College football futures and props best bets
Texas to win Big 12 (+110 Circa Sports)
If not now… when? Texas has been the definition of “overhyped and under-deliver” for the past decade. However, this Longhorns team is stacked and is clearly the superior team in the Big 12. In Game of the Year lines at DraftKings Sportsbook, Texas is an eight-point favorite at Baylor, an 18-point favorite vs. Kansas, a 6.5-point favorite over Oklahoma in Dallas, a 9.5-point favorite vs Kansas St., and a 6-point favorite at TCU. While Texas did lose a pair of dynamic running backs in Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson to the NFL, the Longhorns return 10 starters on offense. The entire offensive line returns with over 100 career starts. WR Xavier Worthy is one of the top returning receivers in the country. WR Jordan Whittington had 652 receiving yards last year and WR Isaiah Neyor will make his Texas debut this fall. Neyor transferred to Texas from Wyoming but tore his ACL in preseason last year. Texas also added Adonai Mitchell from Georgia in the portal. Mitchell was ranked the #3 player in the portal according to 247 Sports. Defensively, Texas returns six starters including LB Jaylan Ford. The Longhorns added S Jalen Catalon from Arkansas to bolster the secondary.
All five of Texas’ losses last year were by one possession. The Longhorns also blew 14-point leads against Oklahoma St. and Texas Tech. The talent in Austin is there, it is up to Steve Sarkisian to deliver the Longhorns’ first conference championship since 2009.
Wisconsin to win Big 10 West Division (+125 Caesars)
There is a lot to like about the upcoming Wisconsin football season, and the future of the program. I’ve been watching this team for as long as I can remember. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised when they landed Luke Fickell as their new head coach. Going from Paul Chryst to Luke Fickell might be the biggest upgrade in the country.
Other reasons why I really like the 2023 Badgers:
Phil Longo is the new OC. Think of what the offenses looked like under him while at Ole Miss and North Carolina. We’re talking about a complete one hundred and eighty-degree turnaround with UW. It’s no longer four yards and a cloud of dust. Say goodbye to the days of running the football 50 times per game. It’s about time.
Which means hello SMU transfer QB Tanner Mordecai and his 3500 yards plus 33 touchdowns from a year ago. And hello to former four-star WR CJ Williams, who transfers in from USC
Three starters will be back on the offensive line, including Trey Wedig and Jack Nelson. Each are former four-star recruits. Oh, and Braelon Allen is a phenomenal college RB
The defense should be fine despite losing proven DC Jim Leonhard. All of the starting LBs are back, and they’re strong at the position.
Favorable schedule. at Purdue, at Illinois, at Indiana, and they close at Minnesota. HOME: Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio State. I can’t wait to watch “Jump Around” at Camp Randall this season.
Michigan to make the playoff YES (+115)
Remember when Jim Harbaugh was in hot water as the head coach of the Wolverines? I do. It wasn't that long ago.
2020 was a strange year for everybody. Harbaugh's bunch finished the pandemic-shortened season with a 2-4 record. They lost to Indiana by 17. Wisconsin blew them out at the Big House by a score of 49-11. It was an ugly season, and countless stories were written suggesting that Harbaugh's time in Ann Arbor was nearing a close.
Since then, the maize and blue have won 25 football games and played in consecutive CFB playoffs. Maybe even more importantly the team has gone 2-0 versus bitter rival Ohio State in that time, including a 45-23 stomping of the Buckeyes at The Horseshoe a season ago. After years of conference domination by Urban Meyer's Columbus crew, it appears Harbaugh has flipped the script and turned Michigan into the best program in the Big 10.
Upsets happen all the time in this sport, but as of this post, DraftKings has Michigan favored by 18 points at Nebraska, and by 19 points at Michigan State. Landmines must be avoided at Happy Valley on November 11th, and in the final regular season game at home against Ohio State. The Wolverines are small favorites in both of those games.
I believe a trip to the playoff is still feasible if they stub their toe in one of the two latter contests.
Georgia Southern to Win Sun Belt (+1800)
The Sun Belt East Division is the most competitive division in the Group of Five, but all of the teams are flawed in some way. Appalachian State has a new QB and only went 6-6 last season, as head coach Shawn Clark is now four seasons removed from Eli Drinkwitz and five from Scott Satterfield, so he’s lost a lot of production from previous regimes, and the team hasn’t been as sharp.
Coastal Carolina has a new head coach in Tim Beck, who many consider to be a big drop-off from Jamey Chadwell. Grayson McCall is back, but he’s leading a different offense and the Coastal defense really fell off last season. James Madison has a new QB as well and a ton of losses in Year 2 as a FBS program. Marshall only returns four starters from a defense that held opponents to 16 points per game and the offense only managed 24.5 points per game themselves with a low ceiling.
Those factors could open the door for Georgia Southern to be the class of the East. Tulsa transfer Davis Brin has thrown for over 5,400 yards in his college career and seems like a great fit for Clay Helton’s team and Bryan Ellis’s offense. The Eagles return their top rusher and top two receivers, as well as the majority of an offensive line that allowed just seven sacks last season. The Eagles have a new DC in Brandon Bailey, who held their high-powered offense to just 21 points in the Camellia Bowl.
While the Eagles project to be an underdog to either Troy or South Alabama in a hypothetical Sun Belt Championship Game, they might have the most untapped upside in the East Division, and I think that makes them worthy of taking the chance that they live up to it.
Western Kentucky to Win Conference USA (+130)
My Power Ratings have Western Kentucky at least five points better than every other team in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers should be the biggest benefactor of the defections of UTSA, FAU, UAB, and others. Liberty’s awful schedule is the only reason why I have a high win total projection on the Flames, but Louisiana Tech is the only other team I have as reaching bowl eligibility. My projection for Western Kentucky is 9.17 wins, so not only are the ‘Tops one of my favorite win total bets, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t win this conference.
Given that they’d play the title game at home, I’d currently have them at least a touchdown favorite against everybody in the division, and it may even be a larger line by then. QB Austin Reed threw for 4,744 yards and 40 touchdowns last season, and the conference is much weaker this year. Even if WKU starts slow, the last three games are against New Mexico State, Sam Houston State, and FIU, so they should roll through those and at least finish first or second to be in the game.
They should be a bigger favorite than this and likely will be when the game rolls around.
Tanner Mordecai to Win the Heisman (+10000)
Tanner Mordecai is not the runner that Drake Maye is. Maye actually led the Tar Heels in rush attempts in Phil Longo’s offense last season. However, we could see more Mordecai scrambles, but we’ll also see the best QB that the Badgers have had in Madison since Russell Wilson transferred in from NC State.
Mordecai has 72 touchdown passes to his name and over 7,100 yards as he goes into Wisconsin with a chance to really shine. Braelon Allen will still get his fair share of touches, but the Tar Heels ran 1,034 plays last season, so there will be plenty of opportunities to go around. North Carolina was one of three teams to have 500 running plays and 500 passing plays (UTSA, Texas Tech), so this will be a balanced offense capable of explosive plays.
Wisconsin will be favored in every game except one for me and a win against Ohio State on October 28 could be the springboard to really get Mordecai in the national discussion. In the other 11 games, I have Wisconsin at least -6.5, so Mordecai will have the chance to have a great record and great numbers at a noteworthy program.
Utah 6-1 to win Pac-12 and 70-1 to win CFB Playoff
Utah was my longshot to win the national title in last year’s betting guide, those hopes were crippled with a 29-26 loss to the Florida Gators in The Swamp in the season opener. It seems everyone is jumping on the USC bandwagon with defending Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, but remember that Utah beat them 43-42 in the regular season and then really ran over them 47-24 in the Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas.
In horse racing, I always say “I’d rather be on a horse sooner rather than later,” meaning I want to bet a horse (or team) before everyone else, not when they’re on everyone’s radar and going off as the chalk. That doesn’t always work in college football with the increasing turnover in teams from year to year since the advent of the transfer portal an NIL deals; however, Utah returns 13 starters, including QB Cameron Rising (recovering from a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl) and the core of a defense that allowed just 21.4 points per game.
The opener is against Florida again, but this year the Utes are 8-point home favorites and have a better chance to get off to a strong start and move up the polls.
The one question is Rising’s rehab. All reports have him ahead of schedule. We believe the time to bet them is over the summer (DraftKings had them at 6-1 to win the Pac-12 and 70-1 to win the national title in late July when this guide was being produced). I’m pretty confident that when Rising is cleared to play, oddsmakers will lower the Utes’ odds and the public will probably bet them even lower.
Utah to win Pac-12 (+600) and Utah to make the College Football Playoff (+900)
USC is once again the popular pick to win the Pac-12, and it’s hard to blame anybody for loving the Trojans. But Lincoln Riley’s team has a few games on the schedule that are absolutely terrifying, with road meetings with the Arizona State Sun Devils, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Oregon Ducks being three that are extremely dangerous. With that in mind, I don’t see the Trojans as a lock to make the Pac-12 Championship Game. But even if they do, I think the Utah Utes will eat their lunch again.
Last year, Utah beat USC 43-42 in an instant classic at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and the Utes then beat the Trojans down in a 47-24 win in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah returns 16 starters from that team, with nine of them coming on the defensive side of the ball. That means that the same defense that had Caleb Williams fighting for his life will once again be on the other side of the ball. Utah also has Cameron Rising back under center, and he’s a guy I trust as much as anyone in college football in big-game environments — especially with a great offensive line blocking for him.
I simply view Kyle Whittingham as the best coach in this conference, so I like his chances of going out and making a splash with a very experienced and talented team. Maybe USC will win its home game against Utah during the regular season. But I’d still like the Utes’ chances of getting back to the Pac-12 Championship Game, even with a hiccup like that. And on a neutral field, I’d take the team that is more prepared, hungrier for success and tired of being forgotten.
Making the College Football Playoff is a bit tougher, but it’s worth a sprinkle if you believe Utah can win the Pac-12. The conference should be better in 2023, so I expect one of the four playoff teams to emerge from here.
Wisconsin to win Big 10 West (+130)
While Wisconsin hired an Air Raid offensive coordinator, I don’t think the Badgers will completely move away from their bread and butter. Sure, Wisconsin is going to open things up and let star quarterback Tanner Mordecai take his shots, which means opponents won’t know exactly what the Badgers are doing on first and second down. But Wisconsin still has an elite running back in Braelon Allen, and he’s running behind an experienced offensive line. With that said, this is still going to be a dangerous running team, and you’re probably going to get the best of both worlds from this Badgers offense in 2023. That will make this a very tough team to defend once everybody is comfortable in the new system. Meanwhile, the Badgers are loaded on the defensive side of the ball, and new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel has gotten a lot out of less talented groups.
If Wisconsin can work out the kinks over the first few weeks of the year, there just isn’t much preventing the Badgers from winning the Big Ten West. The biggest challengers in the division are the Iowa Hawkeyes, but Wisconsin will be playing at home when these two meet. That will be a huge advantage for the Badgers, who will also be hoping to get some revenge for last year’s 24-10 loss to the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin also has a renewed energy with Luke Fickell leading the program, and he’s a guy that is driven to succeed — and he wants to do it fast. With that in mind, I think you’ll see a fired-up squad, and you’ll also see a group that is well-prepared on a week-to-week basis. That’s bad news for teams like the Illinois Fighting Illini and Minnesota Golden Gophers, who got the best of Wisconsin in a down 2022 season.
These Badgers should win 10 games in 2023. That would be more than enough for them to win a weak Big Ten West.
Jonathan Von Tobel
Fresno State to win Mountain West (+400)
The Bulldogs have lost a great deal of production from last year’s Mountain West Championship team, but Jeff Tedford has plenty for a quick turnaround and title defense. Mikey Keene transferred in from UCF to compete with Logan Fife for the quarterback job vacated by Jake Haener. Keene is the leader in the clubhouse to win the job, and Tedford has done tremendous work with quarterbacks in the past so whoever starts will be set up for success.
Malik Sherrod, who ran for nearly 500 yards last season and averaged 5.4 yards per carry, is set to take over the lead running back role, and four players with starting experience are back along the offensive line. The rebuild on offense looks like it could be quick, and if it is, that will be a boon for a defense that brings back seven starters from last season.
Fresno State has to go to San Jose and San Diego at the end of the season, as well as host Boise State, but this team has enough to make it through those challenges and Tedford has proven to be the best head coach in the conference. This team should not have this price to win the Mountain West.
Coastal Carolina to win the Sun Belt (+450)
Despite having Grayson McCall back for his fifth season, Coastal Carolina is only the third choice on the board to win the Sun Belt. However, the Chanticleers are the favorite to win its division, which puts them in the driver’s seat to make the Sun Belt championship.
First-year head coach Tim Beck also has a roster with a lot of experience, especially on offense. Around McCall are the three leading wide receivers from 2022, the top three rushers and an offensive line that brings back three starters. The defense will be a question with six starters back from a unit that allowed 31.8 points per game last season, but an assumed improvement from the unit paired with an elite offense should keep the group from being a massive weakness.
Coastal also draws a favorable schedule that does not include games against either Troy or South Alabama, and the program gets to host Marshall. The path to a title game berth with a chance to win it is high for the Chanticleers, and the probability of them winning the conference is higher than +450 would indicate.