College Football: Big 12 Betting Preview
College football is less than a week away and our conference betting preview series continues with the Big 12. Of the Power Five conferences, the Big 12 is the one with the lowest probability to have a team qualify for the College Football Playoff, according to ESPN's playoff predictor. However, the Big 12 still has a major playoff contender in the Oklahoma Sooners, who are also the favorites to win the conference. Below are betting odds to win the Big 12 from Bovada (as of 8/27/2018).
Behind the Sooners, there are four other teams with odds lower than +1000, which will likely result in a competitive conference race. Whether one of these teams can dethrone the Sooners remains to be seen, as Oklahoma is still the class of the conference and the best bet to win the Big 12 this season.
Best Value: Oklahoma Sooners +130
Oklahoma won the Big 12 last season and they enter this season as the favorite, despite losing Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield to the NFL. The Sooners rank third in The Power Rank’s predictive rankings and first in the Big 12 by a wide margin (the TCU Horned Frogs are the 2nd-ranked team in the conference, 14th in the country).
Oklahoma’s balanced offense was the major strength of last season’s playoff team; they ranked first in total offensive S&P+, rushing offensive S&P+, and passing offensive S&P+, per Football Outsiders. However, the Sooners replace Mayfield and his 92.3 QBR with Kyler Murray. Although Murray only attempted 21 passes last season across 7 games, he bested Mayfield with a 94.9 QBR. Second Team All-Big 12 running back Rodney Anderson also returns behind an offensive line that ranked second in adjusted line yards and returns three starters.
The Sooners also have the benefit of a manageable schedule, as the only game in which ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives them lower than a 70% win probability is against the Texas Longhorns in a neutral game in Dallas (64.5%). Oklahoma does play TCU on the road, but they’ll be coming off their bye week. The Sooners only have a 6.7% probability to win out, but with their advantageous schedule and current betting odds, they remain the best value of any team to win the Big 12.
Best Value: Oklahoma State Cowboys +700
Behind the heavy favorite Oklahoma, there isn’t much betting value in the Big 12, and there's no longshot worth the risk, so the next-best value is the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Cowboys had an elite offense last season, ranking third in offensive S&P+. Although they lose seven starters on offense this season, The Power Rank has them ranked 18th in the country, only behind Oklahoma and TCU in the conference.
The Cowboys’ schedule is favorable, with the most difficult matchup being in Norman against the Sooners on November 10. They play Texas at home, and while they must play the Baylor Bears and Horned Frogs on the road, FPI has them pegged as slight favorites in those games. In fact, the Oklahoma game is the only game FPI projects the Cowboys to lose. If the Cowboys can navigate through the aforementioned road opponents (they play all three in November) with at least one or two wins, they'll likely qualify for the Big 12 Championship Game.
Oklahoma State only returns five offensive starters, but one of those is Justice Hill, who rushed for 5.5 yards per attempt and made the All-Big 12 First Team last season. Hill will likely be the focal point of a Cowboys' offense that lost quarterback Mason Rudolph to the NFL. The Cowboys' offense will regress negatively, but their running game should still keep them among the Big 12's best offensive teams.
Defensively, Oklahoma State returns three of four starting defensive linemen that made rushing defense one of the Cowboys' strengths a year ago, as they ranked 26th in adjusted line yards. Overall, Oklahoma State doesn't have one unit that dominates, but they possess many strengths that contribute to the consistency necessary to have success in the competitive Big 12.
Avoid: West Virginia Mountaineers +700
The 17th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers feature First Team Preseason All-Americans Will Grier, at quarterback, and David Sills, at wideout. West Virginia has been the trendy sleeper pick to compete with the vaunted Sooners and win the Big 12, but The Power Rank positions the Mountaineers at 43rd in the country, which is 9th in the Big 12, only ahead of Kansas!
For all the hype surrounding Grier and Sills, the West Virginia offense only ranked 26th in the nation in offensive S&P+ last season. Their biggest weakness offensively was on obvious passing downs (second down with 8 or more yards to go, or third or fourth down with 5 or more yards to go) where they ranked 101st in S&P. They only managed to convert third downs a concerning 32.56% of the time. One interesting statistic to note is that the Mountaineers' offensive line ranked ninth in adjusted sack rate on passing downs, meaning that they provided time for Grier to make plays. But despite his 75.8 QBR, the signal caller struggled to lead West Virginia in obvious passing situations.
The Mountaineers' schedule is absolutely brutal. FPI gives them a win probability of 70% or higher in only two games (against Youngstown State and Kansas) and projects their record to be 6-6. The current betting odds of +700 are outlandish for a team that is projected to barely qualify for a bowl game. Bettors should avoid West Virginia entirely and consider betting the under on their seven-game win total (+145 odds).