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2017 Big 12 Predictions

2017 Big 12 Conference Preview - Betting Predictions
By Mike M, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

With the start of college football season just around the corner, below is a breakdown of the Big 12 Conference with projected standings, odds and picks for each team.

1st. Oklahoma Sooners
Preseason ranking: 6
Odds to win Big 12: -120
Odds to win National Championship: +1400
Over/Under regular season wins: 9.5

Things will begin out of the norm in Norman this season after Bob Stoops shocked Sooner Nation by announcing his completely unexpected retirement in early June after 18 seasons as the team’s sideline leader where he helped guide them to ten Big 12 titles and a National Championship in 2000.  While this is no doubt a huge loss for Oklahoma, the program must move on and with Stoops now gone, the reigns have been passed over to Lincoln Riley, who served as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks’ coach for the past two seasons.

While there is uncertainty at the coaching position, the offense looks to be in fine shape with nine starters back to a squad that ranked third nationally in scoring and second in total offense.  They return three members of the 2016 All Big 12 First Team from last season with star quarterback Baker Mayfield and junior tight end Mark Andrews back along with all five starters from the conference’s top rated offensive line featuring Big12 O-Lineman of the Year left tackle Orlando Brown, all of which should go a long way in helping to the trio of talented departees with Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and conference offensive player of the year Dede Westbrook having since moved on to the NFL.

Oklahoma’s defense struggled against the pass last season, ranking just 111th in the nation in yards allowed per game through the air.  They are set up well to greatly improve on that number in 2017 with 2016 All Big 12 1st Team safety Jordan Thomas leading the way after finishing the year first in the conference and sixth in the nation in passes defended with 17 on the season.  Thomas is far from alone on a talented Oklahoma D with a strong linebacking core consisting of Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Emmanuel Beal and Caleb Kelly patrolling the middle, sophomore Neville Gallimore up front and the Parker brothers Jordan and Steven covering the backfield.

The loss of Stoops is by no means a positive, but it’s been much discussed that Riley was being groomed for this job over the last couple of years, knows the program well and returns a roster plenty full of talent on both sides of the ball.  The Sooners have been incredible on the road the last five years, posting a 22-2 record, and that success will be tested this season with an early season non-conference matchup at 2nd rated Ohio State, a November trip to Stillwater to take on rival Oklahoma State along with games at Baylor, Kansas State and their yearly trip to Dallas to take on the Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry.  Even with the tough travel itinerary and Stoops surprise exodus to start the summer, they are still in great position to land one of the four coveted BCS playoff spots.

My Bet: Oklahoma has ended the year with double-digit wins in 14 of the last 17 seasons. Yes, Stoops had a lot to do with it, but with the players they have returning and the consistent dominance they have shown over the years, I would rather go with the over of 9.5 wins than the under, even with the little margin of error due to the Ohio State/at Ok State matchups lingering on the schedule. You can bet this offering at Bovada Sportsbook.

2. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Preseason ranking: 10
Odds to win Big 12: +300
Odds to win National Championship: +5000
Over/Under regular season wins: 9

In head coach Mike Gundy’s twelve year tenure as Cowboys head coach, the team has put up a record of 104-50, have had a winning record for eleven straight seasons and over the past seven have finished with double-digit wins five times.  2017 looks to be one of his best team’s yet and after finishing last season by going 8-1 in their last nine games including a 38-8 drubbing of Colorado as an underdog in the Alamo Bowl, expectations are sky high in Stillwater.

The high octane offense of the Cowboys returns nearly all of their key players and could possibly even improve on last years rankings when they finished 9th in passing, 17th in scoring and 14th in yards per game.  Heisman Hopeful, QB Mason Randolph is back for his senior season and will likely pass Brandon Weeden as the team’s all time leading passer.  Much like Weeden had Justin Blackmon as a top notch threat at receiver, Randolph has fellow senior James Washington back after catching 71 passes for 1,380 yards and ten touchdowns while posting an average of 19.4 yards per catch, though both will need to do everything they can not to end up like Weeden and Blackmon once they go pro and inevitably get selected in the first round as well, with the latter not having played in the NFL since 2013 and Weeden ending up as a bust after getting picked 22nd by Cleveland (apparently not having learned their lesson the Browns picked Johnny Manziel with the same 22nd pick two years later).   Rudolph also gets back a dynamic number two receiver in junior Jalen McCleskey and will be joined behind the line by running back Justice, who ran for 1,142 yards last year to earn Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors. Despite being in just his second season of play, Justice is already one of the conference's elite backs.

The defense isn’t as fortunate with just five returning starters. They will have big shoes to fill with two 2016 All Big-12 First Team performers having since moved on to the NFL (defensive lineman Vincent Taylor and safety Jordan Stearns).  All five of those starters back will be integral in balancing out the newcomers around them, with junior ends Cole Waltersched and Jarrell Ownes up front, returning leader in tackles at linebacker Chad Whitener in the middle and senior safeties Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards in charge of the defensive backfield.

Gundy and the Cowboys rarely struggled against non-conference opponents, having gone 24-5 in their last 29 games against them, and should continue that success with a 3-0 record before entering Big 12 play.  They get five conference games at Boone Pickens Stadium. Their chances of making serious noise in the Big 12 (and the nation) will come down to how they handle a three game stretch starting with games at Texas and West Virginia before facing the rival Sooners at home on November 4th, a team they have gone just 2-12 against over the past fourteen years.

Cowboy Up: That schedule which includes eight teams that finished 2016 with a winning record is certainly not easy, but with the returning talent the Cowboys have, they should be able to surpass the nine win barrier.  For those really looking to roll the dice with a value bet pick, you might want to think about taking Ok. State to win the national championship, considering they are a top ten team getting 50-1 odds and have a much better chance than previous years to be in that position since the Big 12 finally added a conference championship game after having gotten shutout of the BCS playoffs since its inception in 2014.

3. Texas Longhorns
Preseason ranking: 20
Odds to win Big 12: +500
Odds to win National Championship: +3300
Over/Under regular season wins: 7.5

After not making a bowl game for the second straight season and lowlighted by an overtime loss to Kansas as a 23-point favorite late in the year, Charlie Strong was fired as the head coach of the Longhorns at the end of 2016 and was in turn replaced by former Houston coach Tom Herman.  Texas has uncharacteristically struggled in recent years, having only been ranked for three weeks over the past three seasons. They've missed out on the postseason in three of the last seven years and for the first time since 1939/1940, only had one player picked in each of the past two drafts.

All is certainly not lost in Austin as Herman inherits a talented team on both sides of the ball. The offense will be led by emerging sophomore Shane Beuchele at quarterback and will feature RB Chris Warren III, who is back after getting injured in the fourth game of last season. Warren hopes to continue where he left off behind a stellar offensive line that returns four of five starters and is highlighted by 1st Team All-American left tackle Connor Williams.

Defensively, the Longhorns are in even better shape as ten of eleven starters return from a squad aching to improve on last year’s porousness that resulted in finishing 90th in scoring, 105th against the pass and 94th in yards allowed per game.  Talented players are abound, with linebackers Malik Jefferson and Breckyn Hager in the middle, ends Poona Ford, Chris Nelson and Malcolm Roach up front and Jason Hall and PJ Locke amongst the best of the defensive backs.

Breaking in a new coaching staff is never easy, but with enough playmakers on both sides of the ball, it should be a quick learning curve for Tom Herman and his new coordinators.  The schedule features only five true road games in addition to their yearly trip to Dallas to take on Oklahoma, though one is a top draw against the highly rated USC Trojans at the Rose Bowl in mid-September. How they handle that month-long stretch that also includes Oklahoma State will decide just how far they can rise in 2017.

Hook‘Em Over – Despite having odds of 5-1 to win the conference, the Longhorns over/under for wins is just 7.5, and while the early season trip to California is tough, they don’t have to travel out of Texas to play either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State and only leave the state to play three times all year.  If you're looking to bet the Longhorns, go with them to hit the over in wins.

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4. TCU Horned Frogs
Preseason ranking: 22
Odds to win Big 12: +1200
Odds to win National Championship: +10000
Over/Under regular season wins: 7.5

Last season began with promise for TCU, as they entered it ranked No. 13 in the polls, but after a strong start the Horned Frogs struggled to find consistency and ended up going 2-5 through their final seven games to end the year with a 6-7 record.  They were surprisingly bad at home, putting up a 2-5 record at Amon G. Carter Stadium after having gone 74-13 in Forth Worth over the previous 14 years.

The Horned Frogs are loaded with experience offensively, with ten returning starters, eight of which are seniors including four of those back on the offensive line.  This will be key for TCU as they feature one of the conference’s best rushing attacks that is headlined by ball carrier Kyle Hicks, who is back for his final season after putting up 1,459 yards of total offense and 14 touchdowns in 2016. The team will need quarterback Kenny Hill to be a bit more accurate after throwing for a Big 12 leading thirteen interceptions in 2016, an unfortunate statistic that led to them finishing 90th in the country in turnover ratio.

Defensively they have seven starters back from a year ago, and despite losing two linebackers to the NFL Draft, TCU looks to be in strong shape heading into this season.  They return the top two players in tackles in the conference last season in linebackers Travin Howard and Ty Summers, and also all four starters to a defensive backfield headlined by safeties Nick Orr and Niko Small.

After going 23-3 in their previous two seasons, 2016 was a disappointing downfall for head coach Gary Patterson. With that memory still fresh in their minds and all the talent coming back on both sides of the ball, it should be a much better season for fans in Fort Worth, especially those financially invested in the team that had to watch them go 0-7 at against the spread at home last season.

Frog Bog – TCU had gone 18-8 against the spread from 2014-15 before putting up an unfortunate 3-10 mark versus the number last season. I would expect marked improvement all around and to see Texas Christian to get past the 7.5 win mark to hit the over on their regular season win total.

5. Kansas State Wildcats
Preseason ranking: 23
Odds to win Big 12: +600
Odds to win National Championship: +7500
Over/Under regular season wins: 8

The legendary Bill Snyder returns for his 26th overall season as head coach of the Wildcats and has now led his team to nine straight bowl appearances since coming back to K-State in 2009.  They ended last season with four straight victories including a 33-28 upset of Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl and will hope to keep it going with fourteen starters back from a year ago, including multiple all-conference performers.

Dual-threat quarterback Jesse Ertz returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,755 yards, a 9-4 TD/INT ratio and rushing for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.  One definite needed area of improvement for Ertz is with accuracy, as he completed fewer than 58% of his passes a season ago.  The line is the strength of the offense returning four starters, including senior center Reid Najvarand and junior right tackle Dalton Risner. These veterans should provide ample time for Ertz to either make plays with his feet or get the ball in open space to players such as wide receiver and 1st Team All Big 12 KR/PR Bryan Pringle.

The defense received a scare in the spring when star defensive tackle Will Geary left the team for an extended period of time for personal issues, but he has since come back and appears to be ready to go for the season opener.  The defensive line had already lost a major cog after conference defensive player of the year Jordan Willis graduated, but they still remain one of the best up front in the conference as along with Geary they are also getting back Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Reggie Walker.  This isn't the only strength on this side of the ball, as the defensive backs are a strong unit led by 1st team All-Conference cornerback D.J. Reed, which should in turn help them improve on a weak 114th ranked pass defense a season ago.

Bill Snyder has rightfully earned a stout reputation for bringing out the best in his players, but his team has struggled recently against some of the better teams on their schedule, having lost their last nine games in a row against ranked opponents.  If they have any hopes of competing for a Big 12 title, they will need to reverse this trend, especially with road contests against Okie State and Texas along with a home game against Oklahoma, a team that has beaten the Wildcats in Manhattan six times in a row by an average of 23 ppg.

Wildcash - Kansas State’s futility against better opponents extends to bowl games as well, where they are just 2-5 both straight up and against the spread in postseason games since Bill Snyder returned to the sidelines eight seasons ago. I don't feel comfortable recommending a bet either way on this team as the over/under for season wins appears to be right on.

6. West Virginia Mountaineers
Preseason ranking: 25
Odds to win Big 12: +2000
Odds to win National Championship: +10000
Over/Under regular season wins: 7

WVU begin 2017 with the least experienced team in the conference and will need an abundance of transfers, including once heralded top quarterback recruit Will Grier from Florida, to help overcome the widespread graduation loses suffered on both sides of the ball.

There are holes to fill all over on offense, with the team needing to replace starters at quarterback and both top receiving spots along with three of five members of their offensive line.  Thankfully not all hope is lost as 2016 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year Justin Crawford returns at running back after rushing for 1,184 yards and scoring five touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry, all of which helped the Mountaineers finish the year with the 25th rated running game in the country and 17th in overall yards per game.

The defense was hit the hardest with losses and returns just 3 starters including zero up front on the line.  Gone are five of their top six in tackles including 2016 All Big 12 First Team defensive back Rasul Douglas, who was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Mountaineers will instead count on defensive backs like Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyir White along with linebackers Al-Rasheed Benton and David Long to help acclimate the new players around them.

West Va. opens with a game in Landover against Virginia Tech but after that is setup with three easy wins through the rest of September and will be either 3-1 or 4-0 before starting the heart of their conference play, which should give the bevy of fresh faces ample time to get used to their new surroundings.  Last year the Mountaineers were able to go 7-2 in conference play. Though they will unlikely be able to maintain such success this season, a sixth trip to a bowl game in head coach Dana Holgorsen’s seventh year in Morgantown is certainly in the cards.

Conference Cash Out – West Virginia is just 1-10 straight up in their last 11 games against ranked Big 12 opponents. Their spread record is barely that much better at 2-9.  With possibly half their games coming against ranked teams this season, the Mountaineers may struggle to reach the eight win plateau needed to hit the over on the regular season win total.

7. Baylor Bears
Preseason ranking: 60
Odds to win Big 12: +3300
Odds to win National Championship: +30000
Over/Under regular season wins: 7.5

Matt Rhule was brought in as head coach to clean up a Baylor football program that has been nothing short of disgraceful in recent years. He will hope to do what Bill O’Brien was able to pull off in Penn State in taking over a program ripe with scandal and shame.  Most thought it couldn’t get much worse for the athletic program after one of their basketball players was killed by a teammate and then all were instructed to lie by their coaches to cover it up back in 2003. The repeated ignorance toward a culture of sexual assault that was allowed to reign free at Baylor (thanks in large part to former head coach Art Briles) made it abundantly clear that things had to change immediately in Waco.

Sophomore quarterback Zach Smith is expected to start at the position, though he has plenty of competition around him with Arizona transfer Anu Solomon having joined the Bears for his senior season.  With a newcomer at quarterback and their two best receivers gone from 2016, the offense will count on junior running back Terence Williams to continue his success from last season when he helped lead Baylor to the 14th ranked rushing offense in college football by rushing for 1,048 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Seven starters return to the Baylor defense, though it would have been eight if Travon Blanchard hadn’t gotten suspended for getting arrested in February and again in July on domestic abuse charges. They are led primarily by two seniors, All Big 12 First Team defensive end K.J. Smith and four year starter at linebacker Taylor Young, who finished tied for second in the conference a year ago with an average of 9.3 tackles per game.

Despite having to face a tough slate of Big 12 games, the Bears schedule lines up well for them in 2017.  They have only five road games, which is always a good thing for a team like Baylor that prefers the home confines of McLane Stadium where they have gone 33-5 over the past six seasons, and they again face a very soft non-conference schedule, which should add to an already glowing record against such completion after going 22-2 straight up and 16-8 against the spread since 2011.  They won’t compete for a Big 12 title this season, but will still see improvement both on and more importantly off the field with a disciplinarian coach like Matt Rhule in charge now.

Bear Market – Baylor hasn’t been a home underdog for the last four seasons, and the last four times before that when they were getting points at home all ended up in victories for the Bears.  They will have a chance to test that streak this season as they will undoubtedly be home dogs against both Oklahoma in September and again a month later versus Texas to end October.

8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Preseason ranking: 73
Odds to win Big 12: +5000
Over/Under regular season wins: 5.5

Kliff Kingsbury enters his fifth season as head coach of the Red Raiders and finds himself faced with the reality that it will likely cost him his job if he doesn’t turn things around.   It’s easy to see why he is on the coaching hot seat considering that his team has made the postseason just once in the past three seasons, has struggled mightily against conference opponents (9-23 in their last 32 against the Big 12) and hasn’t been ranked in the polls since 2013.

With quarterback Patrick Mahomes off to NFL, the Red Raiders will be hoping that junior Nic Shimonek can step in and help fill the void left by the now Kansas City Chief who went 10th overall in the NFL Draft after leading Texas Tech to the number one rated offense in all of college football in 2016.  The line in front of Shimonek returns just one starter. The new quarterback will need to get the ball out quickly to a strong group of wide receivers, including Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson, each of which had at least 55 receptions, 650 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns in 2016.

While the offense rated 5th in scoring, 1st in passing yards and 1st in overall yards per game, the Red Raiders defense was a near exact opposite last season, ranking 128th in scoring, 125th against the pass and 128th in yards allowed per game.  The return of their top two in tackles, sophomore Jordyn Brooks and junior free safety Jah’Shawn Johnson, does provide some hope for improvement, but there is only so much they could possibly do to offset a Texas Tech defense that continues to be one of the worst in not only the conference, but also the FBS as a whole on a perennial basis.

The Red Raiders schedule for 2017 is a tough one, ranking 19th overall as they face seven bowl teams from a year ago including three that ended the season ranked in the top 25.  They have found consistent success against non-conference opponents under Kingsbury, 11-3 in 14 games, but may have a tough time continuing that this season as they have a tough pair of games against Arizona State and at Houston.  If they stumble out of the gates before hitting their conference schedule, the pressure will increase ten-fold for the coach to keep his job and the season on track in attempting to get back to a bowl for the first time in four years.

In the Red – Having to replace a star quarterback, a tougher schedule, an inept defense and a coach hanging onto his job by a thread is not an ideal set of circumstances for a team looking to rebound from a recent string of underachieving mediocre seasons, For that combination of reasons, my wager is on the UNDER 5.5 wins for Texas Tech.

9. Iowa State Cyclones
Preseason ranking: 75
Odds to win Big 12: +10000
Over/Under regular season wins: 5.5

2016 was another down season for the Cyclones, who finished the year 3-9 and have gone 11-37 since their last bowl appearance in 2012.  Now in his second year as the Iowa State head coach, former defensive lineman Matt Campbell will be looking to build upon any of the momentum they may have gained after having won two of their last three games including a 66-10 underdog win at home against Texas Tech.

JUCO transfer (and former Mr. South Carolina in football) Jacob Park, inherits the quarterback position in Ames. He will have weapons at his disposal, most notably wide receiver Allen Lazard, who was named 1st Team All Big 12 in 2016 after catching 69 passes for 1,018 yards and seven touchdowns.  The biggest issue for Park and the rest of the offense will likely by their line, which returns only one starter and is ranked as one of the conferences’ worst.

The defense will be relying on transfers as well, with a refigured line counting on three incoming JUCO’s to improve things up front. The team will be heavily relying on their best players behind them, linebacker Willie Harvey and defensive backs Kamari Cotton-Moya and Brian Peavy to offset any early season learning curve for the newcomers.

How quickly the abundance of transfers can acclimate to their new surroundings will be a key factor for the Cyclones in their hopes of breaking the three-win barrier for the first since in five seasons. For any chance of that to happen, they will need to avoid an early season upset by an FBS level team, which has killed any season building momentum three of the last four years with opening week losses to North Dakota State in 2014 and against Northern Iowa in both 2013 and 2016.

Cyclone Cash Call – Five conference road games await Iowa State, which combines two levels of recent inferiority as they are just 6-30 in their last 36 Big 12 games and 2-14 in their lack 16 road contests.  With an over/under of 5.5, if you take the over you are basically thinking that Iowa State will be bowl eligible, which I strongly do not believe will happen. I would instead invest in them going under 5.5 wins and in turn making it five years in a row without a postseason appearance.

10. Kansas Jayhawks
Preseason ranking: 94
Odds to win Big 12: +50000
Over/Under regular season wins: 3

The best news for the Jayhawks is that this will be their first season since 2011 that they will be completely free and clear of anything to do with Charlie Weis, the former head coach that left a trail of program devastation since stepping foot on the campus back in 2012.  Now that they are finally free of the unfortunate contract they signed him to that left them on the hook for payment years after he was fired, they can finally move on from the disaster that was the Weis era.

Eight starters return on offense for the Jayhawks and they will count on JUCO quarterback transfer Peyton Bender to lead the team and hopefully build a quick rapport with the wide receivers, who were supposed to be the lone bright spot on the point scoring side, highlighted by junior Steven Sims and senior LaQuivonte Gonzalez, but unfortunately the speedy La-Q was dismissed from the program in late July.

On the other side of the ball, they lose three of their top four in tackles and will rely heavily on their defensive line led by junior end Dorance Armstrong to try and offset the weaknesses behind him. Unfortunately for Jayhawk fans this lack of adequate personnel will seemingly be continued for the near future, as yet again. their team ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 in recruiting, making it that much more of an arduous task in attempting to keep up with their conference foes.

Considering the consistent terribleness of the past few years, nearly anything will be an improvement.  The Jayhawks have gone just 2-44 in their last 46 road games, 5-65 in their last 70 conference games and of their nine wins over the past five seasons, nearly half of them (4) were against FCS level opponents.  They should be able to continue that FCS success in week one against SE Missouri State, but after that, wins will be a lot tougher to come by.  They are headed in the right direction under head coach David Beaty, but will need another year or two before they will be able to think of competing in the Big 12.

Rock Chalk – Kansas has been double-digit underdogs in 21 straight conference games and this season will likely add nine more games to that streak.  Even with a gimmee to open the year and possibly being favored in week two against Central Michigan, I do not foresee the Jayhawks getting over the three win plateau. The UNDER 3 wins will be one of my heavier bets this season.

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Heisman Trophy Betting Odds - USC QB Sam Darnold starts the season off as a heavy favorite at +350 odds. Sooners QB Baker Mayfield is second on the list at +700 but can he keep his nose clean? Louisville QB Lamar Jackson should dominate this season but will Louisville be taken seriously? Oregon Ducks RB Royce Freeman is worth a pop at 60/1 if he gets the carries. Bama WR Calvin Ridley brings experience and big-time playmaking ability and will be featured on National TV a bunch, giving him a legit darkhorse shot. But will they throw the ball enough with a QB who likes to run? Missing from this year's list of odds is a defensive player.

Odds to Win the 2017 College Football Championship - The Alabama Crimson Tide are heavy favorites to win the National Championship this year at 5/2 followed by Ohio St. at 13/5, USC at 7/1 and FSU at 17/2. Things drop off a bit with the Oklahoma Sooners coming in at 12/1, Auburn Tigers at 14/1 and Michigan Wolverines at 16/1. Check out your favorite school's odds here!

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