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A college football betting conversation about Ohio State, Washington and more

Which early wager options are enticing? Which aren’t?

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation’s Bud Elliott and Bill Connelly had a long, informal chat in our internal messaging app. We figured our readers might like it.

Bud: Bill, Bill, CFB odds are out!

Washington is 25/1 for the national championship. Not that I am fully convinced the Huskies can beat two more talented teams if they make it, but this has to be a hedge opportunity, right?

Bill: Yeah, just generally speaking, “drastically experienced Chris Petersen team” is going to be a pretty great candidate to overachieve its odds under any circumstances. My numbers love them, and while I’m not going to go out and make them my title favorite or anything — Bama, Clemson, and Ohio State do still exist, after all — I’d easily put them somewhere between fourth and sixth and not even with Miami.

Bud: Also, Washington’s over/under regular season win total is 8.5 The juice to the over is heavy at -200, but still, when 9-3 wins that wager, I think I’m laying that. Do you think there’s a 70 percent chance the Huskies go 9-3 or better?

Bill: Pardon me while I hop into a spreadsheet…

Per S&P+, Washington’s odds of finishing with a given number of wins:

4: 0.0%
5: 0.1%
6: 0.3%
7: 1.5%
8: 6.9%
9: 18.8%
10: 32.3%
11: 29.2%
12: 11.0%

So a 91 percent chance of going at least 9-3.

Bud: 91 percent chance of an over at -200 odds is a huge steal.

Bill: Yeah, I’m currently arguing on Twitter with people who are still referencing the Bama loss from two years ago as a reason why we shouldn’t take UW seriously. But we’re talking odds here, and UW seems like a great value there.

Bud: UW’s recruiting has improved a ton. I’d be concerned if this wager required UW to beat Alabama, but since we’re talking hedging a future, it doesn’t.

Sparty up

Bud: I also like Michigan State over 7.5 at -155. The Spartans get Ohio State and Michigan in East Lansing, don’t have a non-conference heavy, and dodge Wisconsin from the West division.

Bill: Yeah, I’m not even slightly thinking about Sparty from a national title perspective, but that’s a good number, specially with a trip to Arizona State as the toughest non-con.

Chopping down trees

Bud: Am I a dummy for taking Stanford under 9.5? At first blush, the Cardinal could be favored in 10 games (at Notre Dame and at Washington being exceptions), but they won’t be massive favorites against USC, at Oregon, Utah, or at Cal. 9-3 cashes an under bet on Stanford ...

Bill: Honestly, there aren’t a ton of teams I would consider an over on at 9.5, and Stanford isn’t one of them. They could be awesome, but that’s a high bar. S&P+ says Stanford’s mean win probability is about 7.3. That’s … uh … pretty far from 9.5.

Betting on Buckeye consistency

Bill: I think Ohio State at 9.5 feels strange simply from the perspective of “they’ve been under 10 wins once since 2004,” and Oklahoma at 10.5 seems shaky even for someone who doesn’t think of the odds of a huge drop-off are very high. But when it comes to getting people betting, these are reasonably sensible.

It’s funny, by the way, how a lot of the most interesting odds here involve the Pac-12 (Washington low, Stanford high, Herbert low) … and yet … USC’s o/u (7.5) feels somehow sensible. USC’s generally regarded as the biggest source of nonsense lines.

Volunteer as a tribute

Bud: Tennessee under 6.5, though I have to lay -165, is also worth a look. Let’s assume the Volunteers don’t win road games at Alabama, Auburn, or Georgia. To get to seven wins, Tennessee would need to go 4-2 or better against West Virginia (Atlanta), Florida, at South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and at Vanderbilt. I think under 6.5 should be more like -225 odds.

Bill: I don’t think I would touch Tennessee at any number this year. Hard schedule and nothing but unknowns as far as the eye can see.

Bowling Baylor?

Bud: Bill, if you think Baylor is more likely than not to make a bowl, there is over 5.5 at -125 sitting out there...

Bill: I fully trust Matt Rhule, and they were absurdly young last year, but I’m feeling a lot more comfortable at 4-8 or 5-7 than 6-6 or whatever.

Be ready when these odds debut

Bud: One team not yet on the board is UCLA. But I want to be on record as saying I don’t think the Bruins make a bowl, and will want to wager to reflect that.

Bill: Man, I’m way higher on UCLA than both you AND Bruce Feldman. That probably means I’m wrong. But I think Chip’s gonna have a pretty good QB (whoever it ends up being), and while I’m spooked by how … uncreative his NFL offenses became, I’m assuming he still knows some things. But UCLA is really impossible to predict — they’re thin in certain spots (which might or might not matter since we don’t know where the injury bug will bite), and S&P+ says they’ve got like NINE relative tossups. I’m still feeling something like 6-6 or 7-5 is the most likely scenario, though.

Bud: The thing that scares me about the QB situation there is that the player who best fits the style of offense Chip ran in college is true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who started just one season of high school because he was backing up Ohio State’s Tate Martell for the prior years of his high school career. That’s extreme inexperience. Though, I guess Wilton Speight could be the starter.

Bill: They have a QB in every shape, size, and experience level, which is entertaining if nothing else. And the simple fact that Kelly took Speight tells me he might not really know what he wants his offense to be anymore. But 6-6 isn’t a high bar either.

Bud: Another team I’ll be looking to play over when the odds come out is Arkansas, assuming the number starts with a 5. Arkansas has some significant turnover of roster and scheme to overcome. But the schedule is easy as could be for an SEC West doormat.

Bill: One thing about Arkansas that I like: maybe the most proven part of the entire roster is the receiving corps. You still, uh, need a QB and a defense, and Chad Morris’ next good college defense will be his first. But I’d trust them to hit 5 or more if that Colorado State game was at home…

Bud: A few more I want to bet when they come out:

  • Washington State to miss a bowl
  • Northwestern to miss a bowl because that schedule is nails (if I get +150 or better)
  • Pitt to miss a bowl (hard schedule)
  • Virginia to make a bowl (easy schedule)
  • Oregon over as long as it is 8 or less (schedule and QB)

Bill: Oregon would have a MASSIVE year — like, better than Stanford’s and the only chance at taking down UW — if Herbert stays healthy and the D improves again. Love them at anything 8 or lower. And yeah, I feel like we’ve reached such a consensus on Wazzu at SB Nation that I almost feel like pushing back against groupthink and saying they’ll be pretty good. But S&P+ says only 7-5, and that’s before you get into any of the intangible issues they’re dealing with.

Heisman wonkiness

Bill: If you had asked me beforehand who I assumed would be at the top of the Heisman odds list seven months or so out, I’d have said some combination of …

  • Bryce Love (last year’s returning finalist)
  • Trace McSorley (proven, fun entity who could be leaned on heavily)
  • Tua Tagovailoa (QB for obvious contender)
  • Dwayne Haskins (QB for obvious contender)
  • Kelly Bryant (QB for obvious contender)
  • Jake Fromm (QB for obvious contender)
  • Khalil Tate (this year’s crazy-fun-to-watch QB on a mediocre team)
  • Damien Harris (Requisite Bama RB)

Based on that alone, the biggest surprises to me are…

  • McSorley’s got the same odds (20/1) as Jalen Hurts (aka the second-best Bama QB) and nearly the same odds as Sam Freaking Ehlinger (25/1)?????????
  • J.K. Dobbins (also 20/1) makes sense, but no Bama RB? Not Damien Harris or Najee Harris? (And before anyone says they cancel each other out, here’s your reminder that there are two Bama QBs on the list.)
  • Shea Patterson’s crazy-high, but I get it.
  • Justin Herbert (33/1) is a massive dark horse here, even more than McSorley. He would have been top-five in passer rating last year had he qualified, and Oregon was 6-1 with him before losing with an interim staff in the bowl game.
  • Seriously, though, what the hell is with the Ehlinger odds?? They’re better than Bryant, Haskins, Herbert, Nick Fitzgerald, Jake Browning, and two QBs who actually put up stats last year (McKenzie Milton and Drew Lock). That’s insane.

Bud: Is now a good time for a reminder that CFB odds in May have very low limits so that Vegas doesn’t get exposed on green lines?

Agree with Herbert. I rarely bet the Heisman because the value is scant, but he is so talented and the schedule is tissue soft.

And yeah, Najee not being on there is wild.

Bill: Yeah, this is game-within-a-game stuff. And page views stuff, I guess. In the last six years, only two Heisman winners were predictable before the season (Mariota and Mayfield), with a third (Henry) that would have produced decent odds. Manziel, Jameis, and Lamar had started, like, a combined four games or so before their Heisman campaigns.

Bud: If Herbert had started the full season in 2018, he’d be under 25/1.