Between now and the start of college football season on Sept. 1, we’ll preview every conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an emphasis on futures odds. Each preview will include a look at favorites, long shots and a pick as well as the full list of odds for the conference.
(If you’re just getting started with sports betting and want to learn the terms and how it works, check out Sports Betting 101.)
We’ll start with the smaller conferences and work our way toward the top, finishing with the Southeastern Conference just before games kick off. By the time the season starts, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top division in college football.
The final Group of Five conference to examine is the American Athletic Conference, which features the first G5 team to reach the College Football Playoff in Cincinnati.
At least it does for one more season. After the 2022-23 athletic year, the Bearcats, along with Houston and Central Florida (and BYU from the independent ranks) are joining the Big 12, which poached those four schools after losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. In turn, the AAC is taking six schools from Conference USA.
But that’s all for next summer. This is the swan song for the AAC as we know it. Let’s dig in.
Cincinnati announced itself as a legitimate Top 10 contender in back-to-back September games, rallying past Indiana 38-24 and then out-slugging Notre Dame 24-13. But what might have been most impressive for the Bearcats was conference play, when they took everyone’s best shot, dealt with the pressure of the CFP talk and just kept winning, only twice by single digits, before dispatching Houston 35-30 in the AAC championship game and becoming the first “outsider” to reach the CFP semifinals. Once there, they were competitive with Alabama for more than a half before wilting in a 27-6 loss.
By any other year’s standards, Houston had an incredible season, losing to Texas Tech in its opener and then not again until that AAC championship game. The Cougars tied a bow on the season with a 17-13 victory over Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl.
Central Florida also beat an SEC team, Florida, in its bowl appearance, that after a somewhat disappointing 8-4 season that included a win over Boise State but losses in basically every other big game. SMU won its first seven games, including a victory at TCU, but the Mustangs lost four of their last five and had their Fenway Bowl appearance canceled by COVID-19.
That was actually a theme for the AAC in bowl season: Memphis (vs. Hawaii in Hawaii Bowl) and East Carolina (vs. Boston College in Military Bowl) also had postseason games wiped out.
Tulsa rode a strong finish to a win over Old Dominion in the Myrtle Beach Bowl and a 7-6 season. Tulane put a scare into Oklahoma in its opener but then struggled to a 2-10 finish that puts Willie Fritz on the hot seat headed into the 2022 campaign.
You can’t say the Big 12 got better when it lost Texas and Oklahoma, but it certainly succeeded in getting the best current American Athletic teams. Even without Desmond Ridder at quarterback, who was one of NINE picks taken in the NFL draft, Cincinnati (+220) is the favorite again. The Bearcats did manage to hang onto coach Luke Fickell and have the backbone of the conference’s best recruiting, but this is a much younger team with a lot more variance than last year’s version.
If the Bearcats slip, the most likely team to take advantage seems to be Houston (+250), which brings back quarterback-receiver combination Clayton Tune and Nathaniel Dell and offensive mastermind Dana Holgorsen. The risk for the Cougars might be that it returns only two starters from its offensive line and five starters from what was a very good defense.
The third clear favorite was the AAC champion in 2017 and 2018. That’s Central Florida (+260). UCF brings back more starters than either Cincinnati or Houston and ended last year with six wins in seven games under former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Mikey Keene returns at quarterback and figures not so much to compete with Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee as much as use him as a Taysom Hill-type weapon.
After those top three contenders, there’s a large gap in odds. Memphis (+900) is next. The Tigers return quarterback Seth Henigan (25 touchdowns/8 interceptions). But star receiver Calvin Austin is gone to the NFL, and the defense has only two returning starters from a leaky defense.
SMU (+1000) has a similarly inexperienced roster returning, though they too have a prolific quarterback returning in Tanner Mordecai (3,628 yards, 39 touchdowns, 12 interceptions). But the Mustangs must also replace head coach Sonny Dykes, who left for TCU. Rhett Lashlee moves from his position as Miami’s offensive coordinator to take that spot.
Then comes another big gap before you get to to East Carolina (+2000), which won four of its final five last year to reach a bowl game. Then comes Tulane (+2800), and the Green Wave went the opposite direction last year, losing nine of their final 10 games.
Everyone else is 40 to 1 or higher, including Tulsa (+4000), which went 7-6 — with four of its six losses to 10-win teams — but lost a lot of production, including defensive tackle Jaxon Player, who transferred.
The last year of the AAC As We Know It will be top-heavy. Expect Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to be favored in every conference game against another opponent.
Accordingly, this doesn’t feel like a spot for long shots. The question is which of the top three to pick. I think the right answer is Houston at +250, which has the motivation of last year’s championship loss and also has the advantage of avoiding both Cincinnati and UCF in the regular season.
My biggest value, however, is a 10-to-1 shot on SMU. The Mustangs are the team most likely to join the upper echelon. They do have a new coach and must play each of the top three contenders, though Cincinnati and Houston must come to Dallas. But if things come together, Mordecai and an experienced defense could surprise.
Tulane should bounce back and have a good season, but I don’t think it’s worth a title bet at just 28 to 1.
Full American Athletic odds and win totals
(From Caesars Sportsbook)
|Central Florida||+260||9.5 (u-140)|
|East Carolina||+2000||6.5 (u-140)|
|South Florida||+5000||4 (o-130)|
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