Aces, Astros, Bulldogs and a double dose of LSU: Preseason odds for every sport’s champ in 2022/23

LSU celebrates after defeating Florida in Game 3 of the NCAA College World Series baseball finals in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 26, 2023. LSU won the national championship 18-4. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

We’re using the end of June as the end of the sports calendar, acknowledging that it’s a messy science because many sports are still in the middle of their seasons.

We’re going with it and taking a look at the winners of 12 important sports championships from the past year (NFL, NCAAF, MLB, NBA, WNBA, NHL, men’s and women’s NCAAB, college baseball and three soccer titles — the EPL, the UCL and the World Cup) and see which was the most unlikely.

Using the futures market as close as possible to the start of each season, here are the odds for each winner, listed from heaviest favorite to biggest underdog.

12. Manchester City, English Premier League (-165)

Man City was an even bigger favorite than last year when it took home this title as a -140 favorite. The boys in sky blue added Erling Haaland to an already stacked team, overtook Arsenal a little over halfway through the season and never looked back. Remember, with no playoffs, European domestic soccer leagues often feature the biggest championship favorites of all.

11. Manchester City, UEFA Champions League (+250)

This was a more uncertain title because of the single-elimination nature of the second half of the tournament and because the Cityzens had never won it before. That changed this year, and when Man City held off Inter Milan in the final, the question became not whether they’d ever win a UCL title — but who is ever going to stop them.

10. Las Vegas Aces, WNBA (+350)

(Note: This is for the 2022 season that ended last fall. For our purposes, the current WNBA season is considered as part of the next sports year)

With former South Carolina star A’ja Wilson leading the way, the Aces won their first WNBA title as the preseason favorites. They tied for the best record in the regular season with the Chicago Sky at 26-10, then defeated the Connecticut Sun three games to one in the WNBA Finals. The New York Liberty have geared up for the 2023 season, so the Aces may have stiffer competition when the postseason rolls around this fall.

9. Georgia, college football (+400)

It’s hard to believe the Bulldogs were ever this high of a price, but there were some question marks about Georgia’s ability to repeat, especially given the presence of Alabama in their own conference and Ohio State and USC rising on the national scene. In the end, the Bulldogs faced LSU for the SEC title and TCU for the national title and didn’t have much trouble with either; their biggest roadblock, by far, was Ohio State in the semifinals.

8. LSU, college baseball (+500)

Preseason favorites don’t win the championship often in college baseball (last year, Ole Miss topped this list at 25/1 odds), so you know it was a truly special team to take on the expectations and deliver a championship. LSU had exactly that, with outfielder Dylan Crews and pitcher Paul Skenes likely the top two picks in the MLB draft next month and a bunch of talent elsewhere. That still didn’t make it easy; the Tigers had a late-season slump that dropped them to the No. 5 national seed for the NCAA tournament, then had to come through the elimination bracket at the College World Series.

7. Argentina, men’s World Cup (+700)

Lionel Messi and company weren’t the favorites to lift the famous trophy, but they were hardly underdogs, either. Once favored Brazil went out in the quarters, all eyes were on La Albiceleste, who survived all-time classics against the Netherlands in the quarters and France in the finals, both in penalty kicks.

6. Houston Astros, MLB (+1000)

(Note: This is for the 2022 season that ended last fall. For our purposes, the current MLB season is considered as part of the next sports year)

Like with Georgia, these odds seem like a no-brainer bet when you look at them in hindsight. The truth is, the Astros’ odds dropped quickly after the season started, in large part because Mattress Mack put several large bets on them to win the World Series. Those ended up costing sportsbooks millions (but also gained them a lot of publicity) as the Astros, on a remarkable run of four pennants in six years, notched their second World Series title, throwing a Game 4 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies in the process.

5. Kansas City Chiefs, NFL (+1100)

While KC wasn’t as unlikely a champion as the L.A. Rams (+1400) the year before, the Chiefs weren’t exactly the Super Bowl favorites, either. That mantle belonged to the Buffalo Bills, and several other teams had odds similar to or even lower than the Chiefs. That’s due in part to a tough AFC — the Chargers and Broncos were considered threats in the West, and the Bengals had risen in the North. In fact, it’s crazy to remember that Patrick Mahomes and company were almost 2/1 to win their own division.

And it wasn’t entirely easy, of course. They had to vanquish those Bengals on a late field goal in the AFC championship game and then needed some late heroics to hold off the Eagles in the Super Bowl.

4. Denver Nuggets, NBA (+1600)

Long a playoff team but not considered a true contender, the Nuggets finally stayed healthy this year, and Nikola Jokic showed what he could do with a full roster around him. Even once the playoffs started with Denver as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, however, there were doubters.

The Nuggets were behind both the Celtics and Bucks in odds at the time, and they were actually underdogs to the Phoenix Suns in the second round. As it turned out, the Nuggets went 16-4 in a dominating playoff run and never faced an elimination game.

3. Vegas Golden Knights, NHL (+2000)

For most of the season, the Boston Bruins were heavy favorites, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are fickle, and when Boston went down in the first round, the field became wide open. The Golden Knights, who reached the Finals in their first season as an expansion team in 2017/18, survived a gauntlet that included showdowns with the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers — the team that had vanquished Boston — to lift their first Cup as a relative long shot.

1 (tied). Connecticut, NCAA men’s basketball (+6000)

Even as they entered March Madness, the Huskies were a bit of an afterthought as a No. 4 regional seed. But they had been analytics darlings all season, showing per-possession numbers that popped off the chart. They kicked it into gear in the NCAA tournament; they trailed at halftime just once, in the opening game against Iona, and their 13-point win over Miami in the national semifinals was their closest victory. Along the way, they hammered Gonzaga in the regional final and then beat San Diego State for the national title.

1 (tied). LSU, women’s college basketball (+6000)

It didn’t take long for the Tigers, led by Maryland transfer Angel Reese and fiery coach Kim Mulkey, to make these odds look silly — they were down to +2500 at the end of the season’s first month and dipped as low as +700 during the regular season. Still, after a loss in the SEC tournament, LSU was only 20/1 to start the NCAA tournament and could even be bought at +600 at the start of the Final Four. Once heavily favored South Carolina lost in the other semifinal, however, the Tigers had their chance — and they blitzed Iowa 102-86 in the championship game to take advantage.


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