Written by: David Parks – Staff Writing Intern (@_Parksie)
It seems counterintuitive at first glance.
“Aren’t they in the same conference?”
“Wait — aren’t they in the same division of the same conference?”
The answer to both questions, is yes. And while college football has only seen schools from the same conference compete for the national title once in the last 20 years (2012 Bama vs. LSU), it’s also worth noting the four-team playoff has only been in existence for two of those years.
Now, even though the Playoff increases the odds for two teams from the same conference to potentially square off for the national title, it by no means guarantees it. In each of the playoff’s first two years, each team has come from a different conference:
2014: Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State
2015: Alabama, Michigan State, Clemson, Oklahoma
The trait all of the above teams share is title of “Conference Champion,” a key phrase to remember when trying to assess playoff odds in the betting market.
When the playoff and its accompanying committee were created, the rules changed. Whereas the BCS relied on a computer formula to spit out the two best teams at season’s end, the committee relies on both an “eye test,” along with a multitude of factors (including conference championships) to determine who they feel the four best teams are come playoff time.
And despite the fact we have yet to have a playoff featuring multiple teams from the same conference, there is a scenario that presents itself this year that not only makes the scenario seem plausible, it provides the potential to profit in the college football futures market.
In the first edition of the Amtrak Coaches’ Poll, both Clemson and their ACC-rival FSU garnered top five preseason rankings (2 and 4 respectively). Each contain a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, a Heisman Trophy contender, as well as manageable schedules as they navigate the treacherous seas of the college football regular season.
When assessing futures on any market, one of the first places people turn to is schedules. Being in the same division, FSU and Clemson have similar schedules; they both play the likes of NC State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Louisville and Syracuse as well as two SEC opponents out-of-conference (Auburn/South Carolina for Clemson, Ole Miss/Florida for FSU).
The two teams will also square off against one another on October 29th in a game that will go a long way in determining college football’s final four teams.
Prior to the news of Florida State’s Sean McGuire going down with an injury that will keep him out of the season opener against Ole Miss, Clemson was +145 ($100 to win $145) to make the playoff, while FSU was+280 per Sportsbook.ag (FSU is currently off the board).
Each team will be a favorite among bettors to make the playoff, but what about betting on both to make it?
In May, Las Vegas Sportsbook South Point released betting lines for some of college football’s notable “games of the year.” Among them was Clemson at Florida State, whose opening line was Clemson -1.
Taking into account the FSU line, Clemson will be favored in every game they play next season barring something completely unforeseen happening. And aside from the Clemson game, Florida State will likely be favored in every game they play next season.
Which begs the question — if one of these teams finishes the regular season undefeated and the other’s only loss is to the other, would the committee consider taking both Clemson and FSU?
Let’s say the above scenario plays out. Clemson defeats FSU in a close, competitive game in Doak and runs the table the rest of the regular season in addition to the ACC Championship Game. FSU takes care of business in every game with the exception of Clemson.
Clemson would more than likely be the number one team in the nation and have a playoff spot locked up, leaving three spots remaining. It’s likely the winner of the SEC, even with two losses, would receive a bid. As would the presumed winner of the Big Ten Title game between Ohio State/Michigan vs. Iowa, leaving one more spot open for a team to claim.
If Oklahoma were to duplicate its 2015, the Sooners would seem like a lock to return. As would a Pac 12 Champion, provided it has only one loss. But what happens if the conference champion from both the Big 12 and Pac 12 has two losses while Florida State has only one? It would be a fascinating debate, and give the public a clear understanding of just how much the committee weighs conference championships.
So let’s bring things full-circle. The goal of betting both Florida State and Clemson to make the playoff isn’t necessarily hitting both, but rather using it as a hedge of sorts to guarantee profit. I don’t know that both FSU and Clemson will make the playoff, but I’m almost certain one of them will. Which begs the question of pricing…
Let’s use $100 as the base “unit.”
A two unit wager on Clemson at +145 would be risking $200 to win $290.
A one unit wager on Florida State at +280 would be risking $100 to win $280.
So by going off the pricing above, even if only one of the teams advances to the Playoff, profit can be had. Of course, there’s always the chance that neither team makes the playoff, but when looking at each team’s makeup, coach and schedule, it seems unlikely that scenario unfolds.