This article is part of our College Football Fantasy Five series.
As we enter the summer, it's a perfect time to take a look at some college football futures and identify some early value plays before people buy their college football magazines and place their wagers. Last week I examined the early Heisman odds (linked below) and now I'll take a look at conference championship odds. Next week, I'll look at my favorite over/under win totals.
For these early betting articles, I'm going to utilize a similar format where I mention my fades (bets to avoid), value plays (decent longshot bets) and favorite play (where I would place my money right now). Odds are subject to change over time.
5.) Marshall (+250 to win Conference USA)
I'll start the article by saying it's really hard to find an edge on Vegas when it comes to conference champions as they are typically on point with their favorites to win each conference. I like fading the Thundering Herd in this spot because it seems that C-USA is going to be ultra-competitive for the 2021 season. While Marshall does have arguably the best QB in Grant Wells, the offense struggled to finish the season in 2020. Both FAU (+700) and Western Kentucky (+1400) will battle Marshall in the East and UAB (+275) is the class of the West division although UTSA (+300) is there too with stud RB Sincere McCormick. Just seems smarter to put money on longer odds for the winner of Conference USA.
4.) Ohio State (-167 to win Big Ten)
Yes, the Buckeyes lap the rest of the conference when it comes to the recruiting trail; however, that doesn't necessarily make them the favorites every year in my opinion. I put a large premium on experience at the quarterback position unless you have a transcendent talent and Ohio State does not have that as they are still deciding between C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord. Teams in the Big Ten that do have experience at QB are Penn State (+700) with Sean Clifford and Indiana (+1800) with Michael Penix Jr., both contenders to shock the Buckeyes in the East Division.
3.) Miami (+700 to win ACC)
As soon as QB D'Eriq King announced he was coming back another year, it made the Hurricanes an interesting value play as they showed some serious signs of promise in their first year with a spread offense in 2020. They were able to improve their scoring to 26th nationally at 34.0 points per game. Many were surprised to see King make the announcement to return and all seems on track on the return from his ACL injury sustained in the Cheez-It Bowl. I also like that Miami will be battle-tested during their non-conference portion of the schedule with Alabama, Appalachian State and Michigan State. North Carolina (+700) may have the best QB in the conference in Sam Howell, but I like the Hurricanes to meet Clemson (-835) in the ACC title game and potentially beat them while there.
2.) TCU (+1400 to win Big 12)
I'm projecting big years for both Oklahoma (-134) and Iowa State (+250), yet if any conference was to blow up their plans for the college football playoff, it would be the Big 12. The best candidate to be that darkhorse team in the wild-card conference is TCU as they are well coached with Gary Patterson and have an experienced quarterback in Max Duggan. I also think their skill positions will be sneaky good with players like RB Zach Evans and WR Taye Barber. More importantly, the Horned Frogs have one of the more reliable defenses in an offensively-minded conference which gives their opponents fits. It would be easy for me to recommend the Sooners or Cyclones, but we're looking for maximum value with this play.
1.) Arizona State (+450 to win Pac-12)
The Pac-12 is wide open in 2021 and I'm not buying Oregon (+275), Washington (+275) or USC (+400). I'm backing the Sun Devils because they return 15 starters in what should be Herm Edwards' best team. Although Arizona State was only able to play four games in 2020, they led the conference in scoring offense and scoring defense. They showed just enough in that short season to make them my favorite team for the Pac-12 as QB Jayden Daniels and RB Rachaad White are the real deal. They also have defensive studs in DL Tyler Johnson and CB Chase Lucas. I would anticipate these odds to shorten as we get closer to the season as Arizona State will get all kinds of buzz.