Best Bets to Reach the 2021 College Football Playoff

By Dan Vasta in College Football
| August 12, 2021 6:53 am PDT

The College Football Playoff era has been full of thrilling matchups in the national title. It will be the eighth season of the CFP era, and the hope is we will receive better matchups in the national semifinals.

The average margin of victory thus far has been a whopping 21 points per game. Other than Clemson-Ohio State in 2020 and Georgia-Oklahoma in 2018, the majority of the matchups have been duds.

We have seen five teams make the CFP two times or more, which some are hoping increases. The usual suspects have favorable odds to make a return to the College Football Playoff, but not every team lives up to the hype.

If you plan on betting on NCAA football this year, consider my best bets to reach the 2021 College Football Playoff.

Clemson Tigers (-700)

Clemson is without a doubt one of the top College Football Playoff picks for 2021, as they’re a huge favorite to make it to the final four. Most college football betting sites have them priced at an absurd -700.

The Tigers have won the previous six conference championships, and they have made it look easy. The amount of superstar signal-callers Dabo Swinney has taken to the NFL thus far has been impressive.

Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson were both Heisman-like players despite never winning the award. The amount of skill players Clemson has had is not too shabby, either.

The defense under Brent Venables has suffocated the entire ACC. To see where the program lands among the top conference contenders, check out the betting tips for 2021 ACC betting win totals.

The current odds suggest that they have the best (shortest) odds to reach the playoff. Risking $700 to win $100 is not worth it from a value perspective, but it is amazing how much respect the experts in the desert have given Dabo and the crew.

Clemson has come a long way over the years, as far as their odds for making the CFP goes.

2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
-200 -550 -175 +550 +155 +525

The ACC will have a pair of top 15 opponents that are capable of dethroning the Tigers. Plus, Clemson could lose its season opener in Charlotte against Georgia.

The Bulldogs are slight underdogs in that non-conference showdown, but Clemson would have added pressure if they somehow lose that opener.

They are double-digit favorites to win every ACC game in 2021. A loss after Georgia would put their hopes in jeopardy if they were to lose any other games. Even an ACC title would not be enough to get them in the College Football Playoff with two losses. There are not many solid teams on the schedule, meaning a second loss would be the knockout punch.

There has also never been a two-loss squad in the CFP era, and I wouldn’t bank on Clemson being the first.

Alabama Crimson Tide (-370)

Nick Saban has become the greatest ever during the era of the College Football Playoff. Pulling off four titles in the BCS era (1998-2014) was a Hall of Fame career by itself.

Adding three more during the CFP era has put him above the rest of the competition.

The schedule this season for the Tide is not a cupcake since they play in the SEC West. To see where it ranks among the toughest in the nation, be sure to check out our toughest college football schedules for 2021.

While the schedule isn’t easy, Alabama has a talented young quarterback in Bryce Young this season. They’re once again expected to be a title contender.

Anything short of a trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game would be a disaster.

Anything short of a College Football Playoff appearance is disappointing, but they are likely to run the table heading into that matchup against the SEC East winner.

The Crimson Tide have been under the microscope for years, and winning is flat out expected. Just look at their CFP odds going into the new year in recent seasons.

2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014
-125 -300 -270 -230 +125 +190 -120

Alabama has been favored to at least get to the College Football Playoff five of the last six years.

The conference title game would then be a de facto CFP quarterfinal matchup. The value makes this wager a difficult one.

If you believe this Crimson Tide squad is better than or at least as good as the past few, then dive in on this price. I would take a pass and look further into national title odds (+250) since that provides more bang for your buck.

Ohio State Buckeyes (-225)

Urban Meyer won a national championship thanks to complete domination of the time of possession. Ohio State’s potent ground game was unstoppable.

The Buckeyes appeared in the national title last season on the dual-threat ability of Justin Fields and the increased production of Trey Sermon.

The Buckeyes are that third wheel behind Alabama and Clemson, but they made the haters eat crow after demolishing Clemson’s defense.

Naturally, they’ve been expected to at least sniff the CFP, and they’ve been favored to get here three times since 2014.

2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014
-150 +230 +115 +125 +195 -300 +500

A ton of production is returning to Columbus despite the loss of Fields and Sermon.

The schedule is manageable, though a non-conference home date with Oregon looms large in Week 2. Similar to Clemson, the Buckeyes cannot afford two losses heading into the Big Ten title.

There should be a handful of Top 25 matchups on the slate, but this team has the experience of getting back for a third straight season.

Ohio State has been invited twice as a one-loss squad, and the other two came as undefeated squads. Either would give them an excellent chance of reaching the CFP.

The value is favorable at the moment, so feel free to lock this in.

Oklahoma Sooners (-210)

The Sooners are searching for their first national title since 2000-01 when they knocked off Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The talent level has improved since Bob Stoops retired.

Lincoln Riley has been an offensive guru that has had Heisman-like quarterbacks every season in Norman thus far. They fell short of the CFP due to an ugly first three weeks (1-2 start).

Spencer Rattler developed as the season progressed. He enters the year as one of the top 2021 Heisman Trophy contenders, and if he lives up to that, Oklahoma could be special.

The defense turned into a juggernaut in conference play. They even handled the Gators in the Cotton Bowl. OU has been the top team in the CFP era without a national title trip.

Luckily, Oklahoma seems destined to make a deep run in 2021. Here’s a look at their recent CFP outings.

2015-16 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
37-17 vs. Clemson 54-48 vs. Georgia (2 OT) 45-34 vs. Alabama 63-28 vs. LSU

They have yet to win a game in the CFP with a dreadful 0-4 record. The average margin of defeat is at 18 points per game, which is abysmal.

That must change if this team wants the national respect of Clemson or even Ohio State. Nearly the entire starting lineup on both sides of the ball is returning. Improvement in January is where this program will make strides.

Georgia Bulldogs (+170)

Still searching for their first national title since 1980, the Bulldogs have had their fair share of talented rosters in the CFP era.

They were often that trendy team in the BCS era towards the end of seasons, but they never appeared in a national title due to a consistent devastating loss.

They have their most talented quarterback in program history in JT Daniels, but the defense has allowed them to play for multiple SEC titles.

Getting to Atlanta could be one of their best paths in the Kirby Smart era, but their odds to reach the SEC and CFP will change if they win their opener.

The game against Clemson in the opener is not the end of the world for either team if they lose, but it does put added pressure on both. Luckily, the Bulldogs have a favorable slate, and the Gators lost most of their offensive playmakers.

A win against Clemson would make them instant title contenders from an odds perspective. It is dangerous to go all in Georgia before this game, but this is gambling after all.

The Dawgs will become a trendy pick to win it all if they manage to get by Clemson, so this is your chance to jump on board. Avoid going all-in on their national title odds until it is at least days away from kickoff.

Which Teams Will Make the CFP This Season?

All of these teams look like great bets to reach the 2021 College Football Playoff, but one stands out above the others.

The Sooners certainly will have their work cut out against Iowa State, TCU, and Texas. However, they are clearly above them all with a balanced roster. Spencer Rattler has the pieces around him to expose teams, especially with Riley calling the shots.

This Sooners team is their best in at least a decade, and they are my slam dunk pick to reach the College Football Playoff (-210).

They will end up as the number one seed when the committee ranks their final teams entering the postseason.

Clemson might lose their opener, and then the value (-710) will make you lose sleep for four months. Avoid doing that to yourself because the Sooners are going to steamroll the majority of their competition.

The time is now for Oklahoma to get back to the national title. They keep knocking on the door and coming up well short.

They are through getting in and leaving embarrassed in the semifinals. OU has their best defensive squad in years. They are loaded on offense and have the best play-caller in America.

Hope on these odds for Oklahoma to reach the CFP before it is too late.

For the other side of the argument, check out our post on the teams likely to miss out on the 2021 College Football Playoff.

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