The 2012-13 college football season was gaining hype before last year’s schedule was even over.
Realignment has shaken up the conferences, sending programs like Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC while the Big East and West Virginia parted ways like jilted lovers, with WVU running into the arms of the Big 12.
Those moves have made capping the conferences a bit tougher. Odds are out for conference championships and rather than gush over the favorites, we take a look at some valuable long shots who actually have a shot at shocking their leagues this season:
ACC – Clemson Tigers (+500)
Florida State is the front runner to win the ACC (-150) but Clemson has been getting a lot of attention from futures bettors this offseason. The Tigers are discounted after some off-field troubles with its offensive weapons, namely stud WR Sammy Watkins who was busted for pot this month.
Watkins bowled over almost all of the ACC receiving records last year, catching 12 touchdowns and posting more than 94 yards a game. He could miss a couple games to start the year, but the Tigers still have QB Tajh Boyd and RB Andre Ellington to shoulder the load. The defending ACC champs present some serious value as long as they can win on the road and avoid another late-season swoon.
Big 12 – West Virginia Mountaineers (+600)
The new kids on the Big 12 block could catch their neighbors off guard. West Virginia is behind Oklahoma, Texas and fellow newcomer TCU on the futures board, but brings a high-flying scoring attack that will feel right at home in the score-happy conference.
Quarterback Geno Smith is among the nine starters back on offense, leaving the Mountaineers plenty of time to tinker with their defense. There is a new system (3-4 defense) and plenty of new faces (co-coordinators DeForest and and Keith Patterson) to get used to. But, WVU has the element of surprise in the Big 12, which means terrific value at +600.
Big East – Pittsburgh Panthers (+600)
A quick look at the Big East futures and it’s easy to see that no one – not even the all-seeing oddsmakers – know what the hell is going to happen in this conference. The league crown and its BCS tie-in are up for grabs for at least one more year, until Boise State sets up shop in 2013. Pitt is the fourth favorite in the “Big Least”, behind Louisville, Cincinnati and USF, and those odds have much to do with first-year coach Paul Chryst.
A lot is up in the air with Pitt. Running back Ray Graham is recovering from a knee injury and QB Tino Sunseri has the tools and the talent around him, but has to stay out of his own way and limit turnovers – 11 INTs in 2011. Chryst was behind Wisconsin’s scoring attack last year and could work his magic again with less talented pieces.
Big Ten – Penn State Nittany Lions (+1,200)
The ugly off-field drama surrounding the PSU football program has had a big impact on the odds. But, those issues are “off-field” and if any team is playing with a little extra motivation this fall, it’s the Nittany Lions. There are question marks all over Happy Valley in the school’s first season without Joe Paterno since the Cold War began. Bill O’Brien may have some of the answers.
Penn State will play defense better than 97 percent of the programs in college football, that’s a given. On offense, expect heavy doses of RB Silas Redd, who could be the most underrated rusher in the country. The two-head QB of Matt McGloin and junior Rob Bolden remains, but don’t expect O’Brien to leave these two dangling like Paterno did last season. McGloin stood out at the end of last year and is expected to earn top billing.
Pac-12 – Stanford Cardinal (+2,000)
According to oddsmakers, 50 percent of the BCS futures bets have been on USC. So, it’s safe to say the Pac-12 market is leaning the same way. That’s great for bettors looking for a long shot on the West Coast, and no program is providing more value than Stanford, which has long been a thorn in USC’s side. Andrew Luck is gone, but the standout QB just threw the ball – he didn’t run, catch, kick or stop it.
The Cardinal were the second-best defense in the Pac-12 last season and bring back a good chunk of that stop unit. Linebacker Shayne Skov will play a big part in the defense’s success, though whether he'll be ready for the start of the schedule is unknown. He missed the spring session while recovering from a knee injury and could be on the hook for a DUI. Stanford also boasts an excellent running game, which has to prove its numbers weren’t simply pure Luck.
SEC – South Carolina Gamecocks (+1,000)
For the first time in a long time, the BCS favorite isn’t coming out of the SEC. Alabama and LSU are among the notables, but the end-all, be-all of college football conferences seems to have lost a bit of its shine this season. Could that leave the door open for a long-shot SEC champion? Arkansas and Auburn could be worth a flyer, but South Carolina looks like it’s in place for a big year.
The Gamecocks are coming off their best season and return All-American RB Marcus Lattimore, who is expected to be ready to roll in the fall. Steve Spurrier has his QB in Connor Shaw, and a freshman star in WR Shaq Roland. New defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward inherits a young but promising defense that will get its feet wet with a softer slate to open the year before taking on some SEC beasts in October.
Odds courtesy of SportsInteraction.com.