Next year’s college football national championship semifinals will feature Clemson against Oklahoma, and Ohio State against Alabama.
That’s not my prediction. That’s the official odds released last week by SportsBetting.ag. You don’t need to know exactly what SportsBetting.ag is, only that their business is built around taking bets on propositions such as which teams will make the college football playoffs.
I’m not going to go as far as to wire them some money for their efforts, but I will offer a heartfelt thank you for providing a juicy sports topic to dive into during these times of scarce sports stories.
Let’s analyze the odds for each contender to make the playoffs. But first, here’s a quick and basic tutorial on what these odds mean.
Clemson at -200 means you would have to risk $200 to win $100. So, if you buy a $200 ticket on Clemson and the Tigers reach the playoffs then you get back your $200 plus a $100 profit. Those are extremely bad odds.
LSU at +200 is a much better bet if you believe the national champions will be back in the playoffs to defend their title. In this case, you risk $100 to win $200. So, if you buy a $100 ticket on LSU and the Tigers reach the playoffs then you get back your $100 plus a $200 profit. Oregon at +500 means risking $100 would net a profit of $500.
So, that’s it. Only three teams — Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama — are considered so likely to make the playoffs that they are worse than even money on the betting sheet.
Starting with the favorite to reach the playoffs, here are the odds established by SportsBetting.ag: Clemson -200, Ohio State -150, Alabama -125, Oklahoma +125, Georgia +150, LSU +200, Notre Dame +275, Florida +350, Texas +400, Texas A&M +400, Auburn +500, Oregon +500, Penn State +600, Michigan +650, Washington +1,000, Wisconsin +1,000, Florida State +1,400, Oklahoma State +1,400, Tennessee +1,400, Utah +1,400, Miami +1,600, Minnesota +1,600, Iowa State +2,000, Nebraska +2,000, Iowa +2,500 and California +5,000.
Based on those odds, Auburn is the 11th favorite to make the playoffs. That’s very strong, except that also means Gus Malzahn’s team is the sixth most likely SEC team to advance to the playoffs behind Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Texas A&M.
In other words, five teams from the SEC have a better chance to make the playoffs, while eight have a worse chance. That makes Auburn a middle-of-the-pack SEC team when it comes to these odds.
But the odds don’t necessarily reflect reality. The Tigers are at home this season against Texas A&M and LSU, which makes Auburn at least a pick-em against those two teams that are above them in the betting odds.
Here are the teams that offer the best return on investment among the 26 teams that SportsBetting.ag has on the board.
Oregon +500. The Ducks open the season with home games against North Dakota State and Ohio State. If they win both of those games, they will be in the playoffs even if they lose a conference game. Even a loss to Ohio State won’t eliminate them from playoff contention. Mario Cristobal has built the best program in the PAC-12. It’s going to be hard to shut out the entire conference again.
Washington +1,000. The Huskies open the season against Michigan, so there’s a chance to make an early splash. Their visit to Oregon on Oct. 3 will go a long way toward determining if they can return to the playoffs for the first time since being dominated by Alabama in 2016.
Clemson -200. Yes, the return on investment is terrible, but there’s a good reason for that. Who is going to stand in the Tigers’ way in the ACC and prevent them from another trip to the playoffs? Outside of the ACC, the Tigers face Akron, Notre Dame, The Citadel and South Carolina. Among those, only the Notre Dame game will be played on the road. Even if they were to lose at Notre Dame, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the conference putting a blemish on the schedule. That’s why Clemson is close to a sure bet to return to the playoffs.
Alabama -125. The playoff system has been in place for six years, with Alabama making the field five times. Is another SEC team going to have a magic season like LSU did a year ago to deny the Tide another appearance? Not likely.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @kennedy_randy.
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