Alabama and Clemson are a cut above the rest this year, that's for sure, and while there are a few teams that could challenge them for No. 1 this season, we all know they're the favorites — and getting in on the favorites is no fun. So here are nine longshots (ok, eight longshots and a prudent value bet) that you can invest in this season. (All odds via VegasInsider.com)
Boise State — 150/1
The Broncos’ odds are not that high because of their presumed record — it’s easy to see Boise State at 13-0 by the time bowl games roll around — but because of the schedule. Per Phil Steele, the Broncs have the 97th hardest schedule in the nation — they’ll have to blow every team on their schedule out by three touchdowns to earn a spot in the final four. That said, chaos has been known to reign come December, so putting a buck or two down on a team that has a chance to be undefeated come then is hardly foolhardy.
North Carolina - 100/1
Bet you didn’t notice that the Tar Heels won 11 games last year. It’s ok, a lot of people missed that. So let Clemson, Louisville, and Florida State battle it out in the ACC Atlantic division — the Heels will stay away from the fray and with a loss (best bets for that L: at Florida State Oct. 1 or the body-blow follow up against a Virginia Tech team coming off a bye on Oct. 8) will still make the ACC title game. Win that game — you definitely remember how close UNC was to beating Clemson last year in the contest — and move to 12-1 and the Heels are in the Playoffs, where anything could happen.
LSU - 10/1
This isn’t a longshot — it’s just an outrageous value for a team this good. Tennessee is going off at 14-to-1 and LSU (my title pick, irrespective of the money-making angle) is paying out a zero on every dollar you put down? It might not be a tremendous longshot, but it would be remiss not to mention it. You’re also betting on Les Miles to author the ultimate middle-finger season in SEC history — you gotta get in on that.
Oregon - 50/1
The Ducks averaged 12 wins a season the last six years before dipping to nine last year. The metrics say they’re due for a bounce-back and the schedule is kind (toughest road games are at Nebraska and USC). The skill players remain astounding — running back Royce Freeman is respected nationally but still criminally underrated — and the defense has to be better than it was last year. Perhaps the Ducks were waiting until we stopped paying attention to finally win that National Championship.
Texas - 65/1
The Longhorns might enter the season as the fourth or fifth best team in the Big 12, but the Longhorns have 15 returning starters and the offense is due for a massive breakout, despite having a freshman quarterback. This is a bet on Charlie Strong being a good coach, who enters his third year with his recruits in the huddle. It’s a bet against Oklahoma and Baylor and TCU. The Longhorns are long shots for good reasons, but if they come out on top of the Big 12 in December (the de-facto title game with TCU could be Nov. 25) no one will be asking if they’re title-worthy.
Texas A&M - 75/1
Let’s get in on another coach on the hot seat. Kevin Sumlin is going to get his Aggies to score points — Texas A&M has a senior quarterback and truly elite receivers — but what he has this year is a defense that can truly be elite. When was the last time you remember Texas A&M having an awesome defensive line and an excellent secondary? The Week One contest is critical to the title hopes — we’ll get to UCLA a bit later — but if (big if) the Aggies enter the SEC season undefeated and can beat either Alabama in Tuscaloosa coming off a bye in Week 8 or LSU at home on Thanksgiving, they have a great chance of being in the CFP conversation. At 75-to-1, this is hardly the most outrageous concept.
UCLA - 60/1
The schedule couldn’t have been tailored better; the two toughest road games: Texas A&M Week One and BYU Week Three. After that, they’re a win over Stanford (at home) and USC (at the Rose Bowl) away from the Pac-12 title game. Are they the most talented team? Nope, but they’re talented enough and they have a quarterback who can overcome the talent gap. USC is going off at 25-to-1 and while they are more talented than their rivals, they also boast arguably the toughest schedule in the nation — UCLA has the 35th toughest. This line is incongruent and that’s a big opportunity for you to beat the house.
Iowa - 40/1
Iowa’s toughest game is a home contest against Michigan. Their second-toughest game is Northwestern, also at home. This schedule is softer than the light in a perfume commercial. The Hawkeyes went 12-0 in the regular season last year and damned if they’re not poised to go back to the Big Ten title game again in 2016. They might even be 12-0 entering the this year's game too. The Hawks might be the most boring good team in football, but there’s something beautiful about that, and teams hate going up against it. Let the three teams in the East division — Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State — cannibalize themselves, Iowa might be there to pick up the pieces and head to the playoff, which — if you haven’t figured it out yet — is where anything can happen.
Washington - 35/1
Do you see a loss on their schedule? Remember, this team had the best freshman quarterback this side of Rosen, an excellent stable of running backs and receivers, and the best defense in the Pac-12. Oh, and a coach that made Boise State what it is today. The Huskies should be your favorites to win the Pac-12 this year, and they could easily do it without a loss. They probably won’t be the worst team in the playoff either. While most of the teams on this list are get-in-and-see-what-happens picks, you don’t have to stretch much to see the Huskies playing for the title.