The new playoff format for college football is surely going to change things in a way that most sports fans haven’t seen in years. Instead of needing to go undefeated, teams will now have a chance to work their way through a four-team playoff if they have a strong enough regular season. So while teams like Florida State, Alabama, and Oregon all of the best odds (5/1, 13/2, 15/2, respectively) to win the 2015 National Title, there is also some room for teams to make a surprising run and align themselves in a position to make a late season push. Last season it was Auburn, a team that had a dismal 2012 season before turning it around in 2013 and playing Florida State for the National Championship. So while many bettors may be putting their money on teams that are starting their season nationally ranked in the AP Top 25, here is a look a few sleepers that you may want to keep an eye out for.
The Florida Gators had an uncharacteristic season in 2013. They finished the season just 4-8, including a 3-5 record in SEC play. But when you look at how Auburn turned things around in the SEC last year, that’s a sign that the Gators shouldn’t be counted out this upcoming season. Along with Jeff Driskel, who will be returning for his third full season under center, the Gators also have had one of the most consistent recruiting classes in college football over the last five years. In addition, they recently brought in former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to bolster Will Muschamp’s defensive prowess. The Gators are still in the SEC and that’s going to be their biggest challenge. But if they can stay healthy and win some early games, they could gain the momentum they need to have a huge turnaround from last year. Despite not being ranked in the preseason AP Top 25, the Gators have 40/1 odds to win the National Championship in 2015.
While a team like Florida had a surprisingly bad season in 2013, the Duke Blue Devils went the other way and had one of their best seasons in school history. Led by David Cutliffe’s high-powered offense, quarterback Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder, and running back Josh Snead contributed to an offense that was third in yards and fourth in touchdowns in the ACC. Duke finished 2014 with a 10-6 record and start this season at 1000/1 odds. However, the good news is that they won’t have to play ACC powerhouses like Florida State or Clemson, which could make for a an even better year then they had last season. Be sure to check back with sportspicks.com for insider information into ACC play once the season kicks off later this month.
Mississippi State had a 7-6 record last year, however they were just 3-5 in the SEC and finished only ahead of Arkansas in the Western Division. This year they bring back one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference, as Dak Prescott passed for 1,940 yards and ran for 829 more during his junior campaign. Along with Prescott, the Bulldogs are bringing back eight other starters from last season. Currently sitting at 120/1 odds, the most difficult challenges for the Bulldogs will be when they match up against other SEC foes like Alabama and Auburn. However, with LSU and Texas A&M both rebuilding from previous years, this could be an excellent opportunity for the Bulldogs to sneak into the playoffs.
While it’s expected that the four spots for the playoffs will go to teams from the five major power conferences, a team like the Marshall Thundering Herd could cause for some reasonable debates come next season (isn’t that what this entire system was supposed to alleviate?). Marshall had a 10-4 record in 2013, including going 7-1 in their own conference. This was due in no small part to Rakeem Cato, who many say is one of the best players in the nation. Cato racked up 76 touchdowns over the last two seasons, including 16 to returning receiver Tommy Shuler. The Thundering Herd didn’t make it into the preseason Top 25, but they did receive 27 votes, which shows the confidence that some people have in them this upcoming season. They were also snubbed and find their way into the “field” category for odds. If anyone out there thinks that a team like Marshall is going to have an incredibly surprising season, the “field” currently sits at 100/1 odds and it includes all of the teams that currently aren’t listed.