The rich always get richer in college football. That’s probably the biggest differentiator between the teams that play on Saturday and the ones that play on Sunday. There isn’t a draft that gives the worst teams first crack at the best players, or a cap to level the playing field across the 133 FBS teams. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The powerhouse programs generate the most money, thus enhancing their ability to attract elite talent. At the highest level, it leads to a spot in the College Football Playoff, feeding the machine to ensure the cycle repeats year after year.
For all the unthinkable upsets, thrilling finishes and chaos that the regular season brings, there usually aren’t many surprises left when it’s time to determine who gets to compete in the College Football Playoffs. That’s what made last season so special. TCU’s run to the national championship was extraordinary and gives fans hope we will see more smaller programs disrupt the field in future years. It didn’t matter that they lost 65-7 to Georgia. They proved they belonged by taking out Michigan in the semifinals. Besides, it was just nice to see a different face at the party.
Everyone wants to know who this year’s version of TCU is. The correct answer is that there likely isn’t one, and that might not be a bad thing. The four teams that sit at the top of the odds board to win the national championship are the most likely playoff teams, but if we get a different team in the mix, it should be better equipped to make a run at winning the national championship.
The favorites to win it all
- Georgia +225
- Alabama +600
- Ohio State +700
- Michigan +800
There is one thing that sticks out when looking at the projected top four teams: There is a lot more uncertainty with the QB position than we have seen in recent years. How can we take advantage of that from a betting perspective? The vulnerabilities of the top four teams are already priced into the market, but it still makes it a good year to bet on an outside team to make the playoffs. Let’s look at the next five teams on the board and see if we can find some worth backing to be this year’s disruptor.
To make playoffs: +350
National champions: +1200
The Tigers have only been to the playoffs once, but, boy, did they make it count. Joe Burrow led them to a national championship in a historic 2019 season. Now, Brian Kelly looks to get LSU back after an impressive debut in Baton Rouge. He gets Heisman candidate Jayden Daniels back under center behind a solid offensive line and strong running game. LSU will beat teams in the trenches, but it needs to improve on explosive plays on both sides of the ball if it is going to be a playoff team. LSU was tied for eighth out of 14 SEC teams in pass plays of 20-plus yards in 2022, so it comes down to how comfortable you are in Daniels taking the necessary leap. Alabama isn’t free of question marks, but it’s hard for me to bet Kelly getting the best of Nick Saban for a second straight year. As much as I like the Tigers to go over their win total, this is a pass for me.
To make playoffs: +250
National champions +1400
When you think of non-SEC teams in the playoffs, Lincoln Riley is one of the first coaches that comes to mind. Riley made three playoff appearances with Oklahoma, but failed to win once he got to the big stage. In only his second year in Southern California, he has assembled one of the most talented rosters in the nation. Oh, and did I mention he has last year’s Heisman winner back for an encore?
Considering the Trojans were probably a playoff team last season if it weren’t for Williams’ injury in the Pac-12 title game, it’s hard not to see them as a solid bet to take the next step in 2023. The Trojans’ defense is poised to improve after a disastrous 2022, when they ranked 106th in yards allowed per game. They brought in Georgia transfer Bear Alexander to beef up the interior and get multiple starters back in the secondary. Only Riley knows if DC Alex Grinch is the long-term answer, but he only needs to orchestrate a few stops with Riley’s potent offense piling up points. USC catches Utah, Washington and UCLA at home, leaving Oregon on the road as the season’s biggest challenge. I won’t be betting on USC to win the national championship until Riley proves he can win a playoff game, but I will take the +250 to bet on him getting there. Bet: USC +250 to make the playoffs.
To make playoffs: +320
National champions +1800
(Note: Clemson and Florida State have identical odds, but I will be analyzing Clemson only because I bet them to win the ACC.)
Clemson may have had the most influential move of the offseason when they brought in TCU’s Garrett Riley to run the offense. The Tigers were able to go 8-0 in conference and post a 10-win season with an offensive unit that ranked 48th overall and 68th in explosive pass plays. We should see immediate improvement with Riley getting to build the offense around QB Cade Klubnik, one of the country’s most talented young quarterbacks. He will have the support of an effective running game led by Will Shipley, who rushed for 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. The defense lost key contributors in the front seven, but has the depth and elite linebacker play to finish as a top-20 unit.
Clemson has a very manageable schedule, including its most formidable opponent, Florida State, visiting Death Valley. If you are telling me that’s the largest obstacle standing in the way of Clemson returning to the playoffs, I will take the plus money and run. Bet: Clemson +320 to make the playoffs.
To make playoffs: +320
National champions: +2000
Texas is the biggest trust fall in college football. We all hear the hype and feel like we have fallen for this trap before with the Longhorns. Overtaking Oklahoma as the most talented team in the Big 12 is the easy part. Delivering on expectations is where the doubt always surfaces. Can Steve Sarkisian put it all together and propel this team to the playoffs? It will come down to the growth and maturity of QB Quinn Ewers.
Everything else is in place for Ewers to succeed in one of the most explosive offenses in college football. Bijan Robinson is a big loss, but almost everyone else returns, including the entire offensive line. WR Xavier Worthy is back after an impressive freshman season where he torched defenses for eight touchdowns, and he is joined by Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell and Isaiah Neyor to form one of the most talented wide receiver groups in the country. If Ewers is unable to maximize the elite weapons surrounding him, Sarkisian has plenty of depth in the quarterback room, including Maalik Murphy and 2023’s top overall recruit, Arch Manning. Everything hinges on a Week 2 shot at Alabama, which the Longhorns played very competitively before Ewer’s injury changed the fortunes of their meeting last year. If they can finish the job against the Crimson Tide, a path to a playoff game becomes a clear reality. College football is a better place if Texas is really back this time, but I just can’t get comfortable after all the years they have let us down. I gotta see it to believe it, so it’s not a bet for me.