Best early 2014 title bets

Florida State (3-1) not a smart play; Stanford (30-1), others offer value

Updated: February 17, 2014, 1:41 PM ET
By Will Harris | ESPN Insider

Jameis WinstonStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesWith 3-1 odds at some shops, the Seminoles are not a great value play for the national title.

Early college football national title futures have been posted at many shops, and like last year, we begin our examination of the opening prices by cautioning against investment in the favorite.

After snapping the SEC's seven-year streak of winning the sport's ultimate prize, the Florida State Seminoles find themselves in the pole position in this year's betting order.

The price on a repeat stands between 3-1 and 4-1, and we wouldn't be interested in those odds if the proposition were that Florida State ever wins another national title under the current regime, let alone in 2014. The ACC is considerably behind its four fellow power conferences, and the 2013 Seminoles enjoyed the softest schedule of any eventual national champion since the 1984 BYU Cougars.

Last year's squad also benefited from championship intangibles, as the Noles sported the best unity of any team Jimbo Fisher has seen in his 30-year career in the sport. Don't let that special 2013 squad and its 11-3 ATS record fool you; Fisher's program has been just as consistent in failing to get all the elite talent in Tallahassee to play to its potential as it has been in getting that talent on campus in the first place. Barring bowls and in-state rivalries, Florida State has been an underdog or single-digit favorite 11 times under Fisher. The Seminoles have won only four of those games and covered just two of them. This regime's record of meeting expectations away from Doak Campbell Stadium -- and against winning teams -- has been nearly as bad.

Expansion from a two-team playoff to a four-team playoff is a killer for teams without elite coaching staffs and teams that have struggled against their peers. Florida State will continue to rack up ACC wins, but we wouldn't back the Seminoles to repeat as national champs at 10 times the going rate.

Here are the best 2014 college football national title bets right now, broken down by odds.

Note: Odds are a compilation of best available odds at offshore and Vegas sportsbooks.


The rest of the favorites

Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1)
Oregon Ducks (8-1)
Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1)
Oklahoma Sooners (12-1)

Last year, we consistently cautioned that Alabama was not the nation's No. 1 team, pointing to complacency and a lack of championship intangibles early in the offseason as well as issues in the defensive backfield and along the offensive line. The 2014 Crimson Tide figure to be better, despite the loss of perhaps the best quarterback in school history and a secondary that's still a liability.

Oregon still has supporters at the betting window, but the Ducks are no longer a contender. This coaching staff is unlikely ever to win even a division crown, and our bet is that this team ends the season unranked. The Pac-12 North is still the stronger division, but Stanford and Washington will be the league's top powers for the next few years and the biggest challenge from the Pac-12 South may eventually come from Arizona. The whole league is improving rapidly, and Oregon won't be regaining its dominant status any time soon.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer's Buckeyes will need to replace some key players on both sides of the ball in 2014.

The debate over which leagues are superior to other ones is constant, and the short-term answers change from year to year. The long-term answer to the question of which conference is the next strongest after the SEC is an easy one: the Big Ten. The oldest Division I athletic conference will land another national title soon, and it will probably be the Buckeyes who claim it. We're not ready to endorse Urban Meyer's bunch this year, though, as the personnel on the defensive side of the ball is not yet at a championship level and an offensive line that was the heart and soul of last year's team has been gutted by graduation.


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