Eleven bets to make ahead of the 2023 CFB season

ByJoe Fortenbaugh ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 8, 2023

While college football's conference commissioners scramble to lure big-name programs to their already-overstuffed coffers, sharp bettors here in Las Vegas and beyond continue to scour the furthest regions of the futures market in an attempt to pick off rogue numbers. Win totals, Heisman Trophy odds, Week 1 point spreads ... you name it. The game is on, and it has been for quite some time.

Rather than deliver a grandiose speech about bets I made at prices that no longer exist, let's instead focus on some of my favorite 2023 wagers that you can still get down on.

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WhyTexasis back

Texas to win the Big 12 (+100)

Over 9.5 wins (-145)

Texas to make the College Football Playoff (+300)

Write it down, take a picture. I'm all the way in on Steve Sarkisian's Longhorns this season ... but stopping just short of endorsing a national championship win. That elusive feat might be still a few years away.

I've got Texas favored in 11 of 12 games this season with the lone dissenter coming Sept. 9 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, against the Crimson Tide. This roster is absolutely stacked, with 15 starters returning from last year's 8-5 team that suffered all five losses by a single score. Quarterback Quinn Ewers is back under center for a second season, currently finds himself listed second on the Heisman odds board at 10-1, and will be pushed by a stacked quarterback room that includes Maalik Murphy and highly prized recruit Arch Manning. It doesn't hurt that Texas returns its entire starting offensive line from a year ago, not to mention receivers Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington.

For what it's worth, my optimism isn't just rooted in Texas' upside. Take a look at the rest of the Big 12. Oklahoma will be better than last year's 6-7 campaign, but the Sooners won't be elite. TCU is headed for a step back after last year's 13-2 run, Oklahoma State is on the decline and defending conference champion Kansas State needs to replace half its starters from a season ago. When you scour the landscape, which programs truly have what it takes to make a serious run at the Longhorns?

What happens if this team shocks the world on Sept. 9? I shudder to think.

More win-total action

Notre Dame Fighting Irishunder 9 wins (-160)

The losses of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and tight end Michael Mayer will be felt, even if the Irish did upgrade the quarterback position with incoming transfer Sam Hartman (Wake Forest). The defensive line is a concern, and there are question marks in the secondary for a unit that struggled mightily in the red zone last season. Home dates againstOhio Stateand theUSC Trojans, not to mention a road trip to Clemson,loom large on the schedule. And don't sleep on the Louisvilleand Pittsburghgames, either.

Alabama Crimson Tideunder 10.5 wins (-150)

I'd imagine no one reading this will be interested in tailing me here. That's fine, lone wolf it is. I have a hard time seeing Alabama improving from last year's 10-win regular season to 11 or more wins this year after losing Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. At the time of this writing, Alabama's quarterback battle is still unsettled. Keep something in mind: While the Crimson Tide went 10-2 during the regular season last year, they beat Texas by 1 point, Texas A&Mby four points and Ole Missby six points. What do you think this win total would be if Bama had dropped two of those three contests and concluded its regular-season campaign 8-4?

Stanford Cardinalunder 3 wins (-160)

With a new coaching staff, a new system, little talent and a reluctance to embrace the transfer portal and NIL era, there's good reason a massive exodus of talent entered the portal after longtime head coach David Shaw stepped down. Find me four wins on Stanford's schedule ... I'll wait. I love this bet not just because I think it cashes, but because I get to troll my guy Stanford Steve in the process.

One conference long shot to consider

Oregon State Beaversto win the Pac-12 (+1100)

Don't sleep on what head coach Jonathan Smith is building in Corvallis. The Beavers are coming off their third 10-win campaign in program history with two of their three losses coming by a total of three points. Oregon State led the Pac-12 in total defense last season, returns four of five starters on the offensive line and should boast one of the conference's most ferocious rushing attacks led by sophomore Damien Martinez and senior Deshaun Fenwick. Oh, did I forget to mention that former Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei transferred in to take over the signal-caller duties? My bad. When examining the Beavers' schedule, they avoid USC and get to host their marquee showdowns with Utah and Washington.

A Week 1 line to consider

8 p.m. ET,Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising tore his ACL in the Utes' 35-21 Rose Bowl loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions last January. While he hasn't been ruled out for Week 1 yet, he hasn't been ruled in, either. Should Rising be unable to go, this line is going to drop, as it already has from its opener of -10. Keep in mind the fact that the total has already dipped from its opening position of 49.5 to as low as 47 at some sportsbooks. Taking Florida at +8.5 will give you a nice head start in a matchup with a low projected total.

Looking at the Heisman Trophy market

More than anything else, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to a winner. After reading that previous sentence you might be inclined to think, "No, Fortenbaugh, more than anything else, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to a quarterback."

Not exactly, as recent history will demonstrate.

Over the past 10 years we've seen college football's most prestigious prize awarded to eight quarterbacks, one running back and one wide receiver.

Compare that with the following: Over the past 10 years, nine Heisman Trophy winners entered the presentation ceremony having won at least 11 games during the season. Only Lamar Jackson arrived in New York with fewer than 11 wins on his season résumé, as his Louisville Cardinals were 9-3 in mid-December.

That also includes the 2020 season when Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver DeVonta Smith accepted the award with an undefeated 11-0 mark.

With all that in mind, here are three bets I've made for the 2023 Heisman Trophy:

Cade Klubnik, QB, Clemson Tigers (+1400)

The Clemson schedule is tailor-made for double-digit victories thanks to a weak nonconference slate coupled with home dates against Florida State and Notre Dame. I'll give you the pleasure of deciding the most daunting road test: off a bye week Oct. 21 at Miami, or Nov. 25 at South Carolina.

Clemson's offense stalled a bit last season, but in comes former TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, who engineered the nation's ninth-ranked scoring offense a season ago in Fort Worth, Texas, while guiding quarterback Max Duggan to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. There's a lot of upside here.

Carson Beck, QB, Georgia Bulldogs (+1600)

In a day and age when elite prospects transfer at the mere sniff of competition, Beck sat patiently at the University of Georgia for three seasons waiting for his opportunity ... which has finally arrived. The 6-4, 215-pound signal-caller has a loaded arsenal at his disposal, not to mention an incredibly favorable schedule that features only four true road games (at Auburn, at Vanderbilt, at Tennessee, at Georgia Tech), no Alabama or LSU and a very soft nonconference slate. 16-to-1 should be long gone after Beck finishes dissecting South Carolina on Sept. 16.

D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Oregon State Beavers (+6000)

There's a reason to believe Uiagalelei finds another level in Corvallis after joining a 10-win Beavers outfit that returns four of five starting offensive linemen from a year ago. While he never met expectations at Clemson, how much of that is on him and how much of that is on former offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter, who was fired after the 2022 campaign? Oregon State will be a tough out in 2023, with no USC on the schedule and home dates against Utah, UCLA and Washington. 60-1 converts to an implied probability of just 1.64%, so this is worth a bet in my opinion.

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