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Top-10 bets for the 2014 NCAA football season

18 August 2014

By Vin Narayanan

There's a special sort of insanity involved in betting college football futures. Unlike the NFL, betting on NCAA futures requires giant leaps of faith, with most teams starting players who have never played college football in critical positions and roles. That's why most preseason predictions are wrong so often. People rely on pedigree, coaches with good reputations, returning starters and the schedule to make futures bets. That's an inexact science at best.

This year is particularly muddled with Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M all welcoming new starting quarterbacks. But never fear. My college football crystal ball -- well rested after a successful 2013 campaign -- has never been sharper. Here are my top-10 bets for the season. (Note: I refuse to pick any games involving the Big Ten because I'm a Michigan State grad. I don't want the bad juju. Also, all odds are courtesy of Bovada Sportsbook)

10. Alabama will not make the four-team playoff (-110)
This could be easily be number one on the list. But it just feels wrong to bet against Alabama, so it slides in at ten. A.J. McCarron was a great quarterback at Alabama. But he's graduated, and coach Nick Saban needs to find a new quarterback to lead the offense. All signs point to Florida State transfer Jacob Coker as the likely starter. He has a solid running game and offensive line to carry him early in the season, but counting on a first-year starter to lead you to a national championship is a big ask. More importantly, Alabama's non-conference schedule of West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Mississippi is pretty unimpressive. And its SEC crossover games are Tennessee and Florida, allowing the Tide to dodge South Carolina and Georgia. If Alabama loses even one of its games, it's hard to make a case for the Tide over the other teams vying for the playoffs.

9. Ole Miss over 8 wins (-105)
Staying in the SEC, Ole Miss is a darkhorse candidate to win the SEC West. Bo Wallace threw for 18 touchdowns and more than 3,300 yards last year. He is also one of the few returning starting quarterbacks in the conference. Hugh Freeze has been bringing in great recruiting classes the past few years. If they play consistently well against SEC competition -- the team had its ups (upset of LSU) and downs (losses to Alabama and Mississippi State) last year -- 10 wins are a possibility.

8. Trey Edmunds out-rushes group(+250)
I like the value of Virginia Tech's Trey Edmunds being better than Miami's Duke Johsnon, Florida State's Karlos Williams, Virginia's Kevin Parks and Louisville's Dominique Brown. I worry about Brown running for a team that's switching to a tougher conference and playing for a new head coach (Louisville's old coach, Charile Strong, is the coach at Texas now). Virginia can't be good at football and basketball in the same calendar year. It violates the immutable laws of college athletics. Williams is going to be sitting out the second half of a lot of games because Florida State is going to destroy the ACC. That leaves Miami's Johsnon as the only real threat to outpace Edmunds. Virginia Tech will breaking in a new quarterback and offensive system this year, so the Hokies will rely heavily on the run. Edmunds is the lead back for the Hokies. Even though Virgnia Tech's offense was putrid last year, I like Edmunds' chances here.

7. UCLA over 9.5 wins (-125)
UCLA has a 12-game schedule, but it will only face serious trouble in two games -- home against Oregon and home against USC. Stanford (home) and Arizona State (away) could give them problems, but UCLA should win those games. Texas on the road could be problematic, but UCLA should win. Let's say UCLA splits against Oregon and USC and loses to Texas. That still gives the Bears a 10-win season. I like UCLA's chances. In fact, I like UCLA to win the Pac-12, making this an easy bet for me.

6. Jameis Winston over 3474.5 passing yards (-110)
I actually think this is a pretty good number. Winston had a career year last year when he threw for more than 4,000 yards. So he's due to to come back a little bit. But I don't like the -130 for the under, so I'll take the over.

5. Jameis Winston under 34.5 passing TDs (-120)
Winston threw for 40 touchdowns last year. But that number should dip some. And he's going to be sitting out the second halves of games a lot as the Seminoles blitz through the schedule. Plus, defenses are going to be better prepared for him. The odds are the same for the over and the under, so I'll take the under.

4. South Carolina to make the playoffs
Steve Spurrier has South Carolina rolling in the SEC East. With Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the SEC West, South Carolina is in the easier of the two divisions. And this year, South Carolina doesn't have to play Alabama or LSU. The Gamecocks do play Auburn on the road. But that game might not matter much. If it can get past Georgia at home next month, South Carlonia should sail into the SEC championship game. A win there puts the Gamecocks in the playoffs.

3. Bryce Petty leads Big 12 in passing yards (+150)
For reasons that just mystify me, Baylor isn't getting any respect in the Big 12. The Bears won the conference championship last year. Bryce Petty threw for more than 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns. And he only had three interceptions! The Baylor offense also averaged more than 50 points a game and more than 600 yards in offense per game. This is an offense built to put up numbers. And Petty, now a senior, will be starting for the second-straight year. The fact that Petty is available at +150 just astounds me.

2. Bryce Petty leads Big 12 in TDs
The only thing better than being able get Petty at +150 to lead the Big 12 in passing yards is being able to get Petty at +150 to lead the conference in touchdowns.

1. Brett Hundley for Heisman (14/1)
Right now, the Pac-12 QB garnering the most attention is Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He's is a fast, strong and accurate quarterback and is expected to lead the Ducks to a conference championship and possibly a national championship. He's that good. But in order for Oregon to win it all, the Ducks are going to have to beat UCLA and Brett Hundley, who also happens to be the only quarterback in the conference that could be better than Mariota.

Last year, Hundley threw for more than 3,000 yards and completed 67 percent of his passes. He also threw 24 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. This year, Hundley will be starting for the third-straight year. And his golden arm might be the only thing that stands in the way between Oregon and greatness. If UCLA beats Oregon, it will be Hundley and not Mariota headed to New York to pick up the Heisman. (Archie Griffin is the only player to win consecutive Heisman Trophies, and I don't see Jameis Winston pulling it off this year.)

 
Vin Narayanan
Vin  Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

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