MajorWager is launching a new roundtable series where we ask world-class handicappers, media talents and bookmakers questions on a sports betting topic.
For this first roundtable, we reached out to a world-class group of college football handicappers to get their thoughts on futures odds, early Games of the Year, sleeper teams and the potential Group of 5 representative in the New Year’s Six.
First, meet the panelists.
Brad Powers: Lead college football analyst for Pregame.com. Frequent national radio and podcast guest for college football betting. Also the operator of BradPowersSports.com.
Jay Greeson: Chattanooga Times Free Press columnist. Radio co-host on ESPN 105.1 FM. Long, public track record of winning as a college football bettor.
Dave Cokin: Las Vegas sports radio titan and host on ESPN 100.9 FM. Part of the WagerTalk team of experts. Handicapper on Vegas Insider. One of the most recognizable handicappers in the country.
Kelly Stewart: WagerTalk lead talent. Also appears as an analyst for Bleacher Report and TNT. Runs a popular proxy service for Las Vegas football handicapping contests. Part of Showtime docuseries “Action.”
Thor Nystrom: Lead college football and NFL draft writer for Rotoworld. FSWA 2018 College Sports Writer of the Year. One of the biggest up-and-coming college football handicappers on Twitter.
Here are their answers to our five questions:
Whether it’s a sleeper Heisman candidate, a prop bet on a team to make the College Football Playoff or a long-shot to win the it, give us a bet with odds of at least 10/1 that you believe has a chance to cash.
Brad Powers (@BradPowers7): Most years I would be all over some long-shots, but I’m expecting this year to be very chalk heavy at the top of college football. Alabama and Clemson will lead the way both in regards to the national title and also the Heisman race with quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence.
I did make two Heisman bets several months ago on Georgia QB Jake Fromm and Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, as both were listed at 40/1. I thought their odds should’ve been much lower. Right now, they are both around 20/1 so I think there has been clear value lost.
If I had to go with a 10/1 or greater team to win the College Football Playoff, give me Oklahoma at 16/1 (Westgate). I think the Sooners’ offense will be nearly as good as last year with Jalen Hurts at QB, and I think the defense will be much improved with new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
If you’re looking for a big long-shot, give me Utah 100/1 (Golden Nugget) to win the College Football Playoff. I think the Utes will only be a clear underdog in one game (at Washington), and that line is going to be less than a touchdown. Utah played the last five games last season without their starting QB and starting RB. Both return. Utah also has one of the best defensive lines in college football.”
Answer from KellyinVegas (@KellyinVegas): “I’ll go with a 25/1 pick on Virginia Tech to win the ACC. Clemson is such a dominant favorite that there are really generous odds on other teams. I have the Hokies as the second-best team in the ACC, so I’m glad to take shot with them at 25/1. Justin Fuente’s team has 16 returning starters, including 17 of its top 19 tacklers. Va. Tech does have to play at Miami (its top competitor in the ACC Coastal), but it will be the first ACC home game for new head coach Manny Diaz. The Hurricanes bring back only 12 starters. ”
Answer from Jay Greeson (@jaygreesontfp): “Love this question. This is the time of year to make the most of your long-shot bets — especially before Phil Steele’s magazine hits the shelf. (Seriously, can we talk about how Phil Steele is to college football research what Darren Rovell is to worthless Twitter tidbits? Phil Steele reports on college football the way that dorky kid you knew in the sixth grade drew up Dungeons and Dragons strategy. #GodBlessPhilSteele.)
First, I think former Georgia QB and THE Ohio State star-in-waiting Justin Fields is an absolute dude. He will be every bit as good — if not better — as Dwayne Haskins was last year. But at 9-to-1 according to Bovada, he does not qualify as a big enough long shot.
Give me Jonathan Taylor, the Wisconsin running back, who has fluctuated between 15- and 20-to-1 depending on the service. Taylor rushed for 2,194 yards last year with questions at quarterback. Those questions have been quashed as QB Alex Hornibrook transferred away from the program.
Wisconsin returns two redshirt juniors and two redshirt seniors on its offensive line. (Side question: When does Wisconsin not have two redshirt-juniors and two redshirt-seniors on the O-Line? And we all know they are white dudes with a serious need to buy a vowel in their last name.)
Taylor’s rushing total last year was the sixth most ever, and five of the top 12 single-season performances resulted in trophies from the Downtown Muckity-Mucks. A season like 2018 would push Taylor into the top-five rushing leaders in the history of college football — a group that currently includes Heisman winners Ron Dayne, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Williams and Charles White.
And we know how the club looks for ways to go off the board if they can give the cool-stat Heisman. Only one player has ever rushed for more than 2,000 in a season twice: Dayne, the former Wisconsin bruiser.
And if I’m going way off the board, give me Washington State transfer Gabe Gubrud at +10,000. But that’s because I love Mike Leach, and in truth if you don’t love Mike Leach, that’s a you problem.”
Answer from Thor (@thorku): “My favorite Heisman longshots are Justin Herbert (+1500), Sam Ehlinger (+2000) and D’Eriq King (+10,000).
Oregon football is going to be back, and I believe in Herbert. Because of name recognition, he’s going to get an extra push if his candidacy is worthy (if he’s invited to the ceremony, he’ll be a top-2 NFL draft lock).
Texas could win the Big 12, and Ehlinger is going to continue to improve. He could put up a big passing/rushing combo platter of stats for a double-digit winner, which is a nice Heisman formula.
Finally, if you’re looking for a roulette chip, take King. He’s closer to Kyler Murray than people think. One complicating factor: his offensive coordinator last season, Kendal Briles, left for Florida State. But Houston hired one of college football’s most QB-friendly head coaches (Dana Holgorsen) from West Virginia. Holgorsen’s QBs have put up enormous stats in the past. Case Keenum and Will Grier are two obvious examples.”
When the Golden Nugget released its Games of the Year lines, which sides stood out to you?
Powers: “First and foremost, the Golden Nugget did a really good job with their numbers. I thought FanDuel and CG Technology’s lines were much softer and I had more bets at those two shops.
I did max bet two games at the Golden Nugget and they were Nebraska +10 (line is now +7) over Ohio State and Florida State +1.5 (line is now -3) over Syracuse.
I think Nebraska will be one of the most improved teams in the country from a wins and losses aspect. I think it will at least double its win total from a year ago. Statistically speaking, the Huskers were more like a 6 or 7-win team, and they competed very well with Ohio State in Columbus. I think they’ll enter that game 4-0 and it will be the most hyped game in Lincoln in years.
I also think Florida State will be much improved off its worst season in 40 years. The Seminoles return 16 starters. I think there’s value with them considering everyone is off the Willie Taggart train. On the other side, I think Syracuse takes a step back after their most successful season in two decades. My numbers had that game closer to FSU -6.”
Greeson: “If you’re going to limit me to one, well that’s tough. And almost all of the ones that jumped off the sheet were in the first two weekends. Counting backward from 5 to 1 (and I did this according to the amount I have already put on these games, and there is a clear, clear, CLEAR No. 1 for me), we’ll go this way:
5. Navy +13 over Army. Only once in the last eight meetings has this game been decided by more than one score.
4. Oklahoma -11 at UCLA. Yes, Chip Kelly is a guy who did things once upon a time. Lincoln Riley is a guy doing things now, and buckle up because Jalen Hurts is going to light up the Big 12. This will be a three-TD-plus line at kickoff.
3. Army +17.5 at Michigan. Last year Army went to Oklahoma and lost by 7 in overtime. This Army team may be better, and this Michigan team isn’t as good as last year’s Sooners. Do I like Army on the money line? Of course not. Do I like the Black Knights getting more than 17? Absolutely.
2. Alabama -18 at South Carolina. Yes, that’s a ton of points on the road in a place that will be rocking. But Nick Saban dominates non-conference big shots. This year, Alabama gets Duke in Week 1 and it will be a bloodbath. So the line before this Sept. 14 kick will only grow. (Value, right?) Saban also loves to smash less talented but improving SEC foes to make sure everyone remembers the pecking order. This screams the typical Alabama 42, SEC also-ran 7 as the CBS folks try to fill the final 20 minutes of game time.
1. Auburn -3 over Oregon. Yes, the Ducks have a QB that Mel Kiper will salivate over. Auburn returns four starters on its defensive front and five starters on its offensive front. Yes please.”
KIV: “The Army-Navy game. The Golden Nugget opened Army as a 13-point favorite, which is way too many points for this rivalry. Army was an underdog to Navy for 16 straight seasons before being a seven-point favorite in last year’s 17-10 win for the Black Knights. Seven of the last eight meetings have been decided by a TD or less. Also, 13 straight have gone “under,” as these teams know how to defend each other and have multiple weeks off prior to this awesome rivalry. “
Thor: “I don’t dabble with Games of the Year as much as other futures bets, but FSU +25 at Clemson in early October caught my eye. This line doesn’t seem to accurately reflect how much defensive talent Clemson just lost, nor the addition of Kendal Briles to the FSU offense (and what will assuredly be a big year of improvement for the OL — statistically, it can’t help but be noticeably better after last year’s debacle).”
Who do you believe will emerge as the nation’s best Group of Five team in 2019?
Dave Cokin (@davecokin): “I like Memphis. The Tigers have a slew of new coordinators, and one never knows for sure how that will pan out. But this team is flat-out loaded. The offense is going to be extremely prolific. The defense should be vastly improved now that it has far more experience. UCF is the team to beat, but I really feel as though Memphis has the talent to knock off the Knights and end up playing football on January 1, 2020.”
Powers: “Right now, UCF is the highest-rated in my power ratings. But if you ask me what team has the best chance of winning 11 or 12 games, I’d go with Memphis, who I have favored in all 12 of its games. Keep in mind, the Tigers are currently a TD favorite over SEC opponent Ole Miss in the opener. They return 14 starters led by QB Brady White and were very close to dethroning UCF the last two years. Another team to keep an eye on is Army, which plays 13 regular season games this year. Outside of a Week 2 game at Michigan where it will be about a 3-TD underdog, Army could be favored in its other 12 games. I think it would be tough to leave out a 12-1 Army team that would have a 23-3 record in two years with two of those losses coming to Oklahoma and Michigan.
Greeson: “Give me Utah State. Folks willing to risk a few bucks last year knew all about Utah State, which finished 11-2 overall and 10-3 against the number. Certainly the loss of coach Matt Wells, who hustled off to Texas Tech and took most of his staff with him, hurts. But Gary Andersen will take the reins for the second time at USU and having quarterback Jordan Love (3,567 passing yards, 39 total TDs, 64 percent completion rate) back helps that transition. Plus, if the Aggies win at Wake Forest on Aug. 30 — which is completely doable — then even a loss at LSU means a home game against Boise State likely is the last hurdle to 11-1.
KIV: “I’ll go with the Cincinnati Bearcats in Luke Fickell’s third season. They’re coming off an 11-2 year with 14 returning starters and the No. 44 recruiting class. Cincinnati lost at Temple in overtime and at UCF last year. Although the Bearcats lost 38-13 to the Knights in Orlando, they were only outgained by 23 yards and had a 20-18 first-down advantage. A minus-two turnover ratio at UCF did them in. Cincinnati gets Temple and UCF at home this year.”
Thor: “UCF until proven otherwise. The QB situation is going to be very interesting to monitor this summer. Everyone knows that McKenzie Milton is likely to miss the season with the significant knee injury. But UCF has two starting-caliber contenders to slide in: Darriel Mack and Brandon Wimbush. Honestly, I think I might side with Mack, a big dual-threat who flashed as a runner down the stretch last year. We know Wimbush can run but can’t throw. If I’m UCF, I’m trying to see if Mack can develop into a guy who can do both.
What’s your favorite season win total?
Powers: “Coming off three straight years where we had win totals on all 130 teams (thanks to South Point), there’s not a lot of season win totals out there right now in the marketplace. One team that I bet early was Oklahoma State over 6 wins. The Cowboys have won at least six games in every season dating back to Mike Gundy’s arrival in 2005, and while Oklahoma State only won six in the 2018 regular season, the Cowboys lost four one-possession games. However, that line is now up to 6.5 with -150 juice on the over.
Right now, my numbers say Michigan State over 7.5 wins (-110 at DraftKings) is the best value bet on the board. My numbers have the Spartans favored in nine games right now, with underdog spots at Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan. Michigan State will be a double-digit favorite in seven games and I like their chances against Penn State at home. With 17 returning starters and one of the best defenses in the country, I think Michigan State will win at least eight games and probably nine.”
Greeson: Mississippi State under 8. This number screams extremely overvalued, even with one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country. If Mississippi State sweeps its non-SEC games of Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Miss, Kansas State and Abilene Christian, that’s four wins. If MSU sweeps its SEC East games vs. Kentucky and at Tennessee, that’s six wins.
The Bulldogs likely will be underdogs in every SEC West game with the possible exceptions of at Arkansas in November and the season-ending Egg Bowl at home. So they have to sweep all of those just to get to eight.
That’s a tall order considering Mississippi State will have to replace a record-setting QB and a slew of NFL draft picks on defense.”
KIV: Texas under 9.5 wins. Texas had a senior-laded roster comprising 57 percent of its starters last year. The Longhorns are LAST among Power 5 teams in returning production. I feel like QB Sam Ehlinger is getting too much preseason love. Texas returns the fewest number of starters in the country this year with only eight!
In Big 12 action, Tom Herman’s squad has only four home games with four away and the annual neutral-site showdown vs. Oklahoma. Texas is coming off a 7-3 league record, but Big 12 opponents outgained the Longhorns in those games.
Since 2011, there have been 76 teams with nine or fewer returning starters and 82 percent of them saw their record decrease.”
Cokin: “My sleeper team this year is Minnesota. I haven’t seen a win total for the Gophers yet, but I think it’ll be seven and I’ll like the over. P.J. Fleck has assembled an SEC-style defense that is loaded with speed. The offense appears to be upgraded, and I suspect more than most people think. I believe the Gophers might be a Top 25 team this season. I’m seeing them projected as a middle of the pack squad in the Big Ten West. I would not be at all shocked to see the Gophers as that division’s rep in the conference title game.”
Thor: Michigan State over 7.5 wins. The Spartans finished with seven wins last year. But that was with QB Brian Lewerke devolving into incompetency (I don’t expect him to remain there in 2019), RB LJ Scott disappearing, and the offense becoming an unwatchable waking nightmare for Spartans fans. That team finished with 7.5 second-order wins, meaning it was a half-win better in reality than its record. Much talent returns on this year’s team.
Lewerke will hop back onto the NFL radar with a strong season, and the defense brings back Kenny Willekes and Joe Bachie, two of the best in the Big Ten.
The schedule includes four freebie wins (Tulsa, Western Michigan, Illinois and Rutgers), and four other games Michigan State will be favored in (vs. Arizona State, at Northwestern, vs. Indiana and at Maryland).
Sparty gets over the total merely by winning those eight games. But it also has margin for error if it wins any of the four hardest games on the slate: Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State.
Speaking of second-order wins, I also want to vouch for the over on Miami at 8.5. The Hurricanes finished 7-6 last year, but with 8.8 second-order wins. They were almost two full wins better than their final record showed. This year’s schedule is a cakewalk outside of three games: vs. Florida in Orlando, at Florida State and a home game against Virginia Tech.
Outside of those three games, the next-toughest is probably hosting Virginia. Outside of that: North Carolina, Bethune-Cookman, Central Michigan, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Louisville, Florida International and Duke.
Manny Diaz’s bunch could drop the three hard games and still have a decent shot at clearing the 8.5-win hurdle. The Hurricanes return talent on both sides of the ball.”
Who beats whom in Atlanta at the SEC Championship Game in early December?
Powers: “I’ll take the most likely scenario and that is Alabama over Georgia. Both teams will be favored in all 12 of their regular season games this year and the Crimson Tide could be a double-digit favorite in all 12 of their games. Right now, I have Alabama about six points better than Georgia on a neutral field. (Remember the Tide were -12.5 in last year’s SEC Championship Game.) However, I wouldn’t be shocked if Georgia finally got over the hump.”
Greeson: “Alabama is the best team in the country, the universal love for Trevor Lawrence’s flowing hair notwithstanding. There have been as many as nine Alabama players mentioned in various “too-early” mock drafts as first-round guys. That’s early 2000s Miami talent. I think Florida is overrated, and Georgia is far and away the class of the East. So, give me Alabama over Georgia in the SEC title game, and for an Auburn graduate, this is getting extremely old.”
KIV: “I know people are sick of Alabama-Clemson, but they are the two best teams by almost a touchdown. I think Alabama will face Georgia again.
The only challenger I see is Florida. The Gators made themselves relevant again in Dan Mullen’s first season, but that was with 19 returning starters and only 3 true SEC road games. This year Florida has four road games (plus the neutral showdown vs. Georgia) and only 13 returning starters. UF’s crossover games vs. the SEC West are at home vs. Auburn at LSU.
Georgia also faces Auburn and gets Texas A&M at home. I have UGA as a four-point favorite against the Gators, who are 3.5-point underdogs at the Nugget.”
Thor: “I hate to go chalk, but we’re getting Alabama-Georgia again. Florida has the best odds of crashing the party, and it would need to beat Georgia in early November to make that scenario plausible. Florida and Georgia both duck Alabama in the conference schedule.