Alongside the NFL, the NCAAF season, or the College Football season, in the United States is rapidly gaining popularity here in the UK. The exposure of the teams on channels such as ESPN, part of the BT Sport package, allied to a thirst for more Gridiron action means that more punters and fans are tuning in to the college game.

This week is the first week of the new NCAAF season and in this special preview article, we are going to explain how the College season works, what the end of season Bowl games are, and who qualifies, and how, for the National Championship Playoffs at the end of the season.

We will also give you a preview of some of the top teams to watch and which of them to back to win the College National Championship in the final game of the season early next year.

As always, all the odds shown in this article were correct at the time of writing but may change as the season progresses and all were taken from bet365 Sport.

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If you follow the NFL, then you may well be aware of the College game from the NFL Draft which took place earlier this year, but there is actually a huge feeder system which will filter players down to those who are good enough to have a career in the professional ranks.

However, the college football system is somewhat confusing for someone used to the simpler organisation in professional sports, such as the NFL.

How Is College Football Organised In The United States?

The Collegiate football system in the United States is first divided into three divisions.

Division I consists of the major colleges and universities across the United States and this tends to be the group of teams which people refer to when talking about College Football.

Division II consists of smaller colleges and universities across the U.S and Division III consists of the very small colleges and universities in the country that do not offer any scholarships to players.

However, to all intents and purposes and for this article, we will be referring to Division I teams when we talk about College Football.

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How Is The NCAAF Division I Organised?

This is where things get a little more complicated! Although we call the top level of College Football Division I, there are hundreds of teams that are in this particular division so, a single division of teams is impossible for practical reasons.

Instead, all the teams in Division I are split up into separate conferences, some of which are more prestigious than others.

Initially, these subdivisions for Division I teams were based on geography, hence some of the names as you will see below, but changes in the rules have allowed teams to switch conferences and divisions, often for a greater slice of the billions of dollars worth of TV revenue that is pumped into the game each year.

There are ten conferences in the NCAAF Division I, many of which are split into two divisions within each conference, and they are as follows:

  • ACC (split into 2 divisions, Atlantic & Coastal)
  • American Athletic (AAC) (East & West)
  • Big 10 (East & West)
  • Big 12
  • Conference USA (East & West)
  • MAC (East & West)
  • Mountain West (Mountain & West)
  • Pac-12 (North & South)
  • SEC (Eastern & Western)
  • Sun Belt
  • Independents

Currently, it is the SEC that is the powerhouse of College Football boasting a number of the top teams in the country, with other conferences such as the Big 10, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 also attracting more interest due to the quality of teams fielded.

It should also be noted that the names of the conferences now no longer indicate the number of teams in that conference in many cases. The Big 12 for example, has just 10 teams in its conference, where the Big 10 has 14 teams across its two conferences. Only the Pac-12 retains 12 teams in the conference.

The top conferences such as the SEC, Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12 and ACC receive a far greater proportion of the TV revenue than other conferences due to them featuring a greater proportion of the top collegiate teams, namely those ranked in the Top 25 in the country by the Associated Press and/or USA Today Coaches.

Currently, the pre-season rankings for the 2022 season are as follows

AP Collegiate Rankings – Pre-Season 2022/23 Season

  1. Alabama (SEC)
  2. Ohio State (Big 10)
  3. Georgia (SEC)
  4. Clemson (ACC)
  5. Notre Dame (Independents)
  6. Texas A&M (SEC)
  7. Utah (Pac-12)
  8. Michigan (Big 10)
  9. Oklahoma (Big 12)
  10. Baylor (Big 12)
  11. Oregon (Pac-12)
  12. Oklahoma State (Big 12)
  13. NC State (ACC)
  14. USC (Pac-12)
  15. Michigan State (Big 10)
  16. Miami FL (ACC)
  17. Pittsburgh (ACC)
  18. Wisconsin (Big 10)
  19. Arkansas (SEC)
  20. Kentucky (SEC)
  21. Ole Miss (SEC)
  22. Wake Forest (ACC)
  23. Cincinnati (AAC)
  24. Houston (AAC)
  25. BYU (Independents)

How Does The College Season Progress?

Each team in College Football will play all the teams in their division once, plus a selection of games against teams from their conferences other division, plus a small number of games against non-conference opponents.

For example, the Indiana Hoosiers this season play their Big 10 Eastern Division opponents once each (Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers), plus they also face Illinois, Nebraska and Purdue from the Big 10 Western Conference and they also face Idaho, Western Kentucky and Cincinnati in non-conference games.

The College season lasts for 12 weeks from until November 26th and at this point, teams will either finish their season, qualify for a Bowl game, or if they are good enough, be voted in to compete for the National Championships in the Playoffs.

College Bowl Games & National Championship Playoffs

The College Bowl games are the season-ending games for qualifying teams and each is contested for a different trophy, called a Bowl.

This year there are 43 Bowl Games, plus the 2023 College Football Playoff National Championships as well as six All-star games to complete the season.

Four of the most prestigious Bowl games are the Orange Bowl (played in Florida), Sugar Bowl (Louisiana), Cotton Bowl Classic (Texas) and Rose Bowl (California).

The Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl games also double as the College Football Playoff Semi Finals, with the winners going on to contest the National Championship game which this year will be contested at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Most Bowl games have affiliates to certain leagues, for example the Rose Bowl is always played between a team with a winning record from the Big 10 against a team with a winning record from the Pac-12.

A team usually needs to have a winning record to qualify for a Bowl game, but that is not always the case depending on how the season has panned out. Often a prestigious college with a losing record will be selected to play in a Bowl game over a lesser-known smaller college with a better record but against weaker opponents.

The top four teams in the country according to their record, strength of schedule, AP ranking and if they get enough votes, will then go on to compete in the National Championship Playoffs.

These start with the aforementioned Peach and Fiesta Bowl games, which also serve as semi-final games, with the winners progressing on to play for the National Championship.

Top College Championship Contenders And Odds

So who are the College teams tipped to shine in the NCAAF this season? Let’s take a quick look at some of the contenders below, together with their odds from bet365 Sport.

  • Alabama – 9/5

Nick Saban’s SEC Powerhouses lost out to Georgia in the Championship game last season, but they are back and looking stronger than ever. They remain the team to beat if you want to be National Champions.

  • Georgia – 7/2

Having seen many of their starters of last season’s National Championship winning team drafted into the NFL in April, it will be a much-changed Georgia team that tries to defend the title they won last year. Their SEC battle with Alabama could prove decisive to their chances.

  • Ohio State – 7/2

In C.J.Stroud the Buckeyes have a quarterback that could propel them into the reckoning for the National Championship. Their week one opener against Notre Dame will give you a good idea of how talented this team is and the chances they have of landing a shot at the top prize.

Bet365 offers an extensive range of college football bets in their American Football section on the site throughout the season with pre-match and in-play betting on many of the top games each week.