The college football season is still three and a half months away, but so much can happen before kickoff. Over the coming months, we’re going to see injuries, prospects emerge and some major shifts in some positional battles. However, the dust has settled on the recruiting trail and spring games, so now is a reasonable time to review the championship futures.
It’s no surprise to see that the Alabama Crimson Tide (+700) are one of the co-favorites for the national championship. There is no mystery as to why this is the case. It was felt by some after the 2015 Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State that Alabama was going to be hurt by the introduction of the four-team playoff, which forced the Tide into having to win two postseason games – not just one – in order to win the national title. However, the Tide promptly smashed that line of thought by winning last season’s playoff, trampling Michigan State in the semifinals and then outlasting Clemson in the title game. Why is Alabama a co-favorite? Nick Saban is the best coach in the game, as good as Bear Bryant was in his heyday. No one’s better and because of that, Alabama simply reloads every season. Lots of NFL talent flows out and a lot more comes in. It’s that simple.
Ohio State (+700) is co-favored with Alabama not just because it was the previous season’s national champion, and not just because it looked so strong against Michigan and then in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, but because Urban Meyer is really the only man at the moment who can match Saban as a coach. No other college coach has risen to Saban’s standard with the sole exception of Meyer, who beat him in the 2014 season’s semifinals. Ohio State lost Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa to the NFL, among others, but J.T. Barrett is back at quarterback, and Ohio State is still going to be beastly on defense. The Buckeyes, like Alabama, can call up reinforcements with great regularity.
Clemson (+800) is the third choice after the co-favorites. The Tigers get Deshaun Watson back at quarterback, the favorite to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy for a lot of experts. Watson could have gone into the NFL Draft and not suffered too much, but he felt he needed another year of seasoning. He can already make so many throws and his running ability makes Clemson’s offense so hard to stop. The defense is young, but with a lot of returning starters. The Tigers should not be taken lightly in their bid to return to the title game.
Michigan and Oklahoma are tied for fourth (+1000). The Wolverines have Jim Harbaugh as their coach, one of a handful of coaches in the second tier right behind Saban and Meyer. Michigan’s defensive front seven should be one of the strongest in the nation. Quarterback is the big key for the Wolverines: if they can figure that one out, they’ll have a chance for a big season. As for Oklahoma, quarterback is no issue for them. They get Baker Mayfield back, which is huge for the continuity of the offense. Getting Lincoln Riley back as offensive coordinator might be just as important. Hosting Baylor rather than going to Waco will also matter – the Sooners have a great chance to win the Big 12 again.
LSU and Tennessee are next, tied for sixth (+1400). Both SEC teams have monsters in their front seven and will not be easy to score against. However, they also have limited quarterback situations and are going to encounter games in which they have trouble scoring. LSU is very talented outside of the quarterback position – especially with Leonard Fournette at running back. He’s one of the best players in the country. But unless they find someone who can throw the ball and threaten through the air, it’s hard to see them threatening Alabama.
As for Tennessee, the hype train is full steam ahead. This is supposed to be the year this talented team finally puts it together. But there are so many question marks – talent-wise and from an experience perspective – that they might be hard to trust until we see them deliver.
Baylor and Florida State (+1600) are the only other teams inside of 20/1. The Bears are a source of concern because of all the controversies which have surrounded the program in the offseason. That’s a lot of distractions for a program which is still getting used to the spotlight. Florida State is very deep on both sides of the ball, but the Seminoles were hurt by poor quarterback play last season and cannot know for sure what they have under center this season.