College football season is less than a month away, and many of the usual suspects sit atop the Vegas Future boards; Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan and resurgent USC. There are a few major conference teams with higher expectations this year; Washington State, Georgia, Kansas State and Tennessee are popular “semi-sleepers.” But what about some deep value? Some non-BCS punt plays or long shots with some sneaky value. If any non-BCS team can sneak into the playoff, the hedge potential is pretty ridiculous.
It is not an easy party to crash. As long as the playoff system only invites four teams and five major conferences and Notre Dame have to share those spots, it is unlikely that any non-Power Five team is invading their preserved turf. It would take a pretty impressive season; obviously 13-0, and at least two or three major conference or Top 25 wins.
Here are five teams with the best chances to crash the party.
#1. South Florida Bulls – 300-1
Don’t look now, but the AAC, or American Conference, is nipping on the heels of the big boys this season. They might not have the marquee name atop the board like Florida State and Clemson in the ACC or USC and Washington atop the Pac 12, but the AAC has four or five legit football teams in 2017. The foremost of them might be the USF Bulls.
The USF Bulls have won 18 games over the past two seasons and new Coach Charlie Strong will be looking to take another massive step forward upon the solid foundation Willie Taggert left behind. Quarterback Quentin Flowers is the runaway AAC Preseason Player of the Year pick and a nice sleeper Heisman candidate. The senior accounted for 42 touchdowns last season, and if his mates can get him 12 wins (or 13) he might very well find himself in New York.
The Bulls won’t have a tough schedule to navigate, with the toughest games being hosting Illinois and a season-ending trip to I-4 rival UCF. That game could very well have BCS implications, as it isn’t unreasonable to think the Bulls could be undefeated heading into the Thanksgiving weekend rivalry game. However, the downside to that quite possible 12-0 is that it is also possible they won’t have a win over a single ranked team, making even 13-0 a likely ticket to a BCS game, but not the Playoff.
#2. Boise State Broncos – 100-1
The blue turf monster is back! Boise State is the runaway favorite to win the Mountain Division of the Mountain West but faces a really tricky game on the road on September 9th at Washington State. If they can upset the Cougs in Pullman, they have a real shot to finish the year ranked in the Top Ten in the polls. The Broncos finished outside the Top 25 two years in a row for the first time since 2000-2001, but there is reason for optimism this season. They return eight starters, including quarterback Brett Rypien.
The Broncos won’t have much trouble scoring points, but will they be able to stop enough opponents to make BCS noise like the mid-2000’s glory days? The schedule aside from a trip to Wazzou, they host Virginia and have tough road trips to Colorado State and San Diego State, probably the two top teams in the Mountain West. 13-0 seems a stretch for the Broncos, but if they CAN run the table, they would have an interesting case for inclusion in the playoff if Washington State can make the leap some expect.
#3. Central Florida Knights – 1000-1
We are obviously in significant long shot territory at this point, but the Knights have some healthy buzz surrounding their program this season. Things bottomed out two years ago with a winless season under then-coach George O’Leary. But two years into the Scott Frost era, the Knights look more like the team that won the Fiesta Bowl three years ago than the decimated mess O’Leary exited with.
UCF went .500 last season, falling to 6-7 with a bowl game loss, but the mere fact they were IN a bowl game 12 months after an 0-12 humiliation was massive progress. Expect another seismic leap forward this season. The Knights will need Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton to take a big step forward in his second season, but he is at least comfortably surrounded by some NFL-level skill position talent.
The defense has some question marks with only four starters returning, but there is some real young talent, especially in the secondary with Alabama transfer Shawn Burgess-Becker joining the fold. And the defense is going to have to improve to handle a gauntlet of a schedule. Their conference slate will be challenging with a trip to Temple and a season-ending grudge match against the aforementioned South Florida Bulls. Even their “soft” games are potentially fraught with danger; a season-opener against FIU, then a game against Memphis, hosting Georgia Tech and a trip to Maryland. Add in conference road games at Navy and SMU and the Knights will have to EARN their way through a tough slate.
But if you are looking for a sleeper, you might as well pick one with a schedule that affords them some opportunities if they can catch lightning in a bottle…
#4. Colorado State Rams – 1000-1
I’d lean Boise in the MWC, but from a value perspective, it is hard to take Boise at 100-1 when the nearly-equal Rams are ten times the value. Colorado State returns 13 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad and has a favorable conference schedule. They get to host Boise State in their second to last game of the season and don’t play San Diego State.
However, they open with an absolute gauntlet. They open hosting Oregon State in a nice opportunity to pick up a BCS league win, then they get one more crack the following week when they host in-state rival Colorado. That game could be HUGE. A win there gets them to 2-0 heading to Tuscaloosa. Obviously, they aren’t winning in Nick Saban’s house, but a strong showing there could really improve their profile and legitimize the rest of the record.
Quarterback Nick Stevens returns to helm an offense that many project to be the best in the Mountain West, but the defense that allowed over 31 points a game last season will have to rapidly improve.
#5. Toledo Rockets – 2000-1
This one is pretty unlikely, but your life will be more interesting if you have a rooting interest in some random night Mac-tion this Fall. And why not take flight with the best bet in the MAC, the Toledo Rockets. Western Michigan owned the spotlight last season with a well-earned BCS Bowl berth, but they have lost a ton of talent, including young dynamite coach PJ Fleck (Minnesota). That opens the door for the likes of Miami, Ohio, and my personal fave, Toledo.
The Rockets have a leg up on the competition with the veteran savvy of senior quarterback Logan Woodside, as well as one of the league’s top receiving corps and seven starters on defense. The Rockets have a tough road trip to Ohio, but get to host Western Michigan in the November 24th finale in what should be the de facto Western Division championship game.
The schedule is interesting with a trip to Miami (FL) on September 23rd. If the Rockets could spring the upset there, things could be really interesting in the final three weeks of the season with a potential perfect season on the line.
Is anyone crashing the party this season? It’s pretty unlikely, as the massive championship odds indicate, but if anyone is crashing through, these are my five favorite bets.
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