By now, almost everyone has picked up their favorite college football preview magazine, started reading various websites and are maybe even listening to podcasts about the upcoming season.
There is a common theme everywhere you look. It sticks out like a big orange thumb. We’re talking about none other than reigning national champion Clemson.
When last seen, the Tigers were finishing off Alabama in what was a simply devastating performance in the college football playoff. And naturally, with their cannon-armed quarterback Trevor Lawrence returning along with a well-stocked talent cupboard it’s no shock to see Clemson rated just about everywhere as either the preseason No. 1 or 2 team in the country.
That’s great! But how do we make money off that? Almost everywhere you look in the futures market Clemson is a very expensive proposition with no room for error. There are seemingly three options for bettors:
1. Get on board at exorbitant entry prices.
2. Fade what looks like a runaway train of talent.
3. Pass altogether.
That’s the dilemma.
Clemson is listed by FanDuel Sportsbook as the 2-1 favorite to win the 2019-20 national championship. This is about what you can expect everywhere else, give or take 25-50 cents. FanDuel also has the Tigers’ season total wins number set at 11.5 with the over +130 and the under -156.
If you’re in the habit of taking 2-1 on a team to win the national championship at the outset of a season, then you may not last long in this business. Same with playing over 11.5 wins against a 12-game schedule.
Our first instinct would be to take a fade stance against Clemson. A season total set at 11.5 leaves no room for mistakes, so it might be worth the gamble to speculate that the Tigers won’t be perfect. Trouble is, when you look at Clemson’s schedule, where does the loss come? The Tigers figure to be over two-touchdown favorites in every game this season.
According to the Las Vegas Golden Nugget’s lines for the Games of the Year openers, the cheapest you could find a Clemson spread was the Tigers laying 17.5 when they host Texas A&M on Sept. 7.
Other key games also had out-sized lines:
Clemson -18 at Syracuse, Sept. 14
Clemson -27 at North Carolina, Sept. 28
Clemson -25 vs. Florida St., Oct. 12
Clemson -32 at Louisville, Oct. 19
Clemson -24 at N.C. State, Nov. 9
Clemson -23 at South Carolina, Nov. 30
See a loss anywhere in there? We don’t either. But recent history has taught us that the way to handle defending national champions in the playoff era is to NOT bet them the following season to repeat. There hasn’t been a repeat national champ in college football since Alabama did it in 2011 and ’12. And now that we’re in the playoff era where two postseason wins are needed, the task is even harder.
Simply making the playoff, however, is another story entirely and that’s where we find an opportunity to get on Clemson. Since the playoff started, the defending national champion has made the playoff the following year three out of four times with Ohio St. in 2015 somehow missing out despite only having one loss.
Clemson to simply make the playoff is currently listed at -280 at BetOnline.ag. This is a much better option than betting the Tigers over 11.5 wins, because it’s possible for such a marquee team like this to lose a regular-season game and have it be forgiven by the committee. But what the are the chances of that even happening when Clemson towers over the ACC as the rest of the conference may have actually gotten worse in the offseason, not better!
Nobody’s getting rich laying -280, but if you simply must have a bullish position on Clemson, this looks like the best way to do it. We’re not taking 2-1 on the Tigers to repeat as champs, since nobody has done it yet in the playoff era. And the ask of winning two postseason games is rough, especially when locking in at 2-1. We’re also not taking over 11.5 wins, because one loss and we’re wiped.
It’s conceivable that Clemson could lose a game and still make the playoff. We’ve seen Alabama do it several times. Especially if that loss is early.
Getting long on obvious favorites like Clemson can be tricky. Any futures bets on the Tigers won’t come cheap. In that case, why not find the bet with the most wiggle room? We’re not asking Clemson to win another championship. We’re not asking for 12 wins. We’re merely asking for a powerhouse to make the postseason, be it through the front door or the back.