If you're looking for someone to tout Alabama at 6-1 to win the 2016-17 College Football Playoff National Championship, this isn't the column for you. And while I would like to champion Clemson at 7-1, you don't need to hear that from me after watching the Tigers offense vs. Alabama in Glendale.
What I will try to do is offer a handful of teams that might possess some value -- teams that might see their odds reduced dramatically once the season starts. They each have some warts, but they could be worth a play prior to the season in order to get the best price.
One thing I try to keep in mind when looking at these futures is to envision whether a team can simply get into the College Football Playoff. Once you're there, pretty much any team would be capable of winning two games. I also try to approach things how the committee might -- it's not always about the best team, but more about a conference champion and who might be playing well late in the year.
Here are my five best CFB futures value bets:
Ohio State (10-1)
"So you won't tout Alabama at 6-1, but you will tout Ohio State at 10-1. What gives, Bear?" Well here's the deal -- if Ohio State goes to Norman and wins in September, the Buckeyes' price will probably get cut to 6-1, or somewhere thereabout. While the Buckeyes suffered massive losses to the NFL, their recruiting classes have been fantastic under Urban Meyer. There will be no QB drama in the offseason, as it's J.T. Barrett's team, and expect a renewed hunger from Meyer and his squad after they suffered a loss late in 2015 -- one that could help them reach their potential in 2016.
Ah, Georgia, the perennial tease from the SEC East. It always feels as if it could be the year for the Bulldogs at this point in the offseason, but this might actually be the year that UGA is worth a play. Most experts will feel as though Tennessee is the favorite in the SEC East, and that will help the Bulldogs' price. If you look at UGA's schedule, even if the Bulldogs lose to Ole Miss in Oxford, the Vols come to Athens in October.
Should they win that one, and if they beat Florida in Jacksonville, they will be in Atlanta for the SEC Championship game -- putting them one win away from the CFP. With Kirby Smart providing a culture change to the UGA program, and with RB Nick Chubb back in the mix, the only missing ingredient might be QB Jacob Eason.
The Huskies should be undefeated when they visit Arizona for their Pac-12 opener. Then they have Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks, and both of those teams might be facing uncertain QB situations. With how well the UW defense played this season, it won't be an easy task for either new opposing signal-caller -- even with linebackers Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton moving on.
UW also gets USC and Arizona State in Seattle. If Washington isn't ranked in the Top 25 to start the year, it will be just outside of it, and if the Huskies win those early-season games, they'll jump right in the mix. QB Jake Browning will only get better. I think the Huskies will be a very dangerous team in the Pac-12.
Was I one year early in predicting Louisville's success for 2015? It sure looked like it, based on how well QB Lamar Jackson finished the season. After a 2-4 start, in which all four losses were winnable games, the Cardinals kept it together and won six of seven to finish the year. Bobby Petrino is looking at roughly 18 returning starters next year, and the Cards' ACC road games are Boston College, Syracuse, Virginia and (obviously the tough one of the bunch) at Clemson. It's pretty manageable for a team that should put up a lot of points this year -- if the O-line matures as it should.
A little alumni optimism? Probably. Despite everything that went wrong for Miami last season, its losses were to Clemson (who played for the national title), Florida State (who played in the New Year's Six), North Carolina (who played for the ACC title and ended the regular season in the top 10) and at Cincinnati on a Thursday night when the Hurricanes' secondary was depleted in the first half due to targeting penalties the week prior. Almost the entire offense returns, and the move from Athens to Coral Gables will do Mark Richt a world of good. Even if the Canes lose in South Bend to Notre Dame, they can make their way into the CFP if they take care of business in the ACC, where they'll host Florida State and UNC. Will it happen? Probably not, but crazier things have happened.