To say that this season’s college football scenario is polarizing would be an understatement. The opinions range from one end of the Milky Way galaxy to another – allusions to a single Earth won’t do.
Some people think it’s the end of an era, or even the end of what innocence NCAA pigskin was still holding onto. Players are getting paid substantial monies for the maiden time, or at least the first time on a legal basis. Trademark schools of major conferences are moving on to greener pastures, or in some cases, inexplicably, into the Big 12. Georgia appears to have a firm grip on the national title picture, even compared to other SEC strongholds who’re typically forecast to make each division wide-open.
Then there’s typically soft-spoken Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN, who stated – in a weird profanity-laden video podcast rant this summer – that the 2023-24 FBS season was a wash, a blank, a hold-over year until collegiate football is able to make some hard decisions and settle on a new alignment in 2024.
What we know is that with sweeping change comes sloppy betting markets and sloppier high rollers. This year’s college football odds could be uniquely vulnerable to the nerdy armchair shark, beginning with a needlessly conservative O/U (50.5) line on Notre Dame’s likely Week Zero blow-out of Navy.
But we’ll get to the FBS game odds starting in a week or so. For now, here’s a look at that conference shake-up that’s got Santa Claus and The Thing in relative agreement compared to the social-media noise.
Betting Odds to Win the AAC Championship
Florida Atlantic (+650)
East Carolina (+5000)
North Texas (+5000)
South Florida (+5000)
The climb to the top of the American Athletic Conference has been a slow journey for Tulane, however, the squad has finally reached the summit and is the current favorite to win the conference title. SMU’s defense was helpless against Tulane in a 59-24 thrashing last fall, but both picks are priced sternly due to some shifts within the conference.
The big change comes with the exit of Houston and Cincinnati, a pair of annual favorites to win the AAC, to the Big 12 conference. That could give the league’s programs which rely almost exclusively on 2-star and 3-star recruits, such as Navy and East Carolina, an opportunity to draw more betting action at modest odds at the sportsbook.
There are some newcomers to the American Athletic Conference too, including North Texas, Charlotte, Rice, UAB, UTSA, and Florida Atlantic. The exodus of teams away Conference-USA threatens to weaken the conference even further.
Betting Odds to Win the ACC Championship
Florida State +175
North Carolina +1000
Miami Florida +2000
NC State +2000
Wake Forest +5000
Virginia Tech +9500
Boston College +13000
Georgia Tech +20000
Dabo Swinney’s team has fallen so far as a CFP national championship pick that it’s a mild surprise to see Clemson still leading the pack in ACC picks to prevail on Week 14. Florida State, with a rowdy fan base that’s ginned up about Jordan Travis‘ next season behind center, is considered the next most valuable ACC Championship Game pick at (+175) odds. Louisville is a 9-to-1 upstart pick following an impressive 2022 Fenway Bowl performance and win.
Louisville, Pitt, and North Carolina being leading underdog picks of the ACC underscores how Miami’s pigskin gaming stock has fallen in the modern era. However, it’s also notable how many recently improved ACC teams are anticipated to have a bummer ride in the conference this season, including Wake Forest, Syracuse, and NC State.
Betting Odds to Win the Big Ten Championship
Ohio State +165
Penn State +550
Michigan State +11000
The hamburger scandal strikes again, as Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh joins 1980s TV wrestler Ken Patera and the 2010 Boise State Broncos in letting fast-food sandwiches cause calamity for a cash cow. UM’s head reportedly violated NCAA recruiting rules by buying hamburgers for a couple of visiting recruits, a “bombshell” that will likely result in a Harbaugh suspension for 4 games.
Of course, the NCAA could find more serious recruiting violations in Big Ten sports if it tried to. Accosting the Wolverines’ CEO over a $30 bar & grill tab seems more like lowest-hanging fruit, like a cop taking 30 minutes to detain a truant child while a bank robber sticks up a teller and roars away behind them. Experts on Big Ten football are mostly agreed that Harbaugh’s brief sideline absence won’t sink Michigan’s chances to make College Football Playoff history in 2023-24, but OSU still has the top spot on the betting board.
Somehow, the team-by-team exodus that is affecting most of Division 1’s pigskin leagues has skipped over the Big Ten. There are currently 13 schools available in FanDuel Sportsbook’s Big Ten futures betting odds, a sign that the traditional “Ten” is still more of a brand than anything else.
But status-quo in the Big Ten won’t last for long. Indications are that Oregon and Washington of the Pac-12 will be leaving the west coast league for the Big Ten soon, which may create the deepest field of rival teams in the league.
Betting Odds to Win the Big 12 Championship
Kansas State +500
Texas Tech +1100
Oklahoma State +4000
Iowa State +6000
West Virginia +7000
Seeing Texas (+100) leading Oklahoma’s 4-to-1 odds to win the Big 12 Championship Game is not very surprising given OU’s stark inconsistency over the last 20+ months. What’s most noteworthy about the conference’s odds is that former Group-of-5 teams like UCF and Houston are getting almost no respect.
The 2022-23 Cincinnati lineup could probably have trounced almost anyone in the Big 12 by 10+ points. But the Bearcats are drawing just a 70-to-1 Big 12 Championship Game line, plus meek win total lines that allow betting on Over/Under (5.5) total wins this season. That means some analysts think Cincy will lose so often, it won’t even make a bowl this year. WagerBop begs to differ, as outlined our 2023 win-total picks.
Brigham Young, the former FBS Independent program, is a (+10000) Big Ten pick despite the team’s dalliances with the Top 25. For knowledgeable Group-of-5 fans, maybe such cheap odds are a boon.
Betting Odds to Win the Conference-USA Championship
Western Kentucky +125
Louisiana Tech +650
Middle Tennessee +650
New Mexico State +2200
An exodus of schools from the C-USA has left the conference with just 7 brands listed on FanDuel Sportsbook’s futures betting tab as of early August. By tradition, FCS teams are treated a little differently by Vegas and NYC bookmakers. However, newcomers Jacksonville State and Sam Houston are viable right away. These teams have a new FBS brand, and sportsbooks must begin treating them as such.
There has been a lull in the Conference-USA race over the last 5-10 years anyway. As evidence, take the nomadic opportunist head coach Lane Kiffin trying to build an artificial powerhouse at FAU, and limited teams such as Louisiana Tech often sneaking into the conference’s better bowl slots due to a diminished number of powerful lineups.
But all that could change this year, as Western Kentucky’s physical brand of football hopes to imbue some excitement on the field. C-USA speculators will be delighted that UK has chosen to play its annual “local” out-of-conference game against Eastern Kentucky. Liberty is also joining the C-USA after a span of campaigns as one of the hottest independent teams in the FBS. That’s a needed shot of adrenaline for a conference looking for a boost.
Betting Odds to Win the MAC Championship
Miami Ohio +700
Eastern Michigan +900
Northern Illinois +1400
Central Michigan +2100
Ball State +4000
Western Michigan +4500
Bowling Green +4500
Kent State +15000
Previous Ohio Bobcats head coach Frank Solich led the riverside football school for approximately 134 years and retired at the age of about 200. Today, with a new coaching regime under Tim Albin and an excellent QB in Kurtis Rourke, the Bobcats are still in a role that’s quite familiar to fans of Ohio pigskin under Solich: expected to play second-fiddle to the powerful Toledo Rockets even if Ohio reaches the MAC title game later this year.
But the Bobcats can still take heart knowing they are touted in the “top 2” of what’s perceived to be a top-heavy MAC. The Buffalo Bulls, not to be confused with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, have a reputation as a fine-scoring team against more than just MAC opponents. But speculators can expect so many new faces on this year’s Buffalo roster that early-season blues could prohibit the Bills from catching Ohio or another strong team in the MAC West. An under-appreciated Ohio team must strive for 7 wins to reach a bowl game, while Buffalo’s popularity means the Bulls may reach with a 6-win record.
The current favorites to win the MAC are the Toledo Rockets, even though the team fell to a 7-5 record at one point last season. Dual-threat QB Dequan Finn is seasoned at 22 years old, and MAC odds-makers know that a spread-offense innovator like the Toledo program is likely to succeed with a veteran QB, though a poor replacement can always jinx the team in the year to follow. NIU’s swoon also helps Toledo and Ohio’s odds stay short at the betting board.
Betting Odds to Win the Mountain West Championship
Boise State +185
Fresno State +380
Air Force +430
San Diego State +750
San Jose State +1500
Colorado State +1600
Utah State +3400
New Mexico +16000
The Big Ten’s loyalty to a conference is nothing compared to the Mountain West, which looks the same as it always has from a divisional-standings order POV in addition to betting lines at FanDuel Sportsbook. There’s the aristocrat in Boise State, expected to return to consistent form this season after a 10-win season that somehow didn’t feel like one. Faithfully as ever is Fresno State at 4-to-1 odds, a marauding team that had an against-the-spread streak like no other not too long ago.
There is one surprise in the Mountain West, and its Air Force’s similar 4-to-1 odds to win a conference title. Colorado Springs cadets winning the MWC would be historic, the first time an academy would have managed to win an established FBS conference in the modern era – and a pretty darn good one too. Air Force would be invited to a New Year’s Six bowl game with a 10-win season and a conference triumph. But even when academy teams improve to the level of championship contenders, they’re still not “sexy” underdog bowl picks at sportsbooks, unless booked in a one-off scenario against the Group of 5.
So why have the Las Vegas sharks changed their minds about Air Force? Troy Calhoun is a mastermind who’s made the trademark academy Flexbone game into a multiple offense that led the FBS in rushing in 2022-23. The coach will boast a returning veteran defense in 2023-24, a unit that held Baylor, Boise State, and San Diego State to 37 combined points, going a long way to change the perception of academy teams as thin and slow on defense. Air Force has won 20 games since 2021, and won’t face Fresno this season.
Betting Odds to Win the Pac-12 Championship
Oregon State +1200
Washington State +6000
Arizona State +11000
Seasonal fans may look at the preseason sportsbook odds on the Pac-12 and assume everything is just as it usually is. There’s the familiar names Oregon (+320) and Washington (+340), each with reasonable betting lines to win the Pac-12 and reach the postseason as at least a New Year’s Six bowl pick. However, not everything is as easy as the August betting board makes it out to be.
The Pac-12 is saying goodbye to Oregon and Washington, as both teams have struck a deal to transition into the Big Ten conference, pitting the loyal teams of the old league against Ducks and Huskies this season. There’s little evidence to suggest teams are well motivated to win their conferences when they are told a new league is in the program’s sights. Texas and Oklahoma sat out the Big 12 Championship Game last year, and Cincinnati fell to 8-4 in its final AAC year.
That out of the way, the Oregon, Washington, and Utah futures picks are taking more action away from Southern Cal’s 2-to-1 betting market than they are competing with USC in bets to reach a College Football Playoff bowl game and national championship semi-final, or to finish the chore by winning an underdog FBS crown for the ailing Pac-12. As is often the sentiment these days, pundits see more upside in USC even when the Trojans’ performance from the campaign before does not necessarily deserve it.
Betting Odds to Win the SEC Championship
Texas A&M +1300
Mississippi State +10000
South Carolina +11000
Once again, SEC football programs are leading FanDuel Sportsbook’s futures odds to be the next College Football Playoff champion. It was inexorable that the conference with the most NFL Draft selections in April would resume dominating the gridiron in winter’s college bowl season. Weaker SEC fields of the last 2 decades were marked by subpar quarterback play, a product of overzealous recruiting at Little League and Middle School venues. SEC head coaches of the 2020s have phased out those practices, while developing QBs like Stetson Bennett and Bryce Young to lead Georgia and Alabama, respectively.
With the best blocking, the hardest tackling, and elite 5-star signal-callers to boot, the Southeastern Conference again reigns supreme over FanDuel Sportsbook’s short and long-term gambling lines as well as the college football bowl picture.
What is different, however, is that Georgia is drawing so much more betting action than Alabama to win this season’s College Football Playoff, even though each team has its share of believers in the media. Kirk Herbstreit gave an especially candid (and R-rated) interview to a popular YouTube channel in which ESPN’s top FBS analyst described 2023-24 as a “throw-away” season, claiming that Alabama would inexorably romp to a national championship, while the FBS (and several of the major conferences) bide time going into a 2024-25 season of vast changes in D1 college football. Most certainly, our gamers at FanDuel disagree, giving the Crimson Tide only 6-to-1 CFP odds to emerge as the victors.
There may not be a Heisman-level offensive backfield for Alabama in 2023-24, but it would be a mistake to assume the Crimson Tide can’t return to having the consensus #1 defense in Division 1, especially after giving up that mantle to the Bulldogs (and occasionally a few other schools) over a sagging couple of years for Nick Saban’s most vaunted unit. UGA is a (-110) pick to win the SEC Championship Game.
Betting Odds to Win the Sun Belt Conference Championship
South Alabama +330
Coastal Carolina +550
Appalachian State +850
Georgia Southern +1500
Southern Mississippi +1900
Georgia State +2600
Texas State +4500
Old Dominion +4500
Arkansas State +5000
UL Monroe +11000
There has been more and more excitement within the Sun Belt Conference over the last few seasons. CFB upstarts Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State have been making as many headlines as UCF of the American Athletic Conference (and Big 12) in recent years, and the presence of so many teams at thinner than 20-to-1 odds to win the championship scrum this year is a nod to the newfound depth of Sun Belt pigskin. 5-10 years ago, Marshall would likely not have viewed moving to the Sun Belt from Conference-USA as a lateral or gainful business move.
The Sun Belt could very easily become a fun free-for-all in 2023-24, as evidenced by the fact that all 3 aforementioned brands are losing out in betting action to Troy and South Alabama in preseason futures. Just last season, the favored Trojans and Jaguars won 22 combined times, threatening to eclipse the fantastic recent W/L record of Coastal Carolina with suitable follow-up campaigns through 2025.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.