College Football Odds Outlook: It’s Tough Cracking The Top 5

Written By Russ Mitchell on April 9, 2021
college football futures 2021

Make no mistake, sports betting operators are watching every balky knee or transfer portal ripple as they set the college football odds this fall.

College football analysts expect the Cyclones and Hawkeyes to land in the preseason top 25. Still, sportsbooks tend to keep a much shorter list of true contenders for college football’s national championship.

Johnny Avello, the DraftKings director of race and sports operations, explained:

“You’ve usually got your mainstays. I can take these teams, throw them in there every single year, and they’re going to be in top five: That’s Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. It’s just been that way. Added to the mix, Georgia usually is in there as well as Oklahoma. LSU was in the conversation, but they’re not as steady of a team as those others I just mentioned.”

Avello’s colleagues at other sportsbooks agree. The five teams he mentioned have by far the shortest odds, according to a PlayIA survey of college football futures.

We checked in with DraftKings, William Hill, FanDuel, BetMGM and Betfred to establish moneyline averages, highs and lows.

Here are the payouts for the favorites, based on a $100 bet. The futures will change over the course of the summer, but this serves as an early April snapshot:

TeamFutures Market AverageLongest Odds PostedShortest Odds Posted
1. Alabama+270+300+200
2. Clemson+380+400+350
3. Ohio State+540+700+400
4. Georgia+730+1000+450
5. Oklahoma+780+800+700

Sportsbooks go with what they know

Sportsbooks look at a series of factors when setting national championship odds, according to Avello:

“What you need to look at when you’re doing college futures is: Who do they have coming back and who did they recruit? Now, we all know that Alabama and Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, they’re tremendous recruiters. A lot of players want to go there first.

“With that being said, there are teams out there that can have really successful years. You can probably get some teams with some pretty good odds — and we keep everybody high. If they get by those initial five or so, everybody’s usually high. That’s where Iowa State stands this year. They’re actually in that second tier of teams and known as a team you can get 35-to-1 odds or so.”

College football odds place Cyclones among next contenders

Iowa State returns 10 starters on offense and nine starters on defense. Overall, the Cyclones bring back 27 players who have a combined 446 career starts and 20 players who have earned some sort of All-Big 12 recognition a total of 34 times.

The Cyclones made an appearance in the Big 12 Championship game and came away with a 34-17 win over No. 25 Oregon in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

The Cyclones finished ninth in the final AP poll and coach Matt Campbell gave reporters a spring football update March 2:

“For the last four years, I think you’ve seen a team that’s been competitive in a program that’s starting to become very consistent with who we are and how we win games. And really what we want to try to do in terms of becoming the best version of us. I do think there’s certainly been consistency within our walls and certainly consistency within the type of program that we want to become.”

Sportsbooks like Iowa State’s returning roster, but they face longer college futures odds because Oklahoma is considered the lead contender in the Big 12. The Cyclones have to go to Norman on Saturday, Nov. 20. If any of college football’s “mainstays” falters, these teams are next in line, according to the five-sportsbook PlayIA survey:

TeamFutures Market AverageLongest Odds PostedShortest Odds Posted
6. Iowa State+2720+4000+1800
7. Texas A&M+3060+5000+2000
8. Florida+3460+4000+2500
9. USC+3660+5000+3000
10. Texas+3820+5000+2800
11. Notre Dame+3900+6000+2500
12. LSU+4000+6000+2500
13. Oregon+4400+5000+4000
14. North Carolina+4700+6000+3500
15. Miami (Florida)+5000+6000+4000

Some teams need turmoil to beat college football odds

Iowa should come in around the mid-to-low teens when the initial college football polls are released this fall.

Sportsbooks are a little more skeptical, however. In fact, some teams ranked lower than Iowa — or not ranked at all — will have better betting odds than the Hawkeyes, according to Avello and his peers.

The sportsbooks are willing to risk more on Iowa compared to Penn State, Wisconsin, Indiana and even Michigan, for example:

TeamFutures Market AverageLongest Odds PostedShortest Odds Posted
16. Penn State+6000+10000+4000
17. Wisconsin+6300+10000+3500
18. Oklahoma State+7020+10000+5000
19. Auburn+7800+10000+5000
20. Indiana+8300+10000+5000
21. Cincinnati+9000+15000+4000
22. Michigan+9600+15000+5000
23. Iowa+9800+15000+6000

Iowa’s steady approach maintains a steady futures profile

The Hawkeyes return 41 lettermen, including six starters on offense, seven on defense and three on special teams. Iowa finished last season with a 6-2 record and the No. 16 spot in the final Associated Poll. They were scheduled to play Missouri in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, but the Tigers pulled out of the game due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program.

Fans get their first extended look at the team during its free open practice on April 17. The university will honor its national champion wrestlers that day as well.

At a March 29 spring football press conference coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters:

“The bottom line is we haven’t accomplished anything yet. We haven’t made a first down, stopped a first down, executed a field goal — you name it, we haven’t done it. … We’ve got plenty of guys that are accomplished college football players right now, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do moving forward this year.”

Spring football matters for college football odds

Avello changes college football futures markets “only as they need to be made,” but DraftKings looks at the odds daily:

“Spring practices — for sure that’s important. … An impact injury to a really good player kind of influences everything in that category for that team, like the conference (futures). If there’s a team we have picked to finish first or second in a conference, and they have a major player hurt, well, obviously, that affects everyone above them and below them, so we need to stay on top of everything. That concerns all teams in college football, and all bets related to those teams.”

These teams likely need a lot of help for bettors to cash in on a national championship run, according to our PlayIA survey of sportsbooks:

TeamFutures Market AverageLongest Odds PostedShortest Odds Posted
24. Arizona State and Washington+10320+15000+6600
26. West Virginia+11320+20000+6600
27. Ole Miss+13000+15000+10000
28. Florida State+14000+25000+10000
29. Tennessee+15000+25000+5000
30. Kentucky+16000+20000+10000
31. Nebraska and UCLA+17000+25000+10000
33. Northwestern+17500+25000+10000
34. Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Stanford+18000+25000+10000
37. Utah+18000+25000+15000
38. Missouri and TCU+19000+25000+15000

What about a “best of the rest?”

The PlayIA survey included remaining teams with better than 500-to-1 odds in all five surveyed sportsbooks. Their moneyline averages are:

  • 40. Kansas State: +21500
  • 41 (tie). Minnesota and Mississippi State: +22000
  • 43. Texas Tech: +24000

Where will Iowa and Iowa State land in the preseason polls?

“Way-too-early” top 25s start popping up moments after the confetti falls at the College Football Playoff national championship venue. This PlayIA survey compiled the top 25 lists from eight established sites to create a composite way-too-early top 25.

We used ESPN, Stadium, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, The Athletic (subscription required), Athlon, FOX Sports and CBS Sports for the numbers.

As we mentioned, poll position doesn’t always translate into the best betting odds, but it does give the state’s fans something to look forward to this fall:

1. Alabama (5)195
2. Clemson (2)186
5. Ohio State (1)171
6. Iowa State153
7. Texas A&M151
8. Cincinnati136
9. North Carolina119
(tie)Notre Dame119
11. Oregon98
12. Iowa96
15. Wisconsin80
17. USC65
18. Texas59
19. Coastal Carolina56
20. Penn State55
21. Miami (Fla.)54
22. Washington45
23. Oklahoma State22
24. Arizona State21
25. Ole Miss18
Photo by Rick Scurteri / AP
Russ Mitchell Avatar
Written by
Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

View all posts by Russ Mitchell