One of the most important things to weigh with a conference or division futures bet is what I would call the hold vs. the gain. The reason you are betting this price right now, before September 1st, before the season starts, is that you think the price is likely to drop, maybe significantly. This drop could be due to information and analysis that you possess that the market is ignoring, or things the market is favoring that are actually not predictive or flawed in some logical way.
Example: I am not betting Wisconsin futures. But if I were, I’d be much more interested in Wisconsin -228 to win the Big 10 West (5D) than I would be in Wisconsin +300 to win the conference title. Why is that? Because Wisconsin’s most likely opponent in the Big 10 title game, Ohio State, would be such an overwhelming favorite, that you might just get Wisconsin +300 in the game anyway. The hold was 3 months, and the gain was 0. Not the best future. Even if Michigan makes it, they are absolutely favored in the game, possibly by a touchdown considering the schedule they’d had to have run to get there. Again, long hold, bad gain.
With that in mind, here is a future in each Power 5 conference I like betting right now, because the likelihood the price stays at this number is low.
Miami to win ACC Coastal +115 (5D)
I think it will become clear very quickly how flawed Virginia Tech is this season, and that’s really Miami’s only competition for this. I’d like to believe in Duke but the schedule is just so difficult, and in the end, they aren’t very talented (although they do have a crazy amount of returning production, and this is probably Cutcliffe’s best team talent-wise). This price has only one direction to move, to me. Miami is by a wide margin the most talented team, and by a wide margin has recruited the best. They have the best players, that is not arguable. The gap is a little arguable, but it’s, at a minimum, wide. They avoid Clemson in the cross-over games, which was the only must-avoid on the path to a successful season. They host Florida State, which is their 2nd most difficult game. Everything about this season actually sets up phenomenally for them, and I think 12-0/11-1 and a rematch with Clemson in the title game is likely.
Auburn to win SEC +950 (5D)
This may seem a little iffy, but allow me to explain. First off, it’s a conference bet, so the Washington game is meaningless. Doesn’t matter. I think from a talent standpoint, you can make the argument here that Auburn is just as good as Alabama, I really do. When considering talent/recruiting minus attrition, they get really close numerically. Their coaching is excellent, and DC Kevin Steele will be one of the hottest names for head coach vacancies. They’ve gotten to be just truly dominant on that side of the ball.
What this really is about, though, is navigating the schedule. If they win all 6 non-Georgia/non-Alabama conference games, then the good news is the Georgia game becomes irrelevant. They could lose and be 6-1 going to Alabama where even if the Tide were 7-0, the winner wins the division. The lookahead on the Iron Bowl is Alabama -9, but I think Auburn is talented enough that you could see 7 by game-week. You create a hedge position against +950 very easily by taking Alabama at something like -300, then the SEC Championship, where at worst Auburn is a tiny dog, but most likely favored.
By the way, that’s just the most likely permutation, but I think because of Alabama’s dicey coordinators and back 7, the permutations where Alabama loses 1-2 conference games are more plentiful than usual. I also think there’s a non-zero chance you see Florida in the SEC title game too, who Auburn would absolutely be favored over. More uncertainty here than you’d think given the teams involved.
Oregon to win Pac-12 +750 (5D)
If you know me or have read me or heard me anywhere on the internet, you know about my love of Oregon’s schedule. They play their 2 toughest games (Stanford, Washington) at home, where the other team gets a horrible scheduling spot leading into the game, and Oregon gets a very positive one. Their next toughest 2 games are at Utah and at Arizona, 2 teams they are more talented than this year. It’s really an incredible set-up, and I’m not entirely sure Stanford should be ahead of them in odds. While, yes, the Cardinal are more talented, their schedule just doesn’t let up the entire season (SDSU and Notre Dame in the non-conference), and makes it really unlikely to put up a stellar record. Meanwhile Oregon gets to coast through the first 3 weeks and show none of their wrinkles, with non-conference home games back-to-back-to-back against Bowling Green, Portland State, and San Jose State. What a set-up.
West Virginia +700 to win Big 12 / Baylor +6000 to win Big 12 (5D)
2 prices that are interesting in different ways. I don’t like West Virginia as much as everyone else, but they are definitely the price most likely to drop because of how their schedule sets up. They will probably be 5-0 in conference play going to Texas on November 3rd, which is when the brutal gauntlet starts…games against the Longhorns, home vs TCU, at Oklahoma State and home vs Oklahoma. You could take West Virginia with the opinion of “well I can get there 5-0 and some less-fortunate events may have befallen the other teams, improving my standing compared to them going into those games.” It’s an interesting case. Texas may very well have Texas-ed by then, and be like 3-2 or something. Maybe Kyler Murray doesn’t work out, and maybe TCU needs a year to reload. It’s all open to interpretation.
Baylor, meanwhile, is intriguing because the Big 12 is essentially one giant middle-class after Oklahoma. It’s Oklahoma, then 8 teams, then Kansas (maybe Texas Tech falls closer to Kansas, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now). Essentially, my logic is that the gap between the 2nd best team in the conference (Texas I guess? Probably TCU though) and the 8th best team in the conference (Baylor) is actually quite narrow, much narrower than the gap between, say, Michigan and Minnesota, or Michigan and Maryland. But because Baylor is technically 8th, their odds are being skewed way toward the high end of the spectrum. The middle of the Big 12 is a total mess, and if everyone’s odds are actually about the same in reality, then a price of 60/1 (or even prices on a team like Texas Tech) are too high.
Iowa to win Big 10 West +825
I want to take a shot at beating Wisconsin this year, because it’s become a mathematical certainty in everyone’s mind that Wisconsin is unstoppable in this division. Opinions like those are generally flawed because they completely underestimate risk when we haven’t even played a game yet this season, and that creates too-high prices. Here’s what I know about Wisconsin: while they generally have unimpressive recruiting rankings, they get guys who fit their system and develop them, so it can be hard to peg exactly what they are year to year. Their 2-year and 5-year recruiting isn’t really anything to look at on paper (Nebraska’s is better one could argue). They are starting the season with their top 2 returning wideouts suspended, their starting tight end injured, their back-up RB to Jonathan Taylor out indefinitely, and 2 defensive line rotational guys out for the season. Even for Wisconsin, that’s a lot before you’ve even played a snap. Can this team score reliably when it’s not facing Western Kentucky, a team it can just run straight ahead at and get 50+ points?
It was hard to figure out who I really wanted in trying to beat the favorite – Nebraska and Northwestern just don’t line up to be great this year, Minnesota still isn’t close to talented enough, Purdue lost too much, and Illinois is…Illinois. That left Iowa, and what I have to say is, the schedule is phenomenal. They get what I’d call a half-Oregon, meaning they get 4 straight home games to open the season, but unlike with the Ducks, the Hawkeyes could actually lose a couple. They never leave home for a month, then play Wisconsin in Week 4. Even if they lose to the Badgers, there’s only 1 really tough game the rest of the way, at Penn State, and Penn State is a team I’m pretty down on compared to their projections this season. The Nittany Lions are definitely the team I’d most want to play from the “Big 4” in the East. Meanwhile Wisconsin also plays at Penn State, and plays at Michigan (as well as having to play the Hawkeyes at their place.) I’m not sure I’m taking the right team (maybe Scott Frost pulls a rabbit out of the hat against an impossible schedule? Or Jeff Brohm somehow keeps that program rising?) but I’m in on fading Wisconsin, and if I can reliably eliminate Minnesota and Illinois from the jump, it’s probably better to play a specific team or two than just take Field vs. Wisconsin.