With NCAA football set to begin in just over a week, online sportsbooks have put out their odds on whether teams will make the College Football Playoff early next year. As expected, the reigning champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, have opened with the best odds to appear in the four-team playoff at -300.
Online sportsbook Sportsbook has ’Bama at -300, followed by the Clemson Tigers at -140, the Ohio State Buckeyes at +160, the Georgia Bulldogs at +175 and the Michigan Wolverines and Washington Huskies at +300 to round out the top five best odds.
Alabama has the best odds to return to College Football Playoff
Since the NCAA moved to the College Football Playoff format in the 2014-15 season, there has been one common theme through the first four brackets and that is the Alabama Crimson Tide. So, it should come as no surprise that ’Bama has the top odds at -300 to appear in the College Football Playoff for a fifth straight season.
The Crimson Tide avoid playing Georgia this season, unless they meet in the SEC championship game, and have the opportunity to host Auburn in this year’s Iron Bowl. Of course, the Tigers were the only blemish on the Crimson Tide’s record in 2017-18, but that game was played at Auburn and the Tigers haven’t won in Tuscaloosa since 2010. Alabama has a favorable schedule this season, with the game at LSU in Week 10 the only one that could pose a threat to a perfect season. Additionally, even if ’Bama stumbles somewhere along the way, we saw last year that the selection committee has no problem putting in a team that didn’t win a conference championship.
Clemson almost as automatic as Alabama
The second-best odds to appear in this season’s College Football Playoff belong to the Clemson Tigers at -140. Clemson trails Alabama in overall trips to the tournament with three, failing to appear in only the inaugural College Football Playoff, and the Tigers topped the Crimson Tide to win the national championship in 2017.
Clemson has a fairly clear road to the ACC championship game with the only game that could cause it some trouble being at Florida State in Week 9. Even so, I don’t anticipate much of a struggle there and if the Tigers can just take care of their business it’s hard to point out a reason why they won’t appear in this year’s College Football Playoff.
The Tigers should make a step forward from last season when they were topped by the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Clemson returns its backfield, including quarterback Kelly Bryant, and brings back eight starters on a defense that ranked fourth in the nation, allowing an average of just 276.7 yards per game.
A battle in the Big Ten Conference
To begin with, I think the Sportsbook of the Big Ten Conference will appear in the College Football Playoff, but who will that team be? Right now, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines are the top dogs when it comes to the odds, with the Buckeyes Sportsbook at +160 and the Wolverines coming back at +300. For Ohio State, it would be its third appearance in the College Football Playoff, while it would be the first time Michigan has made it to the dance.
Michigan is going to have an uphill battle if it wants a shot at the national championship this year. The Wolverines have made improvements on what was a terrible offense last season with the addition of quarterback Shea Patterson from Ole Miss. Michigan ranked 105th in the nation by picking up an average of 348.9 yards per game, while its defense ranked third in the NCAA, allowing 271.0 yards per game. Even though the Wolverines have made jumps forward offensively, they have an extremely difficult schedule to even make it to the Big Ten championship game. Michigan opens at Notre Dame and plays at Michigan State and at Ohio State to close out the season. Additionally, Penn State and Wisconsin pay a visit to the Big House. I’d stay away from laying money on Michigan to go to the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State has a much easier path to the Big Ten championship game, with only a couple of road games that could cause some issues in Penn State and Michigan State. Now there are a lot of question marks around head coach Urban Meyer and what, if any, disciplinary action he may face during this investigation into former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. I think as more information comes out on this issue that Meyer will get off with little more than a slap on the wrist, perhaps a two-game suspension, but for now we play the wait-and-see game. Regardless, the Buckeyes should be the team to beat in the Big Ten with their ease of schedule and for that reason, I believe they can make the College Football Playoff.
The Fourth and Final Team
Now there can be cases made for a second SEC team in Auburn or Georgia, or perhaps some love for a Pac-12 school like Washington or USC. But the team I think can squeak into the tournament is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame has a tough, but winnable season and they just need to take care of business to have a solid case to compete for the national championship. They open at home vs Michigan which will really set the tone for the season. A win in Week 1 gears Notre Dame up for a potential season of success. The Fighting Irish ranked in the top 50 in defense (46) and offense (27) last season and are returning 15 starters (six on offense and nine on defense) this year.
Of course, Notre Dame lost two O-linemen to the NFL in this year’s draft but it returns the other three men on the line, including a pair of seniors. Also returning offensively is quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who had a good year last year rushing the ball but was less than 50 percent on completed passes. Wimbush has worked on his passing in the offseason and could be poised to carry this team to the College Football Playoff.
At +600 I think Notre Dame has what it takes to become the first independent school to have a shot at the national championship in the new College Football Playoff format.
Here’s a look at some other schools’ odds to make the College Football Playoff: