Before the season gets underway, bettors can focus all of their efforts on picking a potential national champion, as well as the champions of each individual conference. The catch is that in conferences like the ACC and Big 12, one team has a long streak of consecutive conference titles. But that doesn’t mean that team is a lock to win the title in 2021.
It also doesn’t mean they offer a lot of value, which is an important factor for bettors to keep in mind. Let’s take a look at the best value pick to win all five major conferences during the 2021 college football season.
*Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook as of July 23
ACC: Clemson, -900
Somehow, Clemson at -900 is the best value when picking the ACC champion. Dabo Swinney’s crew has won the league title in six straight seasons, winning two national championships along the way.
Outside of maybe Alabama, no program has been better at restocking the cupboard after losing NFL talent than Clemson. Even with Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne leaving, the Tigers are loaded. We saw just enough from D.J. Uiagaleiei last season to think that he can fill Lawrence’s shoes without the Tigers taking a step back. The kicker is that most of Clemson’s wins in the ACC Championship Game over the last six years haven’t been particularly close, so there is still a huge gap between the Tigers and the rest of the conference.
In fairness, both North Carolina and Miami have legitimate hopes of knocking off Clemson this season. The problem is that there is no clear favorite in the Coastal Division between the two of them, so it’s hard to find value in picking either of them. Plus, the Coastal is always a mess with no clearcut team at the top.
Meanwhile, Clemson should have a relatively easy path to winning the Atlantic Division, which is another reason why the Tigers are a safe pick to win their seventh straight ACC crown.
Big 12: Iowa State, +250
Oklahoma is the obvious favorite at -170 with the Sooners winning six straight Big 12 titles. But there is value in taking Iowa State, which nearly beat Oklahoma in the conference title game last year.
The Cyclones have been ascending since Matt Campbell arrived in Ames and this could be the year that they take the next step. Brock Purdy is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country and he has an excellent supporting cast around him on the ISU offense. Meanwhile, Iowa State has been one of the best defensive teams in the Big 12 during Campbell’s tenure and has a lot of talent coming back on that side of the ball.
To their credit, the Oklahoma defense has also improved in recent years. The Sooners are also poised to put up a lot of points behind Heisman candidate Spencer Rattler. But their run of six consecutive conference titles will have to end at some point.
Also, there is a gap between the Sooners and Cyclones and everyone else in the league. Oklahoma State never has a good enough defense to get to the top of the conference while Texas is going through a transition at head coach. That means Iowa State should get a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game, and at +250, it’s worth taking a shot on the Cyclones.
Big Ten: Wisconsin, +600
Much like the Big 12, the Big Ten has an obvious favorite in Ohio State, but the best value is Wisconsin.
Quarterback Graham Mertz is the most talented passer the Badgers have had in a long time. He got off to a great start in 2020 before his season was derailed by COVID. But Mertz could have a big year with a top-notch offensive line and running game to help. The Badgers should also have one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, making them a sleeper in the College Football Playoff race if they can survive early tests against Penn State and Notre Dame and get back to the Big Ten title game.
Of course, picking a preseason winner also comes down to strength of schedule. Wisconsin’s toughest games this season are all coming at home, including games with Penn State, Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska. That should be helpful in getting the Badgers to the top of the Big Ten West, which is the weaker division. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s path to the conference title game could be more difficult if Penn State and Michigan are improved, especially since the Buckeyes get those teams later in the season.
Don't forget that the Buckeyes aren’t solidified at the quarterback position yet and have to play Minnesota and Michigan on the road, so there are a couple of potential pitfalls that could keep them out of the Big Ten Championship Game. That’s enough to stay away from a team with a -220 moneyline.
Pac-12: Utah, +600
Honestly, it might be better to stay away from betting on the Pac-12 this year. The league is so wide open and we saw so little of them last year there just isn’t a lot of data on the league.
On the other hand, everyone has a lucrative moneyline, so why not take a shot on someone? Our pick is Utah, which has the longest odds but the most lucrative moneyline of the five teams that are expected to contend for the conference crown. In 2019, the Utes were close to reaching the College Football Playoff and have had two years to rebuild themselves into a team that can win the Pac-12.
With Charlie Brewer transferring from Baylor, the Utes have an experienced quarterback who can lead the offense, especially with one of the best offensive lines in the Pac-12 in front of him. On the other side of the ball, Utah returns eight starters from a unit that didn’t drop off that much from one of the nation’s best defenses in 2019.
Obviously, Arizona State and USC will provide competition in the South division while Oregon and Washington will battle in the North. But it’s so tough to differentiate between those five teams that Utah has the best value if you want to lay down money on the Pac-12 champ in 2021.
SEC: Georgia, +190
You might assume that Alabama is always a safe bet to win the SEC, but that’s not always the case. The Crimson Tide has only won two of the last four conference championships. They also didn’t play in the SEC Championship Game in 2017 or 2019, even if they won the national title in 2017. Also, Alabama’s road to the SEC Championship Game is always difficult because they play in the West Division.
One could argue that five of the top seven teams in the SEC are in the West. Texas A&M looks awfully good on paper, especially defensively. Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss could be a wild card. Also, both Auburn and LSU will be better than last year. Keep in mind that the Tide will play road games against Florida, Texas A&M, and Auburn.
Georgia is the value pick because the Bulldogs are a safer bet to make it to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Florida is the only legitimate threat to the Bulldogs in the East Division while a road game against Auburn is Georgia’s toughest test of the SEC schedule.
More importantly, the Bulldogs might have the best quarterback in the SEC in JT Daniels. They were a different team offensively when he took over as the starter last year. With a loaded backfield behind him and one of the best front-sevens in the country on the other side of the ball for Georgia, Kirby Smart’s team is well-positioned to win an SEC title for the second time in five seasons.
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