend-but-don't-break defense.

Nearly the entire defense is gone this season, though, and Texas has little time to ease in replacements with a deceptively tough week 1 opponent in Louisiana Tech and a powerhouse week 2 foe in LSU before its always treacherous Big 12 Conference schedule begins.

Heisman Trophy futures

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm at 20-to-1: Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to Ohio State because Jake Fromm beat him out for the starting job last season, yet the former is listed at half the price of the latter to win the Heisman this year. How does that make any sense? Fromm has been arguably the most trustworthy quarterback in the nation over the past two years, throwing 54 touchdown passes with just 13 interceptions.

According to the Coaches Poll, Georgia is established as the third-best program in the nation going into the season behind Clemson and Alabama, whose quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa, respectively, are 3-to-1 co-favorites to win the Heisman. The value on this one can't be ignored.

Championship futures

Memphis to win the American Athletic Conference at 3-to-1: Everyone’s in a rush to back Central Florida, which has won 18 straight AAC games, but there are no more bargains to be found on the Knights.

The closest games in their streak have all come against Memphis, which blew double-digit leads twice against UCF last season and lost in double overtime in the 2017 AAC Championship Game.

But don’t mistake close losses for incompetence. The Tigers are poised to become the power in the conference this year, and by the time they’d meet the Knights in the conference championship game, they might be favored.

Wisconsin at 50-to-1 to make the College Football Playoff futures: Buy low on the Badgers. One relative down year, in which they went 8-5 after four straight double-digit win seasons, and the transfer of middling quarterback Alex Hornibrook aren’t a death knell. They still figure to be right in the thick of the Big Ten West division race with Iowa and Nebraska.

Wisconsin was 10-to-1 to make the College Football Playoff last year and 20-to-1 when the futures opened. The Badgers are a long shot, but shouldn’t be this long of a long shot.

Mississippi State at 300-to-1 to win the College Football Playoff futures: Despite popular opinion, Alabama doesn’t go into every season as a lock to win the SEC West. In fact, the Crimson Tide have failed to win the division five times in 12 seasons under coach Nick Saban, often when a surprise contender emerges.

Sure, Alabama looks poised to reign again this year, but four roughly evenly matched rivals appear ready to rise up if it stumbles—Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and Mississippi State. The first three are all 25- to 50-to-1 to win the national championship. There’s no justification for Mississippi State, which beat Auburn and Texas A&M by double digits last year, having a price six times higher.