If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of college football ramping up in the background as programs across the country return to the practice field in the buildup to the 2023 season. With league media days behind us, scrimmages coming up and actual regular-season games on the docket for Week 0 just a few weeks away, prediction season is in full swing.
Preseason polls are out for each league, and they contain few surprises. Georgia (SEC), Texas (Big 12), Michigan (Big Ten), Clemson (ACC) and USC (Pac-12) are predicted by the media to win their respective leagues; however, things rarely play out according to the script, and there is betting value to be had by deviating from the mainstream expectations.
Just take the Big 12 last season as an example. Kansas State and TCU received a combined zero first-place votes in the Big 12's preseason media poll but wound up playing each other in the league title game. The Wildcats ended up hoisting the trophy after facing preseason league title odds in the neighborhood of +1200.
Last year, Michigan made this column as the undervalued Big Ten team with preseason conference title odds of +750. The Wolverines pulled it off, drilling Ohio State 45-23 in the regular-season finale and then cruising past Purdue 43-22 in the Big Ten Championship Game. For those with a little willingness to buck preseason expectations, Michigan's title march brought a nice payday.
Let's take a look at who may be undervalued in the conference title odds this season and in position to do what teams like K-State and Michigan did a year ago.
Odds to win ACC championship: +2000
Pitt faced longer odds than this in 2021 when it finished 7-1 in league play and crushed Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game. The Panthers are a well-oiled machine under ninth-year coach Pat Narduzzi with a high floor and the chance to pop when things click offensively. If a couple of offensive playmakers emerge for Boston College transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec, Pitt could have the juice for another unexpected title run.
Missing from the schedule is Clemson, and other teams high on the ACC odds sheet such as Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina each visit Acrisure Stadium. The schedule overall could be perceived as difficult since it includes regional Big 12 foes Cincinnati and West Virginia along with mighty Notre Dame, but it's quite manageable within the conference, which makes a steady program like Pitt worth a shot at this price.
Big Ten: Penn State
Odds to win Big Ten championship: +575
Try to find weakness on this Penn State roster. The pass-catchers are the only group that may fit the bill. Otherwise, the Nittany Lions are loaded with talent and experience across the board. That's especially true on defense: The Nittany Lions are No. 3 in our Drew Allar at quarterback raises some questions about the offense, Allar's potential is clear, and he could ultimately be an upgrade.of the nation's best defensive fronts and at No. 1 in of the best secondaries under the direction of rockstar defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. While the transition from Sean Clifford to
Ohio State or Michigan have represented the Big Ten East in the conference title game in each of the past six seasons, but the Nittany Lions are closing in. With elite defensive talent, Allar's promise and a running game that should be stout, it doesn't take much imagination to envision Penn State knocking off Ohio State and/or Michigan to reach the Big Ten title game for the first time since 2016.
Big 12: Baylor
Odds to win Big 12 championship: +1800
If Baylor can creep back toward its 2021 level of defensive proficiency and find a decent offensive line combination, the Bears will have a great shot at winning the Big 12 again. Richard Reese and Dominic Richardson may be the league's best running back duo, and the defensive front has some playmakers. That's a great place to start in a league that is always wide open.
Baylor also plays five conference home games and misses Oklahoma. With experienced quarterback Blake Shapen back, fourth-year coach Dave Aranda has a foundation in place that should ensure improvement from last year's 6-7 campaign. Last season, the Bears topped the preseason media poll but regressed to the mean following a memorable 2021 campaign. This year, they were picked to finish sixth and didn't receive a single first-place vote. Of note: Kansas State and TCU were among the contingent of teams that did not receive a first-place vote last preseason, and they wound up playing each other for the league title.
Pac-12: Oregon State
Odds to win Pac-12 championship: +1100
Oregon State finished 10-3 last season while ranking while 104th nationally in passing offense. If Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei hits at quarterback, the Beavers are poised to make their first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. Their three losses last season came against USC, at Utah and at Washington. Two of those defeats (USC and Washington) were by a combined six points. The Trojans aren't on this year's schedule, and Oregon State hosts the Utes and Huskies.
Maybe it's because of Oregon State's low-key brand, skepticism about Uiagalelei or other unknown reasons, but the payout for the Beavers is significantly more lucrative at +1100 than it is for USC (+170), Utah (+450), Oregon (+330) or Washington (+330). Sixth-year coach Jonathan Smith has built a solid program that is absolutely deserving of a flyer bet at this price.
SEC: Texas A&M
Odds to win SEC championship: +1200
Texas A&M enters the season with the nation's No. 8 defensive line, No. 11 linebacker group and No. 5 secondary, per Phil Steele's 2023 College Football Preview. The Aggies should be stout defensively. Offense is what will determine this team's fate, and the range of outcomes is vast. If embattled coach Jimbo Fisher stymies the creativity of Bobby Petrino, his blockbuster offensive coordinator hire, then the Aggies will be out of the SEC West race by early October.
But if Fisher grants autonomy to Petrino, who unlocks the full potential former five-star quarterback Conner Weigman, then the Aggies can absolutely challenge Alabama and LSU in the division race. A&M ranks fourth in the 247Sports Blue-Chip Ratio behind only Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia. Fisher has failed to deliver in his first five seasons on the job, but the Aggies remain on a short list of teams with the requisite talent to win college football's toughest conference.