[Editor’s note: This article has been updated as of August 29. Additional/updated props are noted in italics.]
Watching the National Championship game is always bitter-sweet for me. There’s little better than watching the two best teams in the nation go head-to-head. There’s little worse than the prospect of eight football-less months. At the end of every season, I feel like a member of the Fellowship of the Ring as it sets out to traverse “the long dark of Moria.” You might think there are “older and fouler things” in the world than a summer without college football. I’m not sure I agree.
Like the Fellowship, some teams didn’t emerge from the trek unscathed. Numerous squads parted ways with their coaches, while others cut ties with promising players. But everyone is almost out of the tunnel now with the 2016-17 season set to kick off in a few short weeks.
As with every year, we’re going to see some surprises. I can’t tell you what they’re going to be; if they were predictable, they wouldn’t be surprises. But I can tell you which teams and players have the best shot at winning the national title and Heisman Trophy, and how many coaches are going to be shown the door next season. (Not the good kind of door that lets you out of a dwarf mine, the bad kind that leads to you searching Monster.com.)
2016-17 College Football Props
Odds to win the 2016-17 National Championship
Florida State: 10/1
Ohio State: 12/1
Notre Dame: 20/1
Michigan State: 30/1
Ole Miss: 40/1
Last year’s finalists are the top two, but for very different reasons: Clemson because they return the bulk of their ridiculously good offense; Alabama because they’re Alabama. The Tide lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but they do every year. Nick Saban simply restocks the cupboards with the best recruits the nation has to offer. Replacing Heisman-winner Derek Henry won’t be easy, but can you really argue with four national titles in the last seven years? I can’t.
I’m not quite as high on a couple teams as some sportsbooks and bettors, in particular Tennessee and USC. The Vols finished last year strong and lost a lot of really close games, but getting out of the SEC is still going to be epically tough. Unless they run the table in the regular season, they’ll need to win the SEC title game to make the College Football Playoff (“CFP”). On a very related note: they host Alabama in mid-October.
USC, meanwhile, will have a first-year starter under center, likely junior Max Browne. The same can be said of Alabama, but the QB position is a lot more pivotal (pun intended) for the Trojans; they won’t dominate the trenches like a ‘Bama or even a Stanford.
Odds to make the 2016-17 CFP
Florida State: 3/1
Ohio State: 9/2
Notre Dame: 6/1
Michigan State: 8/1
Ole Miss: 9/1
The odds to reach the CFP largely mirror the odds to win the CFP, but a couple programs see their stock rise in this prop due to playing in weaker conferences. In other words, winning the Pac-12 and Big 12 will be easier than winning the SEC (sorry Alabama, LSU, and Tennessee), but whoever does win the SEC will have a good chance of taking the national title.
Case in point: Oklahoma, clearly the cream of the Big 12 crop, would likely be dogs against Bama, Clemson, Ohio State, and LSU if they reach the national semis/final.
Odds no teams go undefeated in 2016-17: 1/4
Even before the CFP was introduced, it was hard to go undefeated. (The 2013-14 Seminoles are the only undefeated National Champion in the last five years.) Now, with an extra game against a top-four team guaranteed, it’s all the more challenging. There’s always a chance a non-Power 5 team like Houston, Boise State, or Marshall goes undefeated yet doesn’t make the CFP (due to strength of schedule). But they’d still face an uber-tough bowl game, likely against the fifth or sixth best team in the country.
Odds to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy:
Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson): 13/2
Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU): 7/1
Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford): 7/1
JT Barrett (QB, Ohio State): 12/1
Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma): 15/1
Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida St): 16/1
Bo Scarbrough (RB, Alabama): 18/1
Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia): 20/1
Chad Kelly (QB, Ole Miss): 20/1
Seth Russell (QB, Baylor): 25/1
Watson is the deserving chalk after last season, when he became the first FBS quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in the same season. The Clemson offense has a ton of playmakers, but Watson is the straw that stirs the drink and will get the bulk of the credit when the Tigers average, like, 50 points per game.
Fournette and McCaffrey will both shoulder massive loads for their respective offenses. Neither LSU nor Stanford has a QB that can carry a team. The same can be said for Chubb in Georgia, but the Bulldogs won’t be as strong a squad, which hurts his chances.
Don’t sleep on JT Barrett. He didn’t look great last season, splitting time with Cardale Jones. But back in 2014 – when he was the undisputed starter (post the Braxton Miller injury, that is) – he was playing Heisman-caliber football. There’s no QB controversy in Columbus this year, nor is there an Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield to carry the offense; if Urban Meyer is getting back to the title game, JT Barrett will be the one who takes him there.
Odds a coach at a Power 5 program gets fired during the 2016-17 season: 1/8
If this prop read, “Odds Guz Malzahn gets fired mid-season,” the number wouldn’t be much different. That’s hyperbole, but it’s rooted in a stark reality for the Auburn coach: his team faces a gruelling schedule and now has to soldier on without starting running back Jovon Robinson. Malzahn’s Tigers have had very limited success in the last couple seasons. The AD – not to mention the fans – won’t tolerate much more mediocrity.
Charlie Strong is in a similar situation at Texas. It’s put up or shut up time in Austin.
O/U on Power 5 coaches fired by the start of the 2017 season: 10.5
By my count, 14 Power 5 schools changed coaches last season. Some coaches left of their own volition (Steve Spurrier at South Carolina), but most were axed. There is only so much success to go around, and a lot of blue blood, Power 5 programs won’t fulfill their lofty ambitions for the 2016 season. People will be blamed. Those people will be coaches. (Cough cough Malzahn, Strong, Butch Jones.)
Odds two schools from the same conference make the CFP: 75/1
Barring a massive surprise, there will be at least one team from the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC in the playoff, just like in the first two years of the CFP. The last spot has been split between the Pac-12 and Big 12, and I see them battling it out for the final berth again this year.
If one conference is going to send two reps, bank on the SEC. The Selection Committee loves the SEC. But it’s still a huge longshot. I only see one scenario where it’s possible. It’s a little convoluted, so stay with me: Alabama has to beat Tennessee by a slim margin and go undefeated leading up to the SEC title game; the Vols have to run the table the rest of the regular season and then beat Bama in the SEC Championship. The committee would have to include the one-loss SEC champs – Tennessee – and would have a very hard time leaving the Tide out.
Odds two or more teams go undefeated during the 2016 regular season: 5/2
Last season, Clemson was the only team to go undefeated through the regular season, and 2014 saw only Florida State accomplish the feat. Clemson has a good chance to do it again, and either Alabama, Ohio State, or Michigan all have a good chance to join them.
Odds to be selected first overall in the 2017 NFL Draft
Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson): 5/1
Myles Garrett (OLB, Texas A&M): 11/2
Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee): 7/1
Cam Robinson (OT, Alabama): 22/3
Desmond King (CB, Iowa): 9/1
Not only is Watson the favorite for the Heisman, but he’s the most likely to go first overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, while the two most dominant defensive players in the nation, Garrett and Barnett, follow.
No cornerback has ever gone first overall, but in this era of passing, Desmond King has a shot if he can prove himself to be worthy of the “shut-down” label.
That said, trying to figure out who will go first in the draft at this stage of the year is akin to guessing what will be the next item off the shelf in a grocery store: it depends who walks through the door and what they already have at home. We have no idea who will be picking first in the NFL draft. There’s a good chance they’ll need milk … I mean a quarterback … but not if it’s, say, Tennessee.
Odds to be added to the Big 12 in the next year
Why are you drawing this out, Big 12? More money and a title game should be enough to get this done immediately. The top-three teams make a lot of sense, while so many others can present a valid case.
Feature photo: Matt Velazquez (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].