Languishing Longshots: Can USC End The Never-Ending Chalk Parade in NCAAF Futures?

With new coach and transfers, Trojans have moved from 100/1 to a money and ticket leader
Lincoln Riley
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As quaint as it was to see Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff last season, the collegiate game does not lend itself to surprises in the hunt for the national title. If you want Cinderella stories, wait until March.

Run down the list of college football national champions this century and it’s same old, same old — every year. When your outliers are storied programs like Georgia, Florida State, the University of Southern California, and Texas, it paints a pretty clear picture.

With that in mind, that begs the question: How should sports bettors pursue college football futures markets?

“That’s the main problem with college football — the lack of parity,” said Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of SuperBook Sports. “As bookmakers, it’s not too bad. We can take anything on anybody outside the top 10 and not worry too much about it.”

At the SuperBook (and most mobile sportsbooks), Alabama (+160), Georgia (+275), and Ohio State (+500) are the top three choices to win the national title. Clemson checks in fourth at 10/1, then it jumps to 25/1 for Texas A&M and USC, the only reasonable “longshots” with an outside chance.

USC is the heavy bet of the season

When coach Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for Southern Cal, it was a seismic, unprecedented shift in the college football landscape. With current transfer portal rules, which allow players to switch schools with relative ease, he also brought Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams with him, among other high-profile transfers who will play at the L.A. Coliseum next school year.

That moved the Trojans from around 100/1 at most books to 25/1 at the SuperBook, as well as FanDuel and Caesars, while DraftKings provides a little better value (30/1) and BetMGM a little less (20/1).

And money has continued to come in. At FanDuel, 20% of all futures handle for the national championship is on USC, and 17% of futures tickets are on the Trojans. USC is also the ticket and handle leader at the SuperBook.

“We have more than double the bets on USC to win the championship as Alabama,” said John Sheeran, FanDuel’s sportsbook director.

That’s all well and good, but are the Trojans a good bet? It’s hard to make a convincing case.

Riley had his chances at Oklahoma, with three straight College Football Playoff appearances in 2017-2019, but he never advanced to the title game and took over a program in Los Angeles that has been in a malaise against Pac-12 competition, which has been down for some time. The last time such a seismic event in the coaching ranks occurred was when Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007. The Crimson Tide went 7-6 in his first year, 12-2 in his second, and won a national title in his third — and six more after that. But that was a previous era, when players could not transfer as freely.

Even with the influx of talent from the transfer portal, could Riley pull off a Trojan turnaround in a year? If he does, plenty of people will be getting paid.

Silly futures wagers

Even though longshots almost never come in for the national title future market, that doesn’t eliminate some sports bettors from wagering on hopeless teams, and sportsbooks are glad to take the donations. Kornegay calls these tickets “stocking stuffers.”

Who in their right mind would wager on Kansas to win the national championship? Someone has $10 on the Jayhawks at the SuperBook for a hefty 10,000/1. There’s also $5 on UTEP and three wagers on Texas State, both at 20,000/1. Texas State hasn’t had a winning season since 2014 and has averaged 2.7 victories per year since.

At FanDuel, Sheeran says USC is likely the greatest liability, but Utah State (10,000/1) and Pittsburgh (300/1) are not far behind. Pitt, interestingly enough, gained USC’s former quarterback, Kedon Slovis, via the transfer portal.

“I suspect the Pitt money is local in Pennsylvania,” Sheeran said.

SuperBook’s liability is fairly spread around, but the leaders are Louisiana State, Penn State, and Ole Miss, all at 100/1. Not much of a sweat, based on the state of those teams, which isn’t bad, but not close to the level of concern.

But for Kornegay, another sticks out.

“I have two $100 wagers on Colorado at 5,000/1. That’s a seven-figure liability,” said Kornegay, a Colorado State alum and fan. “Like I need more reason to root against them.”

Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY

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