My best 2017-18 CFB title value bets
ESPN Staff Writer
Last year, I had a bit of success identifying value bets for next season's CFB title, tabbing eventual playoff participants Ohio State (10-1) and Washington (40-1) along with Louisville (60-1), which was in the CFP mix in November. So I figured I would take another shot in 2017.
Here are my five best value bets right now for the 2017-18 college football title:
LSU Tigers (15-1)
Talent has never been an issue in Baton Rouge. LSU was a different team under Ed Orgeron, and coupled with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, this could be the season the LSU offense emerges from the dark ages and becomes a complete team.<offer style="box-sizing: border-box;"> Leonard Fournette is gone, but Derrius Guice is more than talented enough to put up huge numbers. I think it's fair to assume that Canada will improve the quarterback position. And we know Dave Aranda will have the Tigers defense as one of the best units in the country.</offer>
Despite all of LSU's deficiencies this year, the Tigers lost just 10-0 to Alabama in Baton Rouge -- and that was with quarterback issues galore. I know LSU has to go to Tuscaloosa this year, but remember that in Alabama's last six regular-season losses, four have come at home, including one to LSU in 2011. The Tigers have to go to Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee as well, but each of those teams has their own issues. LSU was a pick of many to win the national title in 2016; maybe they were just a year too early.
Georgia Bulldogs (30-1)
Things couldn't have gone any better on the recruiting trail for Kirby Smart, and the Bulldogs were also given a boost when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel decided to return to Athens. quarterback Jacob Eason should take a step forward in 2017, and all but four starters from the bowl game will return. Couple that with freshmen who could be immediate impact contributors on the offensive line and overall improvement defensively in the second year under Smart, and you have a very intriguing team for 2017. UGA has road games early in the season with Notre Dame and Tennessee, but both of them will be breaking in new quarterbacks and have coaches who will be under pressure to win this year.
Georgia also avoids Alabama and LSU from the SEC West. The 2018 season might be the one to circle in Athens, but given the state of the SEC -- and specifically the SEC East right now -- it wouldn't shock me if UGA arrives a year ahead of schedule.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (40-1)
Nothing went right for Notre Dame in 2016. From returning just nine starters to a quarterback controversy to injuries to suspensions to firing assistants midseason, the season was quite forgettable for the Irish. But as bad as things went in the 4-8 campaign, remember that seven of the eight losses were by one score and four were by a field goal or less -- only against USC in the season finale did the Irish appear outclassed. The other seven losses came by a combined 32 points. Seventeen players made their first career start in 2016, which can only help Notre Dame in 2017.
The schedule looks tough, but there are a lot of questions with many of the Irish opponents. Georgia comes to South Bend. Can Michigan State bounce back after its own disappointing season? How will North Carolina be without Mitch Trubisky and others who gone to the NFL? USC comes to South Bend. How will Miami be without Brad Kaaya? What about the Stanford offense without Christian McCaffrey? It's not often there is value with Notre Dame, but this could be a spot where some exists.
TCU Horned Frogs (80-1)
The last time Gary Patterson's team finished with a losing record (2013), the Horned Frogs bounced back the following season, finishing 12-1 and very easily could have been a part of the College Football Playoff. TCU was viewed as a trendy alternative to Oklahoma in the Big 12 in 2016 but never looked "right" during the season, losing four one-score games and committing a ton of ill-timed turnovers. So if you believe in the theory that turnover and close-game luck is a one-year blip, TCU could be your team in 2017. Essentially the entire offense returns next year, as do seven starters on defense. The road schedule is no joke -- at Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma -- but that's likely why the price is 80-1. Keep in mind: Will the CFP selection committee leave a Big 12 Champion out for the third time in four years if it's close? That's something that subliminally could boost the Big 12's chance of making the playoff this season.
Wisconsin Badgers (80-1)
Wisconsin is one of those teams with seemingly interchangeable parts. Despite the early departures of offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk and linebacker T.J. Watt, the Badgers should be in a good spot, returning eight starters on defense (including Jack Cichy who missed the second half of the season) and eight starters on offense (including four of five offensive line starters, quarterback Alex Hornibrook and tight end Troy Fumagalli). The Badgers play in the weakest division in the Power 5, don't face Ohio State during the regular season and host Michigan. In addition, their two toughest road trips will be at BYU and Nebraska. I'd certainly be more bullish on an "odds to make the playoff" prop, as I don't think the Badgers are as talented as likely title favorites Alabama, USC and Florida State, but anything can happen in a one-game situation. And if Wisconsin were to get to the title and you were holding 80-1, well you would have a lot of options at play.