The start of the 2022 college football season is less than a month away, which means bettors are paying more attention to which programs they believe will live up to expectations. While a number of the nation’s top talents have moved on to the NFL, there are still plenty of intriguing storylines.
Our betting analysts offer their advice on how to approach the conference title odds.
Monday: Heisman Trophy race
Tuesday: Win Totals
Wednesday: Conference title races
Thursday: Week 0/1 tips
Friday: National title odds
Clemson (ACC -125), Alabama (SEC -140), and Ohio State (Big Ten -280) are odds-on favorites to win their respective conferences. Which one do you like the most?
David Hale, ESPN college football writer: Clemson just had its worst year in more than a decade and still was within a double-OT loss to NC State from going back to the ACC championship game. There are some serious question marks for the Tigers in 2022 — DJ Uiagalelei’s struggles, new coordinators on both sides of the ball — but this kind of odds on Clemson to win a weak ACC doesn’t happen often, and if you’ re going to bet on any favorite, this is probably the one with the best risk-reward calculus.
Bill Connelly, ESPN Football Insider: That’s certainly solid logic, but having seen both DJ Uiagalelei and Bryce Young play, my brain can’t handle the idea of Clemson and Alabama having equal conference title odds, even if Alabama has to share a conference with Georgia. Ohio State’s odds are obnoxiously high, so that’s not even an option. So give me the Tide, I guess.
Doug Kezirian, ESPN betting analyst: Georgia’s presence is why I am throwing Alabama out of this discussion. I can’t lay -140 when I know Georgia is in the mix. Clemson makes sense because the program is still one that reloads while other ACC brethren lack that luxury. I do think the Tigers have less of a chance to run the table in conference than Bama and Ohio State but I would lay it with Clemson. Again, that’s only if I had to pick one of the three.
Stanford Steve Coughlin, ESPN betting analyst: I hate the idea of laying more than two dollars on a preseason prop/future bet. But, out of those, I would think Clemson, based on the fact that it might be able to rely on what might be the best defensive line in all of college football, led by Bryan Bresee. If you don’t know his name, it’s time to get familiar!
Chris Fallica, ESPN betting analyst: The Buckeyes are the best team in the Big Ten and will be a bigger ML favorite in the Big Ten Championship game, so you’re actually getting them on the cheap here. No team in the league can score with them and the defense should be better under new DC Jim Knowles.
As noted above, Clemson (-125) is the odds-on favorite in the ACC. The rest of the conference is bunched together with Miami (+600), Pitt (+600), NC State (+900), Wake Forest (+1000) and UNC (+1200) as the main contenders to Clemson. Some of those schools are rumored to be heading to a different conference. Do you like any of them to win the ACC this year?
Hale: Clemson is — and should be — the favorite, but coming off a year in which Wake Forest and Pitt played for the conference crown, it does have the feel of an “anything can happen” type of season. Pitt lost some stars, Miami might still be a year away, and NC State doesn’t exactly have a rich tradition of handling pressure well. So if you’re looking for a low-risk, high-return opportunity, how about the North Carolina Tar Heels? Mack Brown’s squad was expected to make the leap last year, but it struggled from the outset. This offseason has been far quieter, and that’s a good thing. Brown made needed changes to the defensive coaching staff and his past few strong recruiting classes are now poised to pay dividends. UNC remains a long shot — but have a genuine opportunity to make a surprise run at the conference title.
Connelly: Of those, I can almost make the best case for NC State, if only because the Wolfpack’s defense could be top-10 caliber (like Clemson’s) and their offense should be better. But you know what? Give me North Carolina +1200. This is a pick that could make you feel really dumb, really quickly, but SP+ projects the Tar Heels within a game of Miami and Pitt, on average, atop the Coastal, and there is certainly a world in which UNC’s new starting quarterback (likely Either Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye) takes fewer drive-killing sacks than Sam Howell, the defense rebounds to competence general under Gene Chizik, and UNC takes down both Pitt and NC State at home. I’m not saying the odds of that are great, but they don’t have to be that great to get value from +1200.
Coughlin: I could be talked into Miami. I love their early-season out-of-conference trip to Texas A&M. I think it’s a great recipe for Mario Cristobal to figure what kind of team he has. They lost a lot of close games last season and I expect improvement from Tyler Van Dyke under new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. I really like the staff Cristobal has assembled in Coral Gables, bringing in guys with head-coaching experience in Kevin Steele and Charlie Strong. I think the Canes can for sure win the ACC.
The Big 12 odds have Texas (+200), Oklahoma (+220) and Oklahoma State (+400) and Baylor (+600) grouped close with the shortest odds. Is Texas a good bet or is there a long shot to take here?
Connelly: I understand how good the Texas offense might be this year — even if Quinn Ewers has in no way separated himself from Hudson Card in the QB race — but it is patently absurd for the Horns to have the best odds at the moment. Even with all the change in the world going on at OU, the Sooners remain the more stable and proven entity, and of those four teams, I like their odds the best. You know whose odds I like the most, though? Kansas State at +1400. The Wildcats don’t have the deepest team, but between running back Deuce Vaughn, defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah and linebacker Daniel Green, they might have the most proven star power in the Big 12. If you think a change of scenery might produce better late-game play from Adrian Martinez, they’re absolutely worth a long shot bid there. They shouldn’t even be a long shot!
Coughlin: I feel like the Big 12 is wide open. Of the teams at the top, I would take Oklahoma, I love the chemistry that Dillon Gabriel and Jeff Lebby have, and I think a new voice for the defense will be just what they need. From a little further down the board, I would look at TCU. The combination of a new offensive-minded head coach in Sonny Dykes and the talent they have at QB, might be just what the doctor ordered in Fort Worth.
Erin Dolan, ESPN betting analyst: The value is not on Texas from a betting perspective. It seems like a stretch that the Longhorns would be favored to win the Big 12 after a 5-7 record and 3-6 record in Big 12. The media actually favored Baylor to repeat, but oddsmakers clearly disagree. ESPN’s FPI also gives Texas the best chance at 40% to win the title due to the talent they are offensively offensive. I’d rather play Texas’ win total over 8. The Longhorns have lofty expectations and should improve with Ewers under center. Texas also brings back running back Bijan Robinson, who is tied for the fourth-shortest odds to win the Heisman. Robinson put up 2,321 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns through his first 19 career games. He reached the end zone in nine of the 10 games he played last season.
High-impact wide receiver Xavier Worthy returns for his sophomore season. Worthy was targeted 103 times last season and had 62 receptions for 981 yards with 12 touchdowns — all freshman school records. Texas averaged 45 points per game through the first six games but then fell apart in the second half of the season. Five of Texas’ seven losses were by one possession. The defense needs to learn how to stop the run, and if it does that, the Longhorns have a shot at being a nine-win team.
What is your favorite long shot to win a conference title in 2022?
Hale: Defining a long shot as +1000 or higher, let’s go with Iowa State. Much like North Carolina, the Cyclones were expected to finally move from the “knocking on the door” phase to “crashing the playoff” last year. It didn’t come close to happening, and with Brock Purdy and Breece Hall moving on, the expectations are far lower for 2022. But there’s still plenty of talent on this team — particularly on defense — and Matt Campbell remains one of the best coaches in the country. A little better luck (five losses by seven points or less last season) could certainly put the Cyclones in contention, and given the big questions at Texas and Oklahoma, there’s every reason to take a flyer on Iowa State in hopes this season looks more like the one we expected last year.
Connelly: K-State baby. And whichever of Iowa or Minnesota has the worst Big Ten odds on a given day.
Joe Fortenbaugh, ESPN betting analyst: I like Kansas State to win the Big 12 at 14-1. 14 starters are back from a squad that went 8-5 last season, which doesn’t include Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez at quarterback. Say what you want about Martinez’s time in Lincoln, he’s a great fit for head coach Chris Klieman’s 21 personnel offensive attack. Oklahoma is in transition and vulnerable, Baylor has issues on offense and Texas is, well, Texas. 14-1 implies just a 6.6% chance, and I think the Wildcats have a better than 6.6% chance of winning the Big 12.