There is no debate among oddsmakers, bettors, or members of the media on the best college football team in the country entering the 2015 season: Ohio State. It’s rare, unfathomable even, that a team can be called the best before anyone knows who will be taking snaps under center come the first weekend in September. Aside from an abundance of talent, the single greatest factor working in OSU’s favor during their quest to repeat as national champions isn’t Urban Meyer, but rather a schedule that sees the Scarlet and Grey listed as an overwhelming favorite in all 12 of their regular season games. The closest game for Ohio State in the eyes of oddsmakers is the November 21st home date against Michigan State, where OSU is currently listed as a 13.5 point favorite. Ohio State’s apparent dominance also begs a bigger question from SEC fans: how many teams hailing from the top league in the country would also be favored in every game with the exact same schedule as the Buckeyes?
Everyone has his or her own opinion on how the SEC stacks up in 2015. All you have to do is look at the way the media voted during conference media days to get the perfectly muddled picture. However, unlike the SEC, the Big Ten is a 2 horse race until proven otherwise. Ohio State and Michigan State are a cut above the Michigans, Wisconsins, and Nebraskas of the world until proven otherwise. Frankly that’s really where this discussion begins, trying to figure out how many teams from the SEC would find themselves chalk on a neutral field against a Spartan program that has quietly eclipsed double digit wins in 4 of the last 5 year, highlighted by some pretty memorable bowl results.
Alabama power rates better than any other team in the SEC, even with the unsettled quarterback position. Nick Saban’s suddenly “struggling” dynasty remains the 2nd betting favorite along with TCU (behind Ohio St) to take home a national title at 6-1. Just being listed among the elite teams headed into the year is no guarantee for success. The Vegas win total for the Crimson Tide is 9.5 because of a schedule that I believe is the most difficult in the country. It should come as a surprise to no one that Alabama would also be favored against everyone on Ohio St’s regular season. This means Alabama’s win total would jump from where it currently sits at 9.5 against a rigorous SEC slate to an 11 carrying substantial tax on the over if they replaced conference games against Auburn and Georgia with tilts against Maryland and Rutgers.
Right behind Alabama is Auburn, the program many (myself included) believe is most capable of dethroning Alabama atop the SEC West and winning a league title this season. Auburn is listed as a short home underdog to Alabama in the Iron Bowl, meaning that depending on the oddsmaker you ask there’s anywhere from a 4 to 6 point power differential between the bitter rivals. Despite the gap between Auburn and Alabama, there’s enough of a gap between Alabama and Michigan State meaning the Tigers would still end up as chalk in a head to head matchup with Michigan State on a neutral field. Using those wonderful powers of gambling deduction we come to realize that Auburn would also be favored over every opponent on Ohio State’s schedule this season.
Behind Alabama and Auburn is where the debate gets very interesting with 4 talented, yet highly unproven commodities vying for that coveted 3rd slot in the SEC power rankings. That quartet of teams (in no particular order) is Arkansas, Ole Miss, Georgia, and LSU. Yes Vols fans, Tennessee hasn’t cracked this tier just yet, but ask me again after that home date against Oklahoma. All 4 in this mix have major question marks headed into the year but clearly represent an elite 2nd tier that no other conference can replicate. When I look at the power numbers between these 4 teams the difference between them is negligible, matching them up with where I have Michigan State pegged to start the season. I realize SEC elitists want to say it’s a foregone conclusion all 4 should be favored over Michigan St on a neutral field but that really isn’t the case. In actuality every number against the Spartans for me would be less than a field goal with certain matchups creating a +1.5 or -1.5 depending on the particular match-up. It goes without saying that all 4 clearly could benefit from taking on Ohio St’s 12 game regular season “gauntlet” knowing the only game they’d be close to a dog is against Michigan State.
Before every Tennessee fan gets really heated at me for throwing cold water on their 2015 dream season, understand that the future looks bright for the Vols…but they still don’t deserve to get mentioned in the same breath as the top 6 teams in the SEC from a point spread standpoint just yet. Win a few of the big early season games and my tune will change as clearly big things are expected in Knoxville this fall. Just remember before you send hate mail that there’s a reason they play the games, and for every 2014 Arkansas that bursts onto the national scene there’s a 2014 Texas A&M that starts like a bat out of hell before going quietly into the conference night.