Although Alabama's favored, if ACC isn’t top conference, they’re close
August 22, 2017 3:06 AM
by Tony Mejia
The Associated Press released its preseason Top 25 on Monday, which for the majority of the college football world, eclipsed even a rare solar event in terms of importance.
Alabama got the nod over Ohio State and Florida State, while USC and defending champion Clemson rounded out the top five. That pecking order will change immediately since the Crimson Tide and Seminoles square off on Sept. 2.
Conference championship odds are also out there courtesy of the Westgate Superbook, which we’ll break down here by looking at the favorites and top longshots for the nine top leagues since the Sun Belt and WAC didn’t get odds posted.
It’s debatable that this league has surpassed the SEC in terms of quality but they’ve definitely narrowed the gap and come in housing the reigning national champs and Heisman Trophy winner. Clemson (3/1) and Lamar Jackson-led Louisville (9/2) should be looking up at Florida State (10/11), who will ascend to No. 1 if it pulls off an upset against Alabama in Atlanta. The ‘Noles have to win in Death Valley this season and play their annual rivalry game against talented Florida the week before this game, so I don’t recommend riding chalk despite how talented a group Jimbo Fisher has assembled in Tallahassee. I’d take a shot with the ‘Ville or even Coastal Division favorite Miami (5/1), which returns a fierce-looking defense.
There’s no denying that South Florida (EVEN) is rightfully favored, returning QB Quinton Flowers to lead a loaded offense and Charlie Strong taking over as head coach to work with a defense that returns a lot of veterans from last year’s 11-2 squad. The Bulls are likely to host this game too, having a clear edge in the East Division whereas Houston (5/1), Memphis (5/1), Navy (6/1) and Tulsa (8/1) will all beat up on one another in the West.
While I’m not knocking Lincoln Riley and think he’ll have a long, successful career as Bob Stoops’ successor, I don’t foresee immediate success and therefore want no part of Oklahoma (EVEN) despite their favored status here. Oklahoma State (5/2) and Kansas State (7/1) are more attractive options and I wouldn’t write off West Virginia (25/1) to pull off a shocker behind new transfer QB Will Grier and Dana Holgorsen giving up play-calling duties with Jake Spavital at the controls of a potentially potent offense. The expectation here is that the OSU Cowboys will prevail in the inaugural league championship game that is scheduled to be played at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 2.
This league is definitely top-heavy this season and can be carved into tiers. Ohio State (5/7), Wisconsin (5/2), Penn State (5/1) and Michigan (7/1) all have such an edge in terms of collective talent that it’s impossible to look elsewhere for a true long shot. J.T. Barrett had a dreadful Fiesta Bowl in national semifinal loss to Clemson but is a proven winner who will likely close out his career with a Big Ten title. If you’re looking for a bigger pay day, I’d ride the Nittany Lions, who beat Ohio State last year and is loaded on both sides of the ball, paced by the nation’s top running back, Saquon Barkley.
Lane Kiffin is getting some immediate respect since Florida Atlantic (12/1) has gone 3-9 in three straight seasons and would normally join rival FIU (50/1) as a major longshot. Adding transfer QB De’Andre Johnson of Last Chance U. fame gives the Owls one of the top playmakers in the conference, which could be up for grabs since favored Western Kentucky (5/7) lost head coach Jeff Brohm to Purdue. Mike Sanford Jr. takes over and returns a ton of talent, but I’d chase a bigger pay day via Middle Tennessee (5/1) or the aforementioned FAU Owls. Blue Raiders QB Brent Stockstill will put up cartoonish numbers in his dad’s offense.
PJ Fleck coached Western Michigan (6/1) to an unbeaten run last season that included a win over Ohio in the championship game, but he’s now coaching at Minnesota. The Broncos should still be a threat, but the smart money is indeed on favored Toledo (10/11), which returns the conference’s top QB in senior Logan Woodside. I wouldn’t mess around and fade the Rockets, who are likely to have a similar run through league play as WMU enjoyed last year. If you’re looking for more of a gamble, go with Western or Miami of Ohio (9/2).
Boise State (6/5) is the chalk to reclaim their spot atop the MWC after stumbling in each of the past few years following its dominant run. It’s undeniable that San Diego State (8/5) has replaced them as the class of this league, but this is a good year to take a shot at one of the two up-and-comers, Colorado State (4/1) and Wyoming (7/1). Cowboys QB Josh Allen is the best player in the conference and Craig Bohl enters his fourth year at the helm of the program and will likely be coming to a major conference near you following this season. Of course, the same could be said about Mike Bobo, who has put together a pair of 7-6 years but always has the Rams playing their best football late. My choice backs the Cowboys to make for a memorable year in Laramie.
Although USC (10/11) is rightfully favored, there’s tremendous value in riding with Washington (9/5) now that Chris Petersen has the ball rolling in Seattle. They cruised to last year’s conference championship with a 41-10 rout of surprising Colorado and have a ton of talent back, avoid the Trojans on the schedule and close with a tough five-game stretch where they’ll be challenged, but get to play four of them at home. Jake Browning needs to take the next step in his progression but could end up having a more effective season than USC’s Sam Darnold. Utah (40/1) is enticing if you want a dramatic longshot to back.
Alabama (4/9) is favored to win a fourth consecutive conference championship, which is no surprise given how dominant they’ve been in beating Missouri and Florida twice, posting a cumulative scoring edge of 125-44. The only time over the past five years that Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide failed to win an SEC title came in 2013 after losing the Iron Bowl to Auburn, which has to be considered the top longshot (6/1) to back since the SEC West is again the class of the conference and the Tigers get to host Georgia and ‘Bama in November, giving them a chance to control their destiny if they’re playing their best football at that time. The Gators (12/1) would be my choice for an East Division team to back since I like their depth better than Georgia (8/1).