Bet Alabama or the Field for the 2019 National Championship?

Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick
Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire)

I’ve been combing through futures odds recently, as part of our effort to build a tracker for 2018 national championship odds, and in my travels I came upon an amazing bet for next year’s title:

  • Alabama (+220)
  • Field (-280)

I laughed when I saw it. I told all my coworkers. I texted my mom. It’s on sportsbetting.ag, so you can go look at it for yourself.

The Wager

It’s art. It’s minimalism, stripping away all your Fresno States (+50000) and your Oklahomas (+300 or +2000, who knows!) and arriving at the question at the core of college football: is Bama going to win again, or not?

It’s also very brave for the sportsbook. They love going super-short on favorites in futures bets, because you can’t bet against them. When a sportsbook lists Alabama -120 in January, you can’t get on the other side of that bet, unless you’re ready to make dozens and dozens of bets on every other team. This sportsbook is letting you get on the other side, so you can fade the Tide. In January. Wild.

Those odds correspond to a 27% probability of the Tide winning next year’s national championship. That’s not as short as some books will offer, but (to my knowledge) no other book will give you a chance to bet on that 73% chance that the Tide don’t win. It probably saved them a lot of time, not having to decide if San Diego State has a 400/1 or 500/1 shot.

How Good Will the 2018 Crimson Tide Be?

So what does 2018 look like for the Tide? Well, they’re losing top receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive stars Minkah Fitzpatrick and Da’Ron Payne, and likely running back Bo Scarbrough to the NFL Draft. Probable returnees include both quarterbacks (Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa), neither of whom are eligible for the draft, an unusually high number of their experienced and recently-injured front seven, and (if the rumours are true) running back Damien Harris. That’s a lot to lose, but also a lot to return, an unusual haul for Alabama.

How Tough is Alabama’s 2018 Schedule?

Let’s assume that if the Tide lose no more than one game, they’ll likely make the College Football Playoff again, because they’ve never missed the Playoff that way. Now try to find two losses in their 2018 schedule.

Alabama have decided that they don’t need to massage their strength of schedule at all, and it almost caught up to them last year. There was a lot of hand wringing about scheduling Mercer late in the year, and if anything was going to cost them a place in the playoff, it was their unspectacular resume. In 2018, they’ve used the same strategy for out-of-conference games, scheduling an ACC team in Week 1 (Louisville’s first game of the post-Lamar Jackson era), two Sun Belt teams (Arkansas State and UL Lafayette), and an FCS team (quasi-service academy The Citadel).

The Tide get all of their most difficult games (Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M) at home, and their road schedule consists of the hollowed-out Ole Miss, a decent LSU, and Tennessee. Altogether, the Tide play five teams in their first year under a new head coach, and two of NickSaban’s assistants.

Even if you take the Iron Bowl as a coinflip, which you maybe should, it’s still hard to find the remaining 1.5 losses. Keeping Alabama out of the Playoff will require a small disaster, or some very good performances outside the conference.

Alabama Auburn
Alabama vs Auburn, with consequences. Again. (Photo: Matthew Tosh (CC License))

How Good Is Alabama’s Competition?

So who else is in the running? Clearly Georgia is set up well for next season, after coming unbearably close this year and recruiting exceptionally well. Clemson has also recruited well, and doesn’t lose anything spectacularly important. Ohio State will always be there, making some case or another for the playoff and occasionally whooping everybody.

Critically, division-rival Auburn isn’t going anywhere. They retain quarterback Jarrett Stidham at a position they’ve had trouble replacing, and they have a good stable of runners to replace Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. The Iron Bowl will be, once again, a big hurdle for the Crimson Tide to clear, and could make or break this bet.

Is There Value Betting Alabama to Win the 2019 Title?

No. Those odds, +220, are too short for anyone. This is a violent game played by amateur students with an oblong ball. Things happen. Is there value betting on the Field? Yes.

The part of this bet that we haven’t talked about is that a portion of your bankroll is going to be tied up until January 7th, 2019. There might be value here, but the whole practice of smart sports-betting revolves around a cycle of: find positive expected outcome, make bet, repeat. It relies on a large volume of bets to make sure water finds its level. Taking money out of the system for that long has a cost that’s difficult to calculate.

It all depends on how you manage your bankroll and your betting habits. If you only make a few bets a year, as some futures bettors do, and don’t need to worry about maintaining liquidity for the baseball season or something to that effect, this is probably the best college football futures bet in town. If you’re more of a volume guy, or you’re trying to get the absolute most out of your bankroll, stay away.