College football will crown a national champion Monday night and could also deliver perhaps the greatest underdog story in American team sports history, a tale that would forever live in gambling lore.
No. 3 TCU has already defied the odds, literally, reaching the title game after an offseason that saw futures as high as 500-1 but with 200-1 being the consensus number. No eventual champion in any sport has ever capped off such a surprise.
In 1999, the St. Louis Rams began the year as 150-1 long shots after losing starting quarterback Trent Green to a knee injury in the preseason. That set the stage for undrafted Kurt Warner, an Arena Football product who famously bagged groceries while pursuing his football dream, to lead the improbable Super Bowl run on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 1991 Minnesota Twins (80-1), 2006 Carolina Hurricanes (60-1) and 2014 UConn men's college basketball team (65-1) all caught oddsmakers off guard, but their achievements would be overshadowed by TCU's head-shaking story in a sport almost always dominated by perennial powers.
Sportsbooks have reported a few TCU championship tickets but nothing that would significantly affect their bottom line. A DraftKings bettor wagered $20 at 250-1 odds prior to the season ($5,000 win). The SuperBook in Las Vegas printed a $10 ticket at 500-1 odds ($5,000 win). A Caesars Sportsbook bettor in Illinois placed $50 at 200-1 odds on Sept. 24 ($10,000 win), after the Frogs opened the season with three straight wins.
The Horned Frogs' final hurdle is No. 1 Georgia in what is essentially a "David versus Goliath" scenario. TCU is a 12.5-point underdog, which would be the largest point spread ever for a college football title game. The Bulldogs are the defending champs and began the season among the three favorites.
Since the national semifinals ended, sportsbooks have seen a steady flow of action on TCU. The point spread opened at 13.5 and touched 14 but has trickled down with the high volume on the Horned Frogs. Additionally, Caesars shared that more than 90% of the money-line wagers have come on TCU, which would pay in the neighborhood of 4-to-1 odds.
College football's only other double-digit underdogs in the title game both won outright (2000 Oklahoma and 2002 Ohio State). And the past three Super Bowls that featured a double-digit point spread were all won by the underdog (2007 New York Giants, 2001 New England Patriots and 1998 Denver Broncos).