The 2018 college football season is officially over, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. Before you know it, win totals, Week 1 lines and conference futures will be available to bet. Here are four teams to keep an eye on this spring that could offer value in the preseason betting markets:
The odds for the 2020 National Championship Game winner were released during Monday’s Clemson-Alabama game, and the school that jumped out to me on the list was Nebraska at 25/1. It’s not often that a 4-8 team only has seven teams in front of them in the odds to win the title, but this Nebraska team ended the year strong and the Scott Frost effect is real.
While there’s no value to bet on the Huskers to win the championship, there will be a few other ways to make money on Nebraska. I think going over their season win total number is a good place to start. If you’re looking for a bigger risk, I would consider betting on them to at least win the Big Ten West — if not the whole conference.
Nebraska’s 0-6 start and 4-8 regular season record may not have the best optics, but they are a prime candidate to take the next step. The Cornhuskers finished 1-5 in games decided by five points or less in 2018, which is why I expect some of the bad-luck results to swing in Nebraska’s favor in Frost’s second season in charge.
The schedule lines up nicely for Nebraska, too.
Their toughest games against Big Ten West teams (Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa) are at home. They have to play Ohio State from the East, but that game is also in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers also avoid Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State in their other cross-division tilts.
Nebraska is going to be a darling this summer, and that’s already reflected in the National Championship market. Hopefully they’ll be discounted in other futures, including the win total and odds to win their division, so that bettors can earn some money.
Utah opened at 80/1 odds to win the title, which sounds like Vegas has a lot of respect for the job head coach Kyle Whittingham has done. This also means that the Utes have the same number as Miami, USC and Texas A&M — three schools that receive much more national recognition and have far more resources than Utah. Coming off a Pac-12 South division title, there’s a lot to be optimistic about in Salt Lake City.
The Utes are projected to return 16 starters from a team that finished the 2018 regular season 9-3. Quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss highlight the group. The duo missed the final five games of the season, including the losses in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Holiday Bowl.
The schedule is very favorable for Whittingham’s squad. They face USC early in the season in a game that could go a long way in deciding the Pac-12 South. They are able to avoid Oregon and Stanford from the North, but their toughest cross-division game is when they travel to Washington in early November. I’ll definitely be looking to play Utah over their win total as long as Huntley and Moss don’t have any setbacks before the start of the regular season.
And if the right price presents itself, don’t be afraid to bet on Utah to win the Pac-12.
One strategy I like to utilize is betting on a very good program the year after they have a down season. I think Virginia Tech will be one of those teams that falls into that category following a 6-6 regular season that ended in a bowl loss to Cincinnati.
Virginia Tech entered 2018 with lower expectations because of the players they lost on defense, and the year immediately unraveled after quarterback Josh Jackson suffered a season-ending injury.
Luckily for the Hokies, Jackson is expected to be back next season, and fans can rely on the amazing head coach and defensive coordinator combo of Justin Fuente and Bud Foster to get things back on track.
As for the schedule, it breaks nicely for Virginia Tech as they avoid Clemson. They do have to play at Notre Dame, but getting Boston College and Wake Forest as their cross-division opponents is a positive. Another wrinkle in the schedule is that they play two FCS teams, which means that they have to win seven games (instead of the traditional six) in order to make a bowl game. If their win total opens around 7 or 7.5, I’ll take a close look at the Hokies to go over the total.
The Coastal Division always seems to be wide open in the ACC, so it’ll also be worth taking a look at Virginia Tech to play in the ACC Championship Game.
Thanks to their schedule, Missouri is this season’s lucky SEC East team. They draw the two weakest teams from the West in Ole Miss and Arkansas. Avoiding teams like Alabama, LSU and Auburn makes their schedule a lot less daunting on paper and could lead to value in the futures markets.
The favorability of the schedule doesn’t end there for the Tigers, as they get to face a West Virginia team with a new coach in Week 2. There’s also a weird quirk in which they play five straight home games with a bye week sandwiched in on September 28.
Missouri returns most of their starters from an eight-win team that could’ve easily won 10 games if a few bounces went their way in tough losses to South Carolina and Kentucky. Yes, quarterback Drew Lock is graduating, but Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant can play right away and should be motivated to do well after his old school won the national title after his benching.
Asking Mizzou to get past Georgia and Florida might be unrealistic, but Missouri exceeding their win total could be one way to bet because of the Tigers’ extremely favorable schedule.