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Kramer: The offseason storylines CFB bettors should know

By Adam Kramer  (VSiN.com) 

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Quinn Ewers should be preparing for his senior year in high school -- doing things kids his age normally do. Instead, the young man with a golden arm -- and trademark golden mullet -- is preparing for his freshman year at Ohio State, one year ahead of schedule.

My senior year? I was pretending to be a high school athlete while preoccupied, well, elsewhere. Ewers, on the other hand, is already signing name, image and likeness deals, doing commercials and generating hundreds of thousands of views on social media.

So, about the same.

It is unorthodox, although this practice of leaving high school early -- aka reclassifying -- isn’t new. JT Daniels, now the starter at Georgia, left early to play at USC. Jake Bentley, now at Southern Alabama, did the same to play at South Carolina. The book is still out on Daniels, who is currently 12-1 to win the Heisman and poised for a big season; neither player is currently at the university they originally signed with.

Ewers is poised to break that mold. 247Sports ranked him as the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2021 before making the decision to leave early. He’s 6-foot-3 and weighs nearly 210 pounds. Ewers also has spectacular tools and dominated at Southlake Carroll in Texas while playing against stiff competition.

In the age of quarterbacks with big arms that can extend plays and throw from all angles, he’s a natural fit. Ewers has officially arrived at Columbus and likely will be eligible to practice momentarily. What happens after that will be fascinating to watch.

With Justin Fields in the NFL, C.J. Stroud has been pegged as the likely starter for the Buckeyes. And at 14-1 to win the Heisman, surrounded by the best one-two wideout tandem in the nation and one of the game’s best offensive coaches, he could keep that job. Or perhaps freshman Kyle McCord, who has received rave reviews in camp, could ultimately prevail.

Then there’s Ewers, who probably has the most talent of all, playing catch up.

Regardless, Ohio State might be on the verge of putting together an Alabama-type roster in the years to come. The Buckeyes, currently the third choice to win the national championship at + 550, are poised to be a dominant force. For a team that has lost three games and made the College Football Playoff twice in the past three years, that is saying plenty.

Consider that the Buckeyes just added the No. 1 player from the class of 2021 along with DT J.T. Tuimoloau (No. 4 overall) and defensive end Jack Sawyer (No. 5 overall), wideout Emeka Egbuka (No. 10 overall), offensive lineman Donovan Jackson (No. 19 overall), running back TreVeyon Henderson (No. 23 overall) and McCord (No. 28 overall).

That is, even by already elevated standards, a ridiculous influx of young talent. And in a conference where the talent gap is widening, it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon.

Ohio State is now -400 to win the Big Ten East and -200 to win the Big Ten title this year. While chalky, things might only be getting worse as Michigan searches for its identity and Penn State tries to rally after a down year.

Translation: If you like the Buckeyes, get ‘em while you can. The further we go, the less value there is likely to be.

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. Nick Saban has a new contract. The new deal will raise his salary to more than $10 million annually in the coming years and eventually push even higher than that. Saban, now 69, is tied to the school through 2028. By the time his contract is up, he will be 77 years old. Now, a few things to unpack. Even at $10 or $11 million annually, this is an absolute steal. His impact on the school -- and state -- is almost incalculable at this point. As for whether he finishes out this contract or not, we will have to see. Having spent a significant time around him and his program, I truly believe he will continue to coach as long as he is healthy enough to do so.

2. Let’s stay on Saban for a minute. The fact that Alabama is + 250 to win the national championship is still shocking considering everything the Crimson Tide have lost. I explored this some in my season preview at VSIN, but it’s worth reiterating. The offense is being largely rebuilt and many historic players are being replaced. While Alabama does this pretty much every year, I’m not at all in love with the national championship odds or the odds to win the SEC (-165). History says this is a very bad opinion to have, and it certainly wouldn’t be my first.

3. Although the attention almost always shifts to the offense, I implore you to watch every Oregon game this season simply to watch Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Ducks’ defensive end currently isn’t listed on DraftKings’ Heisman odds board, although the junior is one of favorites -- along with quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell -- to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2022 NFL draft. Violent. Fast. Disruptive. He is everything you want a pass-rusher to be and a key cog for anyone betting Oregon at 40-1 to win the title. It also wouldn’t shock me to see him crack the Heisman odds board at some point this year.

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4. The Week 1 game not getting nearly enough love is UCF-Boise State. The Knights are a four-point favorite, and the total is currently 71. I actually think this game could go under, and it wouldn’t shock me if both teams need time to acclimate to new leadership. Gus Malzahn will likely slow down UCF’s offense, and Andy Avalos was a defensive hire for Boise State. I am still excited about the matchup, although both team’s style shifts could alter the pace of this game dramatically.

5. Week 0 is next week. We have essentially made it. While the slate of games is limited, that won’t stop us. Nor should it hinder your enthusiasm. I will be previewing each week -- including this glorious, limited opening weekend -- all season long right here for VSiN. I cannot wait for actual football.   

My Toughest Offseason Evaluations

I am perfectly fine to tell you, avid reader, when I don’t have all the answers. While I spend months educating myself on teams, conferences and the potential flow of an upcoming year, it doesn’t mean many hours of research can solve those issues.

So as we close in on the season, here are my three most perplexing teams and why I’m struggling to handicap them. 

Ole Miss

Over 7.5 Wins (-110), Under 7.5 (-110)

25-1 to win SEC

Lane Kiffin, 30 pounds lighter, seems to be in an incredible place. Quarterback Matt Corral, who is 35-1 to win the Heisman, has some insane physical gifts. The offensive line is largely back. The defense, which was awful last year, is led by two quality minds in DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge. The schedule, however, is pretty difficult. Louisville, Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Liberty, Texas A&M and Mississippi State to close the year are all potential challenges. With the win total at 7.5, I really struggle with which way to go. The pieces are there, but the path is brutal.

North Carolina

Over 9.5 Wins (-120), Under 9.5 Wins (+ 100)

+ 800 to win ACC

I know Sam Howell is already great and has the chance to be special. His 550-yard, seven-touchdown performance against Wake Forest last season was one of the best games from a QB I have ever seen. (Yes, I know it was Wake Forest.) But as good as Howell was, the loss of running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams to the NFL is enormous. The defense will get most of its pieces back, although given its performance last year -- largely yikes -- I am not sure what that means. Where I struggle with this team, however, is the schedule. There are a lot of really winnable games, although it feels like plenty of coin-flip matchups in there as well. I am inclined to go under the 9.5 wins because of the losses, although that schedule is there for the taking.

Washington

Over 8.5 Wins (-130), Under 8.5 Wins (+ 110)

+ 350 to win the Pac-12

Oddsmakers seem to like Washington, currently the second betting choice to win the Pac-12, significantly more than I do. However, there are things about this team I really like. There are some really quality options at QB and the offensive line -- which stays largely intact -- should be one of the biggest and best in college football. There are a lot of players back in general, which is encouraging. The problem, however, is we’re largely drawing conclusions from a season that featured a grand total of four games last year. Washington won three of them, although two of the games were tight and the other was a 44-point output against Arizona. I’m just not sure what that tells us. I could see a nice season -- and I certainly like plenty of the pieces -- but I need to see more first.

Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Football Happenings

1. I have a free ticket to Illinois-Nebraska during Week 0. While I miss football, I’m not sure I miss it that much. That said, I can’t overstate the importance of this game for Scott Frost. A loss to open the season as a seven-point favorite would be a monumental blow. Much more on this game next week.

2. On the topic of desperate teams, Jim Harbaugh has named Cade McNamara the starter at QB over true freshman J.J. McCarthy. I’ve heard spectacular things about McCarthy, and it sounds like his future is bright. But McNamara, who played some last year and looked solid in stretches, will get a first crack. Michigan draws Western Michigan in Week 1 and then Washington in a massive out-of-conference tussle in Week 2. The Wolverines are currently a one-point favorite in that game.

3. It has been largely quiet on the injury front around the country this year, and thank goodness for that. While it's an inevitable, unfortunate part of the game we love, I will gladly take two more weeks of silence.

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