Why West Virginia is a good title bet 

May, 10, 2011

About a week ago, while I was in Las Vegas, I wandered into the Sports Book at Mandalay Bay and picked up a sheet detailing the odds to win the BCS national championship. I was surprised at quite a few things I saw on there. The biggest eyebrow-raiser was seeing the Ohio State Buckeyes, who opened at 20-1, now down to a 10-1 pick. That OSU will be without five key starters, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, for the first five games of the season was one thing, but the cloud hanging over Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, thanks to an NCAA investigation, was another.

I later spoke about Ohio State and some other curious NCAA odds with my colleague Chad Millman, who authors the always interesting "Behind the Bets" blog on Insider with Ed Salmons, an oddsmaker at the Las Vegas Hilton. You can listen to our conversation on the podcast, in which we talk about how the "experts" arrive at their lines in these types of things as well as the merits of the Buckeyes, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Florida State Seminoles and other programs. I suspect Ed's feelings on West Virginia coach Bill Stewart may resonate with some folks and rile up some others.

With a nod to Chad and Ed, this week's Top 10 list consists of the best "values" for BCS title bets (all odds are from the Mandalay Bay/MGM sheet I picked up 10 days ago):

1. West Virginia Mountaineers

Opened 60-1; Current: 50-1

OK, you've read some of this here before: I am a big believer in Dana Holgorsen. He is as sharp an offensive mind as there is working in college football today. What he did last year at Oklahoma State was remarkable. Now he inherits a team with some promising young skill talent (remember the name Tavon Austin) and a gifted QB with starting experience in Geno Smith. Last season, WVU ranked 78th in scoring. Expect a huge jump. This team is going to pile up points and roll through the Big East.

In defensive end Bruce Irvin, the Mountaineers may have the best pass-rusher in the country. Better still, WVU has a big pivotal nonconference game Sept. 24, when the LSU Tigers visit Morgantown. The Tigers should be in the top 10 at that point in the season and maybe even No. 1 overall if they beat the Oregon Ducks in the season opener. That would be a huge win, potentially, for West Virginia. Would it be enough to vault them over an unbeaten SEC or even Big 12 champ? Doubtful, but if there is a bunch of one-loss AQ champs out there, an unbeaten WVU squad with a win over LSU may intrigue pollsters. So, at 50-1, the Mountaineers are a pretty intriguing pick.