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Sportsbooks await Big Ten’s decision on football season

Updated September 3, 2020 - 5:28 pm

Welcome to college football 2020. A season unlike any other.

Week 1 kicked off Thursday night with two of the six games on the Labor Day weekend betting board. But Las Vegas sportsbooks still aren’t sure if the Big Ten is going to play this year.

“It’s September, and we don’t know if Ohio State is going to be in our (College Football Playoff) futures pool. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Westgate sportsbook director John Murray said. “I heard a rumor on Twitter that there’s going to be a vote on Friday. If the Big Ten comes out to play and is eligible for the (CFP), we’re going to have to redo almost our whole futures book.

“We’ll bump everybody up and put Ohio State in. It’s really all about Ohio State. We don’t think any other Big Ten teams can realistically challenge for the (CFP) title.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced Aug. 11 that they were opting out of the fall season because of coronavirus concerns.

The Buckeyes were the second choice at the Westgate behind Clemson to win the national championship, and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was the co-favorite with Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence to win the Heisman Trophy before the odds were taken off the board.

The Westgate has reposted CFP and conference title odds for the six leagues planning to play this fall: Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt and Conference USA.

Heisman odds remain off the board, as star players continue to opt out to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. Georgia QB Jamie Newman, one of the favorites to win the Heisman at 25-1, opted out Wednesday. Louisiana State’s Ja’Marr Chase, the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top wide receiver, opted out Monday.

“We’re trying to book college football,” Murray said. “College football is just not cooperating with us.”

Line moves

Brigham Young-Navy is expected to attract the most Week 1 action in their 5 p.m. Monday matchup. The Cougars are 1½-point favorites after opening as 2½-point underdogs.

Murray said the Westgate took sharp money on the over in Saturday’s Army-Middle Tennessee State game. The total has been bet from 53 to 55.

Updated futures

Clemson is the adjusted 2-1 favorite to win the CFP, followed by Alabama (3-1), Georgia (4-1), Florida (12-1), Oklahoma (12-1), Texas (16-1) and Notre Dame (16-1). The rest of the field is 30-1 or higher.

Here are the conference favorites: Clemson (-375, ACC), Alabama (Even, SEC), Oklahoma (+125, Big 12), Central Florida (-110, AAC), Alabama-Birmingham (+225, Conference USA) and Appalachian State (-125, Sun Belt).

Teams to watch

College football handicapper Paul Stone is high on Texas.

“This Texas team might make a little noise in the national playoff picture,” said Stone (@PaulStoneSports), who lives in Tyler, Texas. “They have a four-year talented senior quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, and they have experienced veteran players at most positions.

“Linebacker Joseph Ossai is as good as any defensive player in college football, and I think he’ll be used very effectively by new defensive coordinator Chris Ash. I really think the Texas Longhorns could have a special season.”

Westgate sportsbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons likes Georgia to contend for the CFP title despite Newman opting out. He expects Southern California transfer J.T. Daniels to be a capable replacement once he’s cleared to return from a torn ACL suffered last season.

“J.T. Daniels is fine,” Salmons said. “Georgia looks really solid this year, and I think their coach (Kirby Smart) learned his lesson last year that he has to stop playing conservative.

“Georgia right now is recruiting on par with Alabama and Clemson.”

Salmons also is high on Pittsburgh, North Carolina State and Texas Christian.

“Pittsburgh has a lot of talent this year. I like the direction they’re going,” he said. “Another team from (the ACC) that was dreadful last year that’s on the improve this year is N.C. State. I like the coach (Dave Doeren) there. I think they’ll bounce back this year and be undervalued at the beginning of the year. You can find value on them.

“TCU is another team that has a chance to be really good this year. They recruit really well. They have a chance to be a lot better than what most people think.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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