The anointing of Ohio State for a repeat national championship has begun—the Buckeyes were the first unanimous preseason #1 in the history of the AP poll when that venerable organization released its voting results earlier this week. Las Vegas is no less bullish on the Bucks, slotting Ohio State is a decisive 2-1 favorite to win it all in Glendale on January 11. There’s no question Urban Meyer has a terrific team. But does that make them a terrific bet?
Ohio State is not a perfect team. They have youth on the offensive line, with two sophomores in starting roles. They have to replace a pair of defensive lineman, something that can’t be overlooked in the run-heavy Big Ten.
While Meyer has a well-documented embarrassment of riches at quarterback, even that comes with its own challenges—he can’t afford to have the locker room split between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, even if Braxton Miller made everyone’s life easier by agreeing to switch to wide receiver.
Then there’s the suspensions. Four players will miss the season opener on Labor Day Night at Virginia Tech, including All-American defensive end Joey Bosa. If Ohio State gets through this game, which they remain favored to do, then that issue is past them. But it’s one more fly in the ointment.
None of this is to suggest that the Buckeyes are uniquely vulnerable or that they shouldn’t be ranked #1. What I am suggesting is that 2-1 is a very short price when the season is just beginning. You can likely wait until the beginning of the Playoff and get close to the same price, but without any lingering questions.
Public handicappers have to look elsewhere for value. Here’s a brief rundown of how the challengers to Ohio State are viewed in Las Vegas, and some pertinent thoughts on each group of teams:
THE PRIME CHALLENGERS: TCU (6-1), Alabama (13-2): This is rarefied air for the Horned Frogs, with their #2 preseason ranking in the AP poll being the highest in their history. The Crimson Tide are more interesting. It’s a short price, but about as good as anyone will get with a Nick Saban-coached team. If early games, like the September 5 prime-time affair with Wisconsin at Cowboys Stadium show an improved ‘Bama defense, the Tide are worth a serious look. Read the rest of this entry →