Following the introduction of the four-team playoff system in 2014 and the eventual impact it had at the end of the season (as Ohio State, TCU and Baylor fought for the final playoff spot), conference championships carry more weight than ever before. Forecasting into the upcoming College Football betting season, here is a prediction of the winner of each college football conference.
2015 Conference Winner NCAA Football Odds Predictions
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Like in 2014, the American Athletic Conference will be a three-thronged race between Memphis, Cincinnati and UCF, with the duo of Houston and East Carolina also figuring to be in the title talks early in the season, before fading away eventually. But with Cincinnati returning 13 starters, including their solid quarterback Gunner Kiel (who exploded for 3,254 touchdowns with 31 touchdowns in 2014), the Bearcats should be able to handle this soft conference, thanks to the exit of Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse from the ACC in the previous season.
With Jameis Winston now in the NFL, the Seminoles are likely to struggle, considering they don’t have a formidable quarterback to replace Winston and they just have 3 offensive starters returning to the team. Bearing that in mind, the next best team in the conference, which is Clemson, should be able to climb atop the ACC. The Tigers, under the stellar coaching of Dabo Swinney, have been a strong unit, winning 10 or more games in each of the last four seasons, and then going ahead to beat LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma in bowl games. In addition, Clemson returns with a good number of starters, including quarterback Deshaun Watson and two of ACC’s best receivers in Artavis Scott and Mike Williams. With such factors considered, the Tigers should be able to topple FSU, while also edging off the likes of Georgia Tech and Notre Dame to claim the conference title.
Big Ten: Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes rolled through the Big 10 in 2014 and, with not many changes in the team, they should be able to do the same in 2015. Of course, the Bucks lost a couple of players to the NFL, but Urban Meyer is the best coach in college football, so he should be able to use his new recruits and previous reserves to make good value in the starting lineup. Added to the fact that the Bucks are spoilt for choice with three solid quarterbacks in J.T Barrett, Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones, the Big 10 title should be easily won by the deeply talented Buckeyes, even if Michigan State and Wisconsin promise not to be pushovers.
Big 12: TCU
Coming off a 12-1 season with the lone loss against Baylor (where the Frogs could have won the game hadn’t they blown a lead late in the game), TCU figures to be in for another strong year. This should particularly be possible as the Frogs return 16 starters, led by strong Heisman Trophy contender Trevone Boykin (who finished the 2014 season with a whopping 4,661 total yards and 42 total touchdowns). Going by their 2015 schedule, the pair of games against the two Oklahoma teams looks challenging, but should be winnable for the up-surging Frogs. The biggest threat to TCU will probably be the regular-season finale against Baylor. Nonetheless, with the game set to take place in the Frogs’ backyard, the edge should go to Gary Patterson’s, helping them claim the Big 12 title.
C-USA: Western Kentucky
Losing quarterback Rakeem Cato and leading receiver Tommy Shuler will certainly hurt the Marshall Thundering Herd, who finished 13-1 in 2014. This will probably give Western Kentucky a chance to rise higher in Conference USA, as the Hilltoppers return with 16 healthy starters, including standout fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty (who led the country with 4,830 passing yards and 49 TDs in 2014) and senior tailback Leon Allen (1,542 yards and 13 TDs in 2014). Therefore, even though the Herd are not going to be easily ejected from the helm of the conference, the increasing competitiveness of teams like Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Rice and UTEP should shake up C-USA and give Western Kentucky (the lone team to beat Marshall last year) a chance to claim the conference title.
MAC: Northern Illinois
Over the recent seasons, the Huskies have owned this conference, and from the look of things, they will continue with their dominance in the Mid-American Conference. In the last 4 seasons, the Huskies have won 3 conference titles, including last year’s 11-7 (7-1 MAC) title-winning run. Paced by returning starter QB Drew Hare (who threw for 2,322 yards and 18 TDs, plus 900 rushing yards and 8 scores), Northern Illinois should thus be good for another conference title in the upcoming season.
MWC: Boise State
Returns 16 starters from their successful 12-2 season that culminated in winning the Fiesta Bowl, the Broncos are distinctively looking to be in a class of their own. Utah State, Air Force and Colorado State have enough potential to make some noise in the Mountain West Conference, but in overall, none of the MWC teams poses a significant threat to Boise State, so Bryan Harsin’s boys should once again impress and go as far as winning another MWC title.
The exit of Marcus Mariota from Oregon has left a gaping space in the team’s quarterback department. Even so, word out is that the Ducks have an abled replacement in Vernon Adam (a transfer from EWU who threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 35 TDs in his final season with them), while Mariota’s understudy, Jeff Lockie is also an option. Oregon aside, Stanford has also made some decent additions to the team, hence should be able to give Oregon a tough time in the North. In the Pac-12 South division, the battle will come down to UCLA and USC. With four 5-star newbies (good for second in the nation behind Alabama), and an already strong group of returning starters, Southern Cal should get the better of UCLA.
Potentially, the fate of Steve Sarkisian’s USC is thus likely to be decided by the USC-Oregon contest in the new season. And going by such the potential in the two teams, I’d easily go with the Southern Cal to claim the victory in the conference. My main reason for that choice is that, besides the to-rated recruits, the Trojans are returning with 15 starters, who are led by senior quarterback Cody Kessler. In 2014, Kessler threw for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns against just five interceptions. The proven quarterback advantage is thus likely to give the Trojans a better chance throughout the season as well as in the Pac-12 game, leading to a win for USC.
According to NFL pundit Phil Steele, the fight for the SEC West and the conference (at large) is likely to boil down to the clash between Alabama and Auburn on November 28. Of course, perennial SEC title contenders like Missouri, Georgia and the two Mississippi teams will also be worth watching in the race for the conference title. But as far my money is concerned; I believe that Nick Saban’s stellar coaching skills, combined with No.1 recruiting class by the Tide in 2015, will prove worthy enough for Alabama to eke out another close title-winning campaign.
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette
With Georgia Southern returning 15 starters (led by a serviceable dual-threat quarterback in Kevin Ellison and a solid tailback in Matt Breida), 2015 figures to be another strong year for the Eagles, who will be playing just their second season as an FBS team. Nonetheless, Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth has been a consistent performer, winning four straight New Orleans Bowl titles, while also finishing just a game below Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt standings last year after the Ragin Cajuns clinched the division in 2013.
The depth of talent at the quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker positions also offer a formidable platform for the Cajuns, who’ve finished with four straight 9-4 records, to once again impress in 2015. So whereas Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will be tough to deal with, I believe Louisiana-Lafayette will do enough to come out of 2015 with the Sun Belt Championship.