CFB National Champion Predictions 2021: Betting Picks + Odds For Playoffs
Last year was a completely unusual college football season, as many teams had differing starting dates. The Big Ten, Pac-12, MAC, and Mountain West conferences got off to late starts and played fewer games as a result.
Despite the shortened season for Ohio State in the Big Ten, they finished the regular season 6-0 and lost to Alabama in the National Championship game, 52-24. Rounding out the College Football Playoffs were Clemson and Notre Dame.
This season, Clemson, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Ohio State are expected to be the best four teams, which is why I like to refer to them as the big four. Even though Georgia and Iowa State are ranked above Ohio State, they are not favored to win their respective conference.
Of the big four college football teams, only Oklahoma returns their quarterback from last season. The question is if the QBs for Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State can replicate the performances of Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, and Justin Fields, who were all selected in the top 15 of this year’s NFL Draft.
The other question is if a team outside of the big four or even a Power Five conference can make this year’s College Football Playoff. In the past, there have been dark horse teams, but typically the preseason favorites win the championship.
CFB National Champion 2021 Odds
NCAA.com Pre-Season Top 25
- No. 1: Alabama (+250)
- No. 2: Clemson (+380)
- No. 3: Oklahoma (+750)
- No. 4: Georgia (+600)
- No. 5: Iowa State (+3000)
- No. 6: Ohio State (+550)
- No. 7: Texas A&M (+3500)
- No. 8: Cincinnati (+8000)
- No. 9: Oregon (+4000)
- No. 10: Iowa (+10000)
- No. 11: LSU (+4000)
- No. 12: Miami (FL) (+6000)
- No. 13: Notre Dame (+5000)
- No. 14: North Carolina (+4000)
- No. 15: Wisconsin (+5000)
- No. 16: Indiana (+10000)
- No. 17: Florida (+4000)
- No. 18: Texas (+5000)
- No. 19: Coastal Carolina (+40000)
- No. 20: Ole Miss (+10000)
- No. 21: Penn State (+5000)
- No. 22: Washington (+8000)
- No. 23: Arizona State (+10000)
- No. 24: USC (+4000)
- No. 25: Louisiana (+50000)
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CFB National Champion 2021: Keys To Reaching Playoffs
The problem with picking which team wins the championship, to use the old cliché, is that you must be in it to win it. The teams that make the playoffs are decided by the CFP selection committee which is made up of 13 people.
If a Power Five team (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and SEC) does not go undefeated but has only one loss, then their destiny is determined by the CFP selection committee. If a Group of Five team (AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC, and Sun Belt) goes undefeated, then they might be selected by the CFP selection committee, but it is plausible that they get excluded depending on the quality of the Power Five teams.
Based on this, my criteria for picking the best CFB playoff bets are simple.
For Group of Five teams, they must have a high likelihood of going undefeated to make the playoffs and potentially win the championship. Unfortunately, my model does not like the chances of the three highest-ranked Group of Five teams to go undefeated.
After simulating the college football regular season 50,000 times in my model, Cincinnati went undefeated in 1.5% of my simulations, Coastal Carolina in 1.5% and Louisiana in 0.2%.
After determining that the champion is highly likely to come from a Power Five conference, I narrowed down teams into two groups: The big four and Power Five conference sleepers.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the big four teams collectively have an 85.3% chance of winning the championship. However, if a sleeper beats one of the big four teams, they could be vaulted into the national title conversation if they finish the season with a strong record.
CFB National Champion 2021: Favorites
Unless Alabama loses this season and another Power Five program is undefeated, chances are they will continue to be the betting favorite throughout the season to win the championship. As the defending champs, they may be without most of their offensive playmakers from last season, but eight of their defensive starters return and Alabama is always a national leader in recruiting.
Clemson is a perennial CFP presence, as they have been in the playoffs for the last six years in a row. The Tigers may have lost Trevor Lawrence to the NFL Draft, but his replacement, DJ Uiagalelei, is a preseason Heisman co-favorite. With a relatively easy schedule outside of their season opener against Georgia, look for Clemson to contend for the championship again this season.
Ohio State (+550)
Outside of the SEC, the Big Ten has been the strongest conference in college football. By far, the best team in the Big Ten is Ohio State, who were underestimated last year as they played only six regular-season games. However, after beating Clemson 49-22 in the semi-final, they showed that they were legit.
College football prognosticator Phil Steele has picked Oklahoma as his choice to win the championship, and he has the best track record in college football. I am bullish on Oklahoma as well, as my model has them favored in each of their regular-season games by seven or more points.
The Sooners have won the Big 12 conference six years in a row, and they should win it again. Additionally, Oklahoma has the fortune of playing their toughest opponent — Iowa State — at home.
CFB National Champion 2021: Sleeper Teams
Texas A&M (+3500)
If Alabama loses during the regular season, then the team that defeats them will vault themselves into CFP contention assuming they have a good record. Alabama may be a 11.5-point preseason favorite against Texas A&M, but my model has them as only a four-point favorite.
The Aggies’ only regular-season loss last year was to Alabama. With nine starters returning to one of last year’s best defenses, Texas A&M will be a much shorter price than +3500 to win the CFP if they can upset Alabama.
Notre Dame (+5000)
Notre Dame’s only losses last year came to Clemson and Alabama. This season, my model has them in a favorite in every game except for their neutral-site matchup against Wisconsin.
If Notre Dame can end up either undefeated or with only one loss against Wisconsin, Cincinnati, USC, North Carolina or Florida State, they’ll have a case for making the CFP. With head coach Brian Kelly, the Fighting Irish have been in the CFP in two of the last three seasons. At 50-1, they might be worth a shot.
CFB National Champion 2021: Prediction
Texas A&M (+3500)
Most college football championship futures are worth avoiding. The house has a large advantage on multi-way futures, and the champion is likely to be one of the big four teams.
In my opinion, Oklahoma and Clemson are your best bets to win the championship, as they have the easiest paths of the big four teams. Outside of Clemson’s season-opening game against Georgia, both teams will be heavily favored in all of their regular-season games this season.
Complementing the Sooners and Tigers as a sleeper is Texas A&M. The Aggies are not that much worse than Alabama, and if they win that game, they could potentially win the SEC and be virtually guaranteed to make the CFP.
While I like Notre Dame this season as a sleeper, I believe that there is more value in betting on all of their Game of The Year lines rather than betting on them to win the championship.