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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Mega Millions-Level National Title Odds

As you may have heard, the odds of pulling the winning ticket in a Mega Millions jackpot is 175,000,000 to 1. You are far, far more likely to win a gold medal at this summer’s Olympics than you were of picking six correct numbers last Friday. Not that the odds stopped me from buying a $5 ticket at my local convenience store, or prevented another risk-taker – as I witnessed while waiting in line – from stepping up to the teller and plopping down five crisp $100 bills. Do you have any idea how long it takes to print out 500 lottery tickets? To put the Mega Million odds in football perspectives, let’s consider one scenario: What odds would you give Hawaii to win every game for the next decade?

Saying that Hawaii remains in the Mountain West and that the conference does not add a title game, a decade-long winning streak would entail a 130-0 mark from 2012-2021. That’s all. Are the odds of that happening greater or less than your chance at buying the winning ticket for a Mega Millions jackpot?

Better yet: What odds would you give Akron to win the 2012 national championship? The gambling site Bovada currently has U.S.C. as its national title favorite, giving the Trojans 4-1 odds. After U.S.C. comes L.S.U., at 9-2, followed by Alabama, at 11-2, and Oklahoma and Oregon, both 10-1.

If U.S.C. is 4-1, what’s Akron – or any other bottom-feeding F.B.S. program? In all, Bovada lists 43 teams that it believes to be worthy of at least being included in the national title conversation. As Jason Kirk of SB Nation points out, Bovada was kind enough to list Oregon State, Boston College, U.C.L.A. and South Florida on this list, albeit at 200-1 odds.

There’s no way that U.C.L.A. wins a national title in Jim Mora’s first season. Putting $10 on 200-1 odds on U.C.L.A. ever winning a title under Mora, on the other hand, would be a nice and sensible bet. The Bruins do have a better chance at 14-0 than does Akron, or another woebegone program playing for three wins and pride, but 200-1 seems low.

So you’re saying that the Bruins have a chance? Yeah, U.C.L.A. has a chance. I’d put the odds at 1,000-1, not 200-1, but the Bruins do have enough talent, and now the coaching, to make an altogether unexpected run through the Pac-12. I’d list Boston College at 10,000-1. Oregon State at 2,500-1. South Florida at 900-1, if only because the Big East is eminently winnable.

But there are teams out there whose odds of winning the 2012 national title hover somewhere around taking home an Olympic gold medal – 22 million to 1, or thereabouts. Mega Millions odds? Not that bad, though the chances that the entire F.B.S. minus one of these teams is declared ineligible for the 2012 season, thereby giving the last team standing the default championship, is roughly 175,000.000 to 1. A short list:

Duke 15,000,000-1
Indiana 20,000,000-1
Minnesota 20,000,000-1
Army 21,000,000-1
Memphis 35,000,000-1
New Mexico 50,000,000-1
U.N.L.V. 55,000,000-1
Florida Atlantic 75,000,000-1
Buffalo 75,000,000-1
Akron 125,000,000-1

Would you waste your $5 betting on Akron to win on 125 million to 1 odds? Couldn’t hurt, I guess. South Alabama, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Massachusetts aren’t included in the field, as that bunch won’t be eligible for postseason play until 2013, but rest assured: each would be in Akron’s range. The chance that U.T.S.A., if eligible, would win the national title in 2012 is roughly a billion to one.

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  1. DMK says:

    But if we played out the 2012 season 500 million times, Akron would win a few titles.

    A better point would be that there’s no reason for Akron et al. to even have football programs.

  2. Hokieshibe says:

    would Akron win any titles? With the current structure, I’m really not even sure that it’s possible… Maybe in a few years if you go undefeated, establish yourself a bit (a la Boise), they could get inot the discussion… But for Akron to get in next year… I’d go so far as to say it’s zero…

  3. GTWrek says:

    I think if you played a baseball or basketball season 500 million times, you might see every team win the title at least once. College and Pro. But I don’t think football is that variable. I don’t think Akron would win it once.

  4. DMK says:

    I disagree. It’s pretty easy how they win it: (1) They turn out to be much better than everyone thinks and beat all of the … let’s be frank … middling teams on their schedule; (2) they beat a Tennessee squad still in disarray; (3) stars align and the big teams from the power conferences take 3 losses [an undefeated Akron would be chosen over a 2-loss Pitt but maybe not an LSU, for example; voters get enamored]; they pull of a shocker in the BSC title game.

    It’s just a variation of the Boise formula, only extreme.

    Run it 500 million times. Easy.

  5. Bobak says:

    With your predictions I’ll be disappointed if UTSA doesn’t lose every game next season.

  6. Dave says:

    @ DMK –

    I’d agree, except that the BCS voters would find 500 million ways to keep Akron out of the title game.

    Akron CERTAINLY wouldn’t get in over a 2-loss LSU – an undefeated Hawaii didn’t get the nod over a 2-loss LSU in ’07 and it was harder to go undefeated in the WAC at that point than in the MAC now.

    Voters so favor the SEC these days that I’m not sure even a 3-loss SEC power loses out on a title shot to an undefeated mid-major. I think it takes 4 losses.

  7. Josh H. says:

    It’s fun to think about, but the biggest difference between the two is that one requires skill, the other dumb luck. Take your pick on which is which haha :P

  8. GTWrek says:

    Dave understands.

    You could run it a trillion times. Akron would never get in.

  9. Hokieshibe says:

    Agreed. Now if they do it over the course of a couple of seasons, and build up some cred (like Boise…) and then maybe, if there is total anarchy at all levels, then there’d be an opportunity. So, I’d say one season is impossible, but maybe over a couple seasons, if you did each a million times, Akron might get in the last one.

  10. DMK says:

    I’d love to play poker with you guys…

  11. Dave says:

    In poker, there isn’t a bunch of biased dudes watching from the sidelines, deciding that a jack should trump a king in a given hand because it has a nice body of work.

  12. Burnt Orange says:

    In looking at the Final AP rankings for the past 50 years, only three MAC type teams have finished in the Top 10 – Miami of Ohio in 1974 and 2003 and Marshall in 1999. Each of these teams finished 10th. I believe Marshall was the best of these teams – 13-0 with marquee wins over Clemson and BYU – that gets you 10th. In my opinion, the only way a MAC team or Sunbelt team gets into a position to win the national title is if they run the table, win three big out of conference games including one monstrous upset. So the mere schedule eliminates any chance for most of these teams. This year, if Miami of Ohio takes out Ohio St., Cincy, and Boise all on the road plus run the table, then they have a theoretical shot. Same with WKU, if they beat Bama, Southern Miss, and Kentucky. Now DMK, if I put up 100 bucks on WKU against Bama in Tuscaloosa, straight up, what kind of odds will you give me ?

  13. DMK says:

    I’m risk averse. 1000-1. Bama’s offense absolutely lays and egg; weird turnovers; WKU runs back a kickoff to the 30 and kicks a FG. (I watched the LA-Monore game …)

    These are big, big numbers people are throwing around. 50 million seasons? That’s dinosaur extinction stuff.

    The trick here wouldn’t be so much that Akron went undefeated as that all the real contenders somehow took 3 losses.

    Just Akron undefeated, everyone else with 3 losses. With BCS hate so high theses days, I promise voters would have them at #1 and the computers would almost have to put them there.

    Boise almost got there in real life!

  14. Burnt Orange says:

    Very generous DMK. I really expected 200 -1. They play that game 200 times, and the Hilltoppers might win it once or twice. Witness La. Monroe. Have twice witnessed Texas escape North Texas barely in Austin over the years. Actually, I agree with your thinking and math. The odds of WKU winning in Hattiesburg are probably 15 -1. In Lexington, they might be as low as 8 to 1 given last year’s game. Every other game is winnable and they will be favored in many. The key to a MAC team or Sunbelt team getting into the discussion is the monstrous upset. Merely beating Kentucky or Southern Miss is nice but you have to actually play and beat a legitimate title contender to have a shot.

  15. Dave says:

    Boise almost got there in real life!


    But like Hoskieshibe pointed out, Boise slowly worked its way into the national (i.e. voters’) consciousness over half a decade of steller play, which included big upset wins in every season.

    It just doesn’t work in the course of a single year – see Ball State in ’08, which hadn’t even cracked the top 10 at 12-0 entering post-season play.

    BCS hate is high everywhere EXCEPT amongst BCS voters. Still think it takes 4 losses to officially knock a blue blood out of the race in favor of Akron.

    PS Paul, great thread

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