College football conference odds: Can Tulane go back-to-back in the American Athletic?

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Tulane wide receiver Duece Watts (2) celebrates a touchdown with Tulane wide receiver Shae Wyatt (10) against Central Florida during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship NCAA college football game in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

We’ll preview every major conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision between now and the start of college football season on Aug. 26 through the lens of sports bettors. Each preview will include a shallow dive into the favorites, long shots and our favorite pick(s).

We will provide the full list of odds for the conference, as well as links to other conferences, toward the end.

We’ll start with the non-power five conferences and work our way toward the big fish in the pond, finishing with the Southeastern Conference. When the season begins, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top divisions in the sport.

We’ll continue today with the American Athletic Conference.

Last season

If you had the Tulane Green Wave winning the American Athletic Conference after a 2-10 showing in 2021, I hope you bought a lottery ticket last December. Willie Fritz pulled off perhaps the most impressive coaching job in the country as he took Tulane’s poor record in 2021 and flipped it on its head in 2022.

The Green Wave’s miraculous turnaround capped off with a 45-28 win over UCF in the American Athletic Conference title game. This was the school’s first conference championship since 1998 when it won Conference USA for the only time. They then went on to defeat USC in a thrilling Cotton Bowl showdown and complete a 12-2 season. This saw Tulane finish inside the AP Top 10 (No. 9) and establish itself as the best non-power five team in the country in 2022.

Other notable finishers in the American Athletic were Cincinnati (9-4), UCF (9-5), Houston (8-5) and SMU (7-6). Three of those four teams are no longer associated with the AAC, which opens the door for the Green Wave to achieve something in 2023 that it hasn’t since 1931: back-to-back conference titles.

The American Athletic is receiving a facelift in 2023. The conference goes from 11 teams to 14 schools. Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are headed to the Big 12. As a corresponding move, the AAC adds Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA.

Favorites

Oddsmakers at Caesars Sportsbook have Tulane (+240) repeating in 2023. The Green Wave are just one of three remaining teams that have won an AAC title before, along with Memphis and Temple. Fritz returns for his eighth season in New Orleans and he will be looking to build on last year’s superb 12-win season.

Quarterback Michael Pratt returns for Tulane and he’ll need to take his play to another level with running back Tyjae Spears off to the NFL. The Green Wave bring back a plethora of key players in the trenches and on defense too. Pratt should continue to grow as a gunslinger, so Tulane is the rightful favorite in the new-look American Athletic Conference.

However, the Green Wave will not be able to walk over competitors without a challenge from their foes. Perhaps the biggest threat to Tulane is newcomer UTSA (+290). The Roadrunners are the two-time defending Conference USA champions with a record of 23-5 during that span.

Jeff Traylor has his UTSA squad up and running, playing the best football in program history. This is large in part due to the contributions of quarterback Frank Harris, who is back in 2023. Traylor and Harris are key to the Roadrunners’ success, in addition to a stout defense that returns seven players.

SMU (+320) has crept up odds boards following the schedule release as the Mustangs managed to avoid both Tulane and UTSA in 2023. They added a number of impactful players at skill positions through the transfer portal to help out young quarterback Preston Stone. All SMU needs to do is figure out some of the issues on its defensive front and the offense could carry it to a title game.

Longer shots

Newcomer Florida Atlantic (+600) is also being given an outside shot to make some noise in the American Athletic. Head coach Tom Herman’s track record speaks for itself in the AAC. However, he and his staff have a lot of questions to answer as far as personnel is concerned.

Ryan Silverfield hasn’t yet brought Memphis (+800) back to the heights it reached under former head coach Mike Norvell. There will finally be a sense of normalcy for the Tigers in 2023, though, as they bring back quarterback Seth Henigan. A new-look conference and an addition in the transfer portal (Old Dominion RB Blake Watson) will contribute to Memphis’ continued ascent.

Temple (+2000) seems like an odd pick for the next-best odds to win the conference, even if the Owls are still 20/1 long shots. They won just three games in Stan Drayton’s debut season in Philadelphia, but there was one common theme: youth.

The Owls return a ton of offensive production with their quarterback and three top pass-catchers. The defense also brings back seven starters, so this is a unit that knows how to play with one another. Temple will be growing together in 2023, and there is nothing more dangerous than a talented group with cohesion.

North Texas (+2200) is essentially the antithesis of Temple. The Mean Green are getting a new coaching staff, signal caller and skill players this season as they transition into the American Athletic. There are destined to be some growing pains, which explains the long odds for a team that’s enjoyed relative success in recent years.

Value picks

Saturday, November 25, is the date to circle on your calendars. That’s when the two title favorites, Tulane and UTSA, will meet on the Green Wave’s home turf. Tulane (+240) now knows what it takes to win the American Athletic, and the returning core — minus Spears — gives it the edge in my book.

The fact that SMU (+320) avoids both of the aforementioned AAC powerhouses in the regular season is huge. The Mustangs will likely square off against one or the other if they do make the title game. Nevertheless, the fact that they have one of the easiest paths means they’re worth a flyer at +320.

If you’re looking for a true long shot, Temple (+2000) is the only realistic value play. Even if the returning core does piece it all together, it’s going to be really tough to make up the gap between the Owls and their title competitors in just one season. We saw Tulane go from 2-10 to 12-2 in one season, though, who is to say that Temple can’t potentially do the same?

Full American Athletic odds and win totals

(Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook, as of Tuesday, August 1)

 Team  Title odds   Win total
 Tulane  +240  9 (o-135)
 UTSA  +290  7.5 (o-170)
 SMU  +320  8.5 (o-125)
 FAU  +600  7.5 (u-140)
 Memphis  +800  7.5 (o-160)
 Temple  +2000  5.5
 North Texas  +2200  6 (u-140)
 Navy  +2800  6.5 (u-150)
 East Carolina  +3500  5 (o-140)
 South Florida  +4000  4.5 (u-135)
 Tulsa  +4000  4.5 (u-120)
 UAB  +4000  4.5 (o-130)
 Charlotte  +6000  3 (o-150)
 Rice  +7500  4.5

College football conference pieces

July 12: MAC

July 13: Conference USA

July 19: Mountain West

July 26: Sun Belt

Aug. 2: American Athletic

Aug. 9: Pac-12

Aug. 15: Big 12

Aug. 16: ACC

Aug. 22: Big Ten

Aug. 23: SEC

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