The 2021 college football season will be here sooner than you think—the first games are set for Saturday, Aug. 28. However, the ramp-up to the season, and the betting on what will happen, starts more or less right now.
Because college football is such a big sport—10 conferences and 130 teams at the Football Bowl Subdivision level alone—there’s a lot to bet on at any given time. If you’re willing to let a sportsbook hold your money for a few months, it can be good fun to make (a few) futures bets, which are wagers on season-long outcomes rather than individual games. For instance, betting on a team to win their conference or division can be a fun incentive to follow that team all year. And if you spread out your risk and find good value, it can even be a money-maker, too.
My futures betting strategy is to hunt value. That doesn’t necessarily mean picking the team that is likeliest to win something, but the team that produces the best mix of favorable betting odds and a solid chance to contend. Here are a handful of those picks for the 2021 season.
These odds come from DraftKings Sportsbook, and they are in the American odds format. For example, odds of -150 mean a $150 bet would return $100 in profit ($250 total) if the bet was successful, while odds of +200 mean a $100 bet would return $200 in profit ($300 total) on a winning bet. You can place a futures bet anywhere it’s legal, though options vary by state.
Ohio State to win the Big Ten (-167)
Thanks to years of recruiting at a higher level than the rest of the conference, the Buckeyes have a massive talent advantage over the rest of the Big Ten. The three teams that would usually be in the best position to beat Ohio State––Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan––were varying degrees of mediocre last year, and I don’t see any reason they should beat OSU. The Buckeyes face uncertainty at quarterback now that star Justin Fields has gone to the NFL, but the team’s track record makes them a strong bet to win the Big Ten for a fifth year in a row.
Texas A&M to win the SEC West (+500)
Alabama is the favorite in the most difficult division in college football, and for good reason. Still, I think the Aggies are good value at +500, where a $10 bet could bring back $50 in profit. A&M closed 2020 on an eight-game win streak and won the Orange Bowl, and coach Jimbo Fisher has stocked the program with a lot of talent.
A&M also has a light schedule that should allow them to get to 5–0 by the time Bama visits College Station on Oct. 9. If you believe that the Tide are due for a (relative) step back this year after losing a bunch of players to the NFL Draft, then the Aggies become a really interesting bet to win the division.
Oklahoma to win the Big 12 (-134)
The Sooners have won the Big 12 six years in a row. They have the most talented players in the conference and an early Heisman Trophy favorite in QB Spencer Rattler. I would need to see much, much worse odds than -134 to not be interested in this bet.
Utah to win the Pac-12 South (+450)
When it comes to producing quality teams, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is one of the most reliable coaches in college football. The Utes have posted a winning record eight years in a row, and it’s not a long leap from there to winning a Pac-12 South division title: The division’s should-be top team, USC, has been up and down for a long time.
I think Utah is going to enjoy strong QB play this year, whether it comes from recent Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer or former Texas transfer Cameron Rising. And I trust Whittingham to build a strong team in the trenches, as usual.
Florida State Seminoles to achieve 5.5 wins this season (-113)
I like the Noles’ chances to go at least 6–6 in Mike Norvell’s second season in charge, and anything better than 5–7 would see this bet pay out. FSU has been a mess in recent years, but their roster is talented, and I’m a believer in newly acquired QB McKenzie Milton. The team’s schedule has what should be two automatic wins against Jacksonville State (an FCS team) and UMass (one of the worst FBS teams), and I think FSU can find three more wins even without upsets against Notre Dame, Clemson, or North Carolina.
Georgia QB JT Daniels to win the Heisman Trophy (+1200) and Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud to win the Heisman Trophy (+1200)
A good strategy with futures betting is to spread around a few bets you like and hope one of them hits. I like both Daniels and Stroud at odds where a $10 bet could return $120 in profit. The reason stems from the history of the Heisman. Though Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith won the award with an incredible 2020 season, almost every Heisman winner in recent times has been a quarterback or a running back on a national championship-contending team.
Daniels fits the bill. He played well after assuming Georgia’s starting QB role a few games into last season, and he has the five-star recruiting pedigree to suggest he’ll only continue to get better. The Bulldogs have tons of talent up and down the roster, and it’s not hard to see Daniels having a Heisman-worthy season on a team that’s good enough to give him a chance.
Stroud is a similar kind of bet. A five-star redshirt freshman, he sat behind Fields and didn’t play at all in 2020. But he has loads of skill, and he’ll be playing for a team that’s highly likely to be in the national title conversation. If Stroud plays a significant role in Ohio State’s success, not much else would need to happen for him to be in the middle of the Heisman race. In this case, betting on a freshman doesn’t require a big leap of faith.
Georgia to win the national championship (+700)
Alabama should be a little bit worse than usual, which makes the Dawgs even more of a contender in the SEC. Georgia has recruited at such an elite level that coach Kirby Smart arguably has more talent on his roster than Nick Saban does at Alabama. And I’d rather have the Dawgs at +700 (bet $10 to win $70) than the favored Tide at +225.
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