Conference Title Futures

Northwestern-Purdue, UCF-UConn and Virginia Tech-Florida State fall into the category of playing a conference game in their first action of the season, which ramps up the stakes for coaches to have their teams prepared to avoid the double whammy of falling behind immediately.

To get in the spirit of those other Week 1 league games, here's a look at conference championship futures.

The Westgate SuperBook has odds up to select the championship game winner in all 10 leagues, so if you’re looking to get in early, here’s who I like to emerge with conference titles.

Other top options: Houston (5/2), Memphis (3/1), South Florida (7/1), Navy (8/1)

Analysis: UCF isn’t likely to finish undefeated again, but it’s not impossible. If they hit the ground running, there’s a good chance to they’ll be favored in every game this season until their Nov. 23 rivalry game against South Florida down in Tampa. With QB McKenzie Milton powering new head coach Josh Heupel’s high-octane offense, the Knights are going to be formidable and are a deserving favorite. Houston is UCF’s most likely opponent as the West Division favorite, so since the championship game is hosted by the team with the top conference record, the Cougs having the tougher schedule hurts their chances. Although DT Ed Oliver is perhaps the best player in the country, I wouldn’t back UH here. Ride the Knights or take a shot at the that hosts both division favorites, Memphis. The Tigers are well-coached but looking for a quarterback to follow in the prolific footsteps of Riley Ferguson and Paxton Lynch.

Other top options: Miami, FL (3/1), Florida State (6/1), Virginia Tech (12/1)

Analysis: Give Dabo Swinney a ton of credit. Despite being surrounded by programs that pull out all the stops for football to dispel the notion that this is still a basketball conference, the Tigers have attained juggernaut status. Kelly Bryant effectively replaced Deshaun Watson and will now have some healthy competition to push him with highly touted freshman Trevor Lawrence on board. The defensive line figures to be the best in the country, so look for Brett Venables to continue getting results. If you insist on fading favored Clemson, go crazy and take a shot with Virginia Tech. The Hokies must replace talent on defense but have exceptional coordinator Bud Foster to lean on in addition to talented QB Josh Jackson, who is likely to make significant in Year 2 under head coach Justin Fuente.

Big Ten
Other top options: Wisconsin (5/2), Michigan (3/1), Penn State (5/1), Michigan State (10/1)

Analysis: Urban Meyer’s future at Ohio State hasn’t kept the Buckeyes from being favored to win the league since their defense will be fierce and RB J.K. Dobbins will be a force. There are question marks since the Meyer situation and a potential QB carousel loom as potential season-long distractions, so taking a shot at making some money is advisable here. Wisconsin is loaded up front and returns top RB Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 1,977 yards last season, while Penn State brings back the league’s top passer in Trace McSorley. The Nittany Lions lose Saquon Barkley, but do have both Ohio State and Wisconsin coming into Happy Valley this Fall. If you're looking for a lottery ticket, taking a shot with Scott Frost getting immediate results out of the 'Huskers is as solid a Hail Mary as there is in any league. If Nebraska gets solid play at QB, it can surprise.

Big 12
Other top options: Texas (5/2), TCU (5/1), West Virginia (5/1), Oklahoma State (8/1)

Analysis: Oklahoma is the heavy favorite despite losing NFL No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, but there is plenty back to merit the nod, starting with running back Rodney Anderson. QB Kyler Murray has a chance to follow in Mayfield’s Heisman footsteps since he’s got playmakers Marquis Brown and CeeDee Lamb to throw to. If there’s a team capable of taking down the Sooners, West Virginia is the likeliest candidate. Oklahoma has to visit Morgantown on Nov. 23 and may have to deal with snow, potentially slowing them down. A loss still wouldn’t necessarily dismiss OU’s chances to win the title on Dec. 1 at AT&T Stadium, where the Sooners handled TCU easily in ’17.

Conference USA
Other top options: Marshall (4/1), Middle Tennessee (6/1), North Texas (6/1), UAB (8/1), Louisiana Tech (10/1)

Analysis: Lane Kiffin runs this league. In his first season, he won every single conference clash and dominated the Championship game 41-17 against one of the better North Texas teams in school history. This season should see the Owls again run the table in C-USA play. They’ll have a chance to make national noise in September since they play at Oklahoma and UCF in high-profile games. Back Florida Atlantic to win this league. If you’re interested in hedging or insist on not backing ‘chalk’ here, Middle Tennessee could be interesting since it welcomes FAU into Murfreesboro the week after the duel in Orlando. Perhaps Kiffin’s team runs out of gas wrapping up a taxing month.

Other top options: Ohio U. (7/2), Toledo (7/2), Miami, OH (6/1), Buffalo (7/1), Western Michigan (8/1), Eastern Michigan (15/1)

Analysis: Life after Nebraska has treated Frank Solich well since he’s had great success at Ohio University. The Bobcats aren’t the favorite here due to Northern Illinois but should return to the conference championship game by holding off Buffalo and reigning East champ Akron. NIU has reigning champ Toledo, improving Eastern Michigan and always dangerous Western Michigan to worry about out West, so Ohio will have the easier road behind Canadian QB Nathan Rourke and impressive RB A.J. Ouellette.

Mountain West
Other top options: San Diego State (7/2), Fresno State (5/1), Utah State (8/1), Wyoming (15/1)

Analysis: This league lost a lot of talent with Wyoming’s Allen (Bills), San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny, who went 27th to the Seahawks after 2,248 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, and Colorado State WR Michael Gallup (Cowboys) moving on to the pros. That should make it even easier for Boise State and Fresno State to again reach the Mountain West Championship game. The Broncos have great talent back on both sides of the ball but I’d ride the Bulldogs to pull off an upset given their current odds since top WR KeeSean Johnson is capable of teaming with QB Marcus Maryion to steal any game over the course of four quarters.

Other top options: Stanford (9/2), USC (9/2), Oregon (8/1), Arizona (12/1), Utah (15/1)

Analysis: With Chip Kelly, Kevin Sumlin, Herm Edwards and Mario Cristobal on board, this conference has a lot of new blood to get excited about. We’re at least a year away from those guys having a significant impact in leading their schools to a championship game appearance at Levi’s Stadium. For the third time in four years, look for USC and Stanford to meet for the title. That means we’re fading favored Washington, which hosts the Cardinal on Nov. 3 but should struggle to contain Bryce Love as he looks to follow up finishing second for the Heisman with another huge season. I’m backing Stanford to get it done in its backyard after falling 31-28 last December.

Other top options: Georgia (9/4), Auburn (7/1), Mississippi State (12/1), Florida (20/1)

Analysis: Alabama lost starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s championship team but have its top two quarterbacks in the mix. We’ll see if everyone can co-exist nicely or whether things go wrong in Tuscaloosa, but I’d stay far away from the 5-to-9 odds currently available. The Crimson Tide have to replace coordinators on both sides of the ball, so while Nick Saban owns a 41-3 record and three title game appearances in as many seasons, this as vulnerable as this group has been. Hosting the Iron Bowl against Auburn should give them the edge in the West Division, but with likely East champ Georgia likely to win the East, the ‘Dawgs appear to be the better option here. Although two talented RBs and eight defensive starters are gone, there’s a ton of talent back for Kirby Smart, including polished QB Jake Fromm back with a year’s experience under his belt. Versatile playmaker D’Andre Swift is electric.

Sun Belt
Other top options: Troy (9/5), Appalachian State (5/2), Georgia Southern (12/1), UL-Monroe (12/1)

Analysis: The quirkiest conference in all the land, the Fun Belt, has a clear favorite in Arkansas State and another clear option in Troy. The Red Wolves are led by QB Justice Hansen, whose 37 TD throws and nearly 4,000 yards passing have expectations through the roof. The Trojans went 11-2 last season and won their last seven contests, but must replace a four-year starter at QB in Brandon Silvers. While Neal Brown has a fairly full cupboard, my recommendation is to ride Appalachian State, which returns a stout defense in addition to the conference ‘s top offensive player, RB Jalin Moore. The Mountaineers will likely control their destiny in the regular season’s final two games, hosting Georgia State and Troy.

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