Hokies, Irish worth a serious look in college football ‘futures’

The college football season doesn’t kick off for another two months, but you wouldn’t know it if you walked by a newsstand the last few weeks. Not long after the grill had cooled from the Memorial Day cookout, the annual preseason publications—a good half-dozen—began to flood the market.

For college football junkies who have been experiencing withdrawals since Cam Newton picked up his final paycheck after leading Auburn to the BCS title in January, these preseason bibles are akin to survival guides (picture a bride-to-be in front of a bank of wedding magazines, only triple the excitement).

For handicappers, preseason college football publications are valuable tools of the trade, like a hammer to a carpenter or a thong to a stripper. Among other benefits, the piles of information help formulate and/or solidify opinions on “futures” wagers opportunities, such as which squads have national-championship potential and whether a team will go “over” or “under” a projected win total.

Sports books won’t release the win totals for a couple of weeks, but the BCS championship odds have been posted for months. And now that I’m armed with my copy of Phil Steele’s 2011 College Football Preview—arguably the most respected preseason publication in the industry—I’m ready to pick apart the futures odds and see where the value lies. I’ll even cap it off by breaking open the bankroll (which currently sits at $7,286) with two $100 wagers. (Note: All odds are courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton as of June 20, and the BCS Championship Game is set for Jan. 9.)

The Chalk: Alabama and Oklahoma lead the list of favorites to win it all (they both check in at 9-to-2), which is not surprising. After all, both the Crimson Tide and Sooners are tradition-rich and have a recent BCS title-game pedigree (Alabama won it all two years ago; Oklahoma has appeared in the game four times since 2000).

However, Alabama has lost three offensive superstars in QB Greg McElroy (he led the team to the 2009 title), RB Mark Ingram (2009 Heisman Trophy winner) and speedy WR Julio Jones (the sixth player taken in April’s NFL draft). Keep in mind that with those players last year, Alabama was the odds-on favorite entering the season but didn’t even play in a BCS bowl game. The flip side: What coach Nick Saban loses on offense, he more than makes up for on the other side of the ball. The Crimson Tide were ridiculously athletic but raw defensively in 2010; this year, they’re ridiculously athletic and experienced (a lethal combination when you factor in Saban’s defensive mind.)

Like Alabama, the Sooners underachieved to a degree in 2010 (they were ranked No. 2 in the preseason but finished 12-2 and ranked sixth). Unlike Alabama, the Sooners return a veteran QB in Landry Jones (a likely Heisman finalist). My problem with Oklahoma is twofold: tough road games at Florida State and Oklahoma State (both projected as Top-10 squads), and coach Bob Stoops’ recent big-game flops (he’s 0-for-3 in national-title games since winning it all in 2000).

Following Alabama and Oklahoma on the futures board are Oregon (8-to-1), LSU (10-1), Florida State (12-to-1) and Stanford (15-to-1).

The Sleepers: At this point, calling Boise State a “sleeper” in college football is like calling General Motors a “sleeper” in the auto industry. After going 38-2 over the past three seasons, the Broncos no longer can sneak up on anyone. And with QB Kellen Moore (2010 Heisman finalist, four-year starter) back under center for his senior season, it’s easy to see why many peg Boise State for an undefeated campaign. The problem is, a perfect record doesn’t guarantee the Broncos (who move to the Mountain West Conference this year) an invite to the BCS party (let alone the title game). For that reason alone, I could never recommend a futures bet on Boise State (even if the 18-to-1 odds are enticing).

Instead, I’ll focus on three dark horses (all 20-to-1) that can’t be denied access to the BCS bash should they qualify: Virginia Tech (Steele’s publication suggests the Hokies have Cam Newton 2.0 taking over at QB to go with their usual dominating defense and a very favorable schedule); Nebraska (the Cornhuskers return stud QB Taylor Martinez and have just one tricky road game at Wisconsin; and thanks to the mess at Ohio State, Nebraska is favored to win the Big Ten in its first year in the league); and Notre Dame (that’s not a misprint; the Irish closed out coach Brian Kelly’s first season with five straight wins. Also, note the recent second-year coaches to win it all: Stoops at Oklahoma in 2000; Jim Tressel at Ohio State in 2002; Urban Meyer at Florida in 2006; and Gene Chizik at Auburn last year).

The Action: $100 wagers (to win $2,000) on Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Check back with me in January … unless, of course, the monkey’s in charge by then!

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Seven Days

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Thu 16 Bring blankets, snacks and hit Town Square early for its weekly Movies in the Square series for the screening of Shrek Forever After, beginning at sundown. (MyTownSquareLasVegas.com). Join members of Cirque du Soleil and Vegas celebrities at Caramel Bar & Lounge to celebrate the artwork of Jaymi Crook (1), who brings famous icons to life with his lifelike sketches.



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