It feels like the same few teams make the College Football Playoffs (CFP) every year, but that’s not always the case. The LSU was not a favorite for the GFP in 2020 and still made it. With that in mind, here are the Darkhorse contenders for the 2022 college football playoffs.
Note: The odds of winning the CFP Championship must be 30/1 or worse. Odds found here.
1. Iowa Cyclones (35/1)
Iowa State is a very experienced and good team. They return 18 starters from their team last season after going to the Big 12 Championship Game. Quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall and tight end Charlie Kolar form a nice trio on the offensive, while the defensive took 25th place in the points classification. There’s a lot to like about this team heading into the 2021 season.
The path for the state of Iowa to make the playoff may not be all that difficult. You’ve got some tough games this season against Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. If they can get through the season with at most one loss and then win the Big 12 championship, they could crash the CFP. For a team that is high-ranking early in the season, they have some odds that are unlikely to match their talent this year.
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (40/1)
Notre Dame has done the CFP twice already. Last season they were able to part ways with Clemson in the regular season and in the ACC Championship Game to secure an offer. The Irish are only returning 11 starters but they have a lot of talent to work with. The returning Kyren Williams has to bear the burden offensively. The seven starters back on the defensive side of the ball, including safety superstar Kyle Hamilton, should be able to play solidly after finishing 14th in the country in 2020.
The Fighting Irish have some tough games ahead of them this season. You play Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC, and North Carolina within six weeks. That run could ultimately end their hopes for the CFP, but if the Fighting Irish can figure out the quarterback position, they could win any of those games. Without a conference championship this year, Notre Dame will have very small margins to reach the CFP.
3. Miami Hurricanes (40/1)
Miami had a great season in which they only lost to Clemson and North Carolina in the regular season. They also lost in the Cheez-It Bowl, but quarterback D’Eriq King was injured. The record quarterback is back and should be ready for the start of the 2021 season. He will have Will Mallory and Oklahoma transfer wide receiver Charleston Rambo to help out, along with four returning offensive linemen. The defense only returns five players, but security is Bubba Bolden a star.
Since the Hurricanes hit Alabama in the first week, they could actually afford to lose a game and maybe even make the CFP. If they leave the regular season in loss, be it to the Crimson Tide or someone else, and still win the ACC championship, they can make the CFP. This will take some effort, but Miami should be preferred in virtually all ACC games. If Clemson slips in the ACC, Miami (or North Carolina) could step in and do the CFP.
4. Oregon ducks (50/1)
Oregon won the Pac-12 Championship Game last year and looks like it has some optimism for the 2021 season. Nine starters are back on the offensive and should be able to score points below the middle with the Anthony Brown double threat scenario. They also have some good running backs in Travis Dye and CJ Verdell to help them out. Seven starters return on the defensive and none is better than defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who not only rushes the passerby, but also does well against the run.
The Ducks have a big no conference game against Ohio State. Regardless of whether you win or lose, you can still hit the CFP if you lead the table. You may need some help as the Pac-12 doesn’t consistently do the CFP, but it is possible. Oregon is able to win the Pac-12 at a loss and drop the chips where they can.
5. Cincinnati bear cats (100/1)
Cincinnati had an unbeaten regular season in 2020, but they weren’t invited to the CFP. After losing to Georgia in the Peach Bowl, many Bearcats decided to return to school. Quarterback Desmond Ridder is back for a fourth season and will have plenty of weapons at his disposal. Running back Jerome Ford (Alabama Transfer), wide receiver Alec Pierce, wide receiver Michael Young (Notre Dame Transfer) and Josh Whyle are all solid contributions. If the line can hold, they’ll set points. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bearcats have at least two NFL players on the defensive end, Myjai Sanders and cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. They are talented enough to play with good teams, like they did with Georgia at the Peach Bowl.
Last season, the CFP committee said Cincinnati doesn’t have a tough schedule to get in. That won’t be the case this season. The Bearcats have street games in Notre Dame and Indiana on their non-conference schedule. You also have to play UCF in the AAC which is going to be a tough game. The Bearcats need to remain undefeated (and likely get help too), but they could find themselves in the middle of the CFP race by the end of the season.
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