3 Dark Horses to Make the 2018 College Football Playoff
Trying to select the teams to make The College Football Playoff is one of the toughest things to do, Alabama non-withstanding. Because of the number of things that can happen during a season (like Ohio State getting pounded by Iowa), being able to correctly predict the semifinalists is quite the accomplishment.
Entering the age of legal college football betting in the US means that betting on the right dark horse to make the playoffs can net one a lot of money. There’s a few interesting bets one can make going into the 2018 season. Under the assumption all these teams need to win their respective conferences to make the playoff…
Florida State Seminoles
Florida State has the shortest odds of the dark horses, likely because Willie Taggart definitely knows how to run an offense and he’s got his Florida talent. However, for the Seminoles to make the playoffs would likely require the coup and a half that would be upsetting Clemson. The difference between Clemson and the rest of the ACC is what makes FSU a dark horse.
So can FSU make the playoff? Absolutely. These aren’t words you would have heard about Willie Taggart 4 years ago, but Coach T is one of the most flexible coaches in the nation. He came into South Florida as a power running guy and had created a new style of offense by the time he left. Willie T could have implemented his Gulf Coast Offense better at Oregon if he’d had more time, but now he’s in charge of the team that gave him nightmares two years ago.
If he thought he had talent and athleticism during his original time in Florida, that’s nothing compared to now. Deondre Francois and James Blackman could slot into the Willie T offense with ease. Both QBs have wheels and the ability to run is a key in the Gulf Coast. Neither are as pure of runners as Quinton Flowers, the QB who helped innovate Taggart’s Gulf Coast, but they have the ability to make plays on the ground. Beyond that, Cam Akers is an excellent running back, and his effectiveness should increase because defenses can no longer focus on him alone.
The real question for FSU is their defense. They replace 8 starters and their defensive coordinator. For most teams, that would be devastating, but FSU can recruit with the best of them, and Coach Willie T knows how to get players on the bus. It’s not like FSU is coming in devoid of talent, some of the new starters did some work last season. FSU has loads of raw talent, and Taggart knows how to turn raw talent into success in a hurry.
All that said, they’ve got a tough path. First of all, they need to win the ACC. The ‘Noles face a tough task right out of the gate vs Virginia Tech. They’ll also have to overcome Miami, Clemson, and Notre Dame. That’s no easy task, even if Brian Kelly outcoaches himself. Can Willie T outgun every team on the schedule? Don’t rule it out.
FSU is offered at 15/4 on Karamba to make the College Football Playoff.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Anyone who thinks that West Virginia isn’t a contender for the Big 12 title is either lying to themselves or not paying attention. With everyone healthy and Oklahoma having to replace the best players in the nation last year, the window is wide open for WVU to sneak in and claim the title and a playoff spot.
WVU’s offense was ranked 13th in the nation when QB Will Grier went down, which, uh, doesn’t suck. RB Justin Crawford graduated, which means one less weapon for Dana Holgorsen, but the pass-first mindset will minimize that loss. The better news is that the WR corps are almost all back, if unproven past the top 3.
The defense has always been a question, but defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is actually building something. You might not believe that WVU has had a top 50 defense for the past three seasons, but here we are. They have a lot of holes to fill this year, but the continuity of WVU’s defense has been pretty solid.
A pair of transfers on the D line from USC and Clemson will definitely help, as well as a four-star freshman. The secondary by itself should defend pretty well, all things considered. They’ll be playing against some of the highest powered offenses in the nation, so you can’t say they won’t be battle tested as we come down to the business end of the season.
Probably the biggest case for WVU, above anything else, will be the chance to catch Oklahoma on a rebuilding year. The fact that OK’s game vs FAU isn’t an absolute gimme should be telling. Mike Stoops is somehow still the defensive coordinator, despite OK’s defense being a bipolar mess last season. There’s plenty of young talent coming in, but the coordinator still runs the defense.
If you dive into advanced stats, WVU has a gauntlet to run through the whole season (and they’re statistically supposed to lose against NC State, so that’s a thing). They absolutely could pull it off, they have the offense to do it and enough defense to hold down the fort at least.
WVU sits at 9/2 on Karamba to make the College Football Playoff.
The mighty return of Justin Herbert should yield some mighty dividends for the Ducks. New head coach Mario Cristobal is trying to transition to a pro-style offense, which Herbert would also thrive in. His passing ability is one of the best in the nation, and Oregon’s WRs are always incredibly dangerous.
The real question for the Ducks will be the backs. Royce Freeman is gone, but there’s young talent coming in and most of the line is back. Will the Ducks go pass-first this year to let the running game grow? It might be in their best interest. They’ve got plenty of wide-outs to help carry the offense. Throw in the occasional run to keep teams honest and Oregon might have a formula for offensive success.
Defensively, Oregon finally managed to find some consistency. Now they just need to clamp down on the big plays. Defensive efficiency is always priority #1, and the Ducks finally have some. That gives them a chance. Jim Leavitt is an incredible defensive coordinator. Colorado accomplished great things with him in charge of the defense and South Florida knocked off some giants by riding defensive plays way back when.
Oregon might have the best chance out of the three teams on this list to make the playoff, despite having the longest odds. They don’t have to run an extreme gauntlet to win the conference. Washington and Utah are the only games the Ducks aren’t statistically favored to win in, despite also facing Stanford and Arizona. If the offensive transition goes well, Oregon might well be the best team here. Keep Justin Herbert healthy, and this team has appointment viewing potential.
Karamba has Oregon at 11/2 to make the College Football Playoff.
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