It’s college football season again, and as always it starts – alphabetically (sorry, Air Force; sorry, Akron) and in the polls and certainly in expectations – with Alabama. Who else?
Whether you like the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll, Sports Illustrated’s poll, or any one of dozens of podcasts, the Tide are No. 1. And not too many people doubt that they will be there come Jan. 9 at the championship game in Los Angeles.
Just about every online sportsbook has Alabama in the +175 to +185 range to add another national championship to its disputed number. Arguments about polling put the number at between 15 and 20, and the Tide naturally claim the latter number.
Oddsmakers have listed Alabama’s Over-Under number at 10.5, and the first win will be in the books after they hand visiting Utah State a fat visitors check for agreeing to take a right to the chin from Nick Saban’s juggernaut on September 3. The Tide are a modest 39-point favorite in that one.
Alabama going into the opener as a five-touchdown favorite raises the issue of huge spreads early in the season. Coaches of power programs are loath to take a loss early on, so they lure a weak opponent with a barrel of cash, grab a confidence-building victory, and hope no one gets hurt as they prep for the conference season and real games. Bettors looking at wide-spread games like to key in on the defense of the dog rather than the offense of the favorite. Another factor is the guaranteed loser’s style of play. Does the patsy have a decent running game that can go on at least one clock-killing drive that leads to winning one of the four quarters? As for the predator, does the coach get off on running up a score? All things to consider.
If you like to cash by fading bad teams, there are some interesting FBS options. New Mexico State is on everyone’s list of among the worst teams in the country, and new coach Jerry Kill (perhaps the best name ever for a coach of a bad unit) hopes to breathe some life into an independent program that is coming off two straight 10-loss seasons and has had only one winning season since 2003 (7-6 in 2017 as a member of the Sun Belt Conference). Two other prime candidates are in the big-time football desert of New England, where Connecticut faces the ultimate long-shot joke odds of 500,000-1 to win the national title, and Massachusetts opens at a 29-point dog against a Tulane team coming off a 2-10 season of its own.
Looking for a possible surprise team? Look West – specifically, look at Utah. The 8.5 O-U on the Utes seems to be undervalued for a team that has won at least nine games in each of the last three full seasons (eliminating the Covid year) and appears to be more than solid this time around. Utah is a legit 2.5-point road favorite in its opener at Florida and features plenty of star power in returning QB Cam Rising and RB Tavion Thomas. Rising has the perfect name for a QB, and a convincing win in the Swamp could get him in the early Heisman conversation. Mix in a decent defense with almost everyone returning from last season, and Utah could open some eyes.
Speaking of the Heisman, the early betting favorite is Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, who finished fourth last year and stands at +200 in most places. The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes figure to roll this season as they wait for Alabama to stumble. OSU is a two-touchdown favorite at home against No. 5 Notre Dame in the opener. There is talk that Stroud may run the ball more this season, which increases his chances of getting dinged.