It feels like the same few teams make the College Football Playoff (CFP) every year, but that isn’t always the case. LSU wasn’t a favorite to make the CFP last season and still got there. In that spirit, here are darkhorse contenders for the 2020 College Football Playoff.
Note: Odds must be +3000 or worse. Odds found here.
1. Oklahoma Sooners (+3000)
Despite perenially competing for a CFP spot, Oklahoma comes in with some relatively long odds to make the playoff this season. They will be breaking in a new quarterback in Spencer Rattler, which may account for their odds. He has only thrown a few passes and hasn’t played meaningful snaps. If he plays well though, Oklahoma should be able to win the Big 12 again. They have 16 total returning starters, so the Sooners should be able to figure things out.
The other good news for the Sooners is that most of their big games will not be played away from home. They play Oklahoma State at home and Texas at a neutral site. Those will be the two toughest games on the schedule. Their next toughest game will be on the road against Iowa State, which makes their schedule pretty manageable. Oklahoma is expected to win the Big 12 again and if they can do it without losing more than one game, they are in play for the playoff.
2. Penn State Nittany Lions (+5000)
Penn State is one of the best programs in the country, they just can’t get over the hump to qualify for the CFP. Last season, they won 11 games and now they return 13 starters from that team. With quarterback Sean Clifford, tight end Pat Freiermuth and a solid offensive line, the Nittany Lions will put up points. They lost a lot from their defensive unit last year, but should be able to rank in the top 20 in scoring defenses after finishing in the top 10 last year.
A lot of years, Penn State stumbles just enough with their schedule to miss out on the CFP. They have Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State at home this season, which could all pose problems. On the road, they will have to play Virginia Tech and Michigan. That is a fairly tough schedule, but the Nittany Lions could surprise some and possibly sneak into the CFP with one loss.
3. USC Trojans (+3000)
USC has not yet been able to make the CFP since its inception. That could change this year if they can make a run in the Pac-12. The Trojans won eight games and have 17 starters back in the lineup from last season. Kedon Slovis is the key, as he had a fantastic freshman season and should improve as a sophomore. He’ll also have a great receiving core led by Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London. The offense will move the ball and the defense was average last year, but they do return all but two starters. A little improvement can help the team go a long way.
Their schedule is tougher, which puts them in a catch-22 situation. They have a chance to make their case to be in the CFP, but they could stumble. It all starts with a neutral site game with Alabama to open the season. The Trojans have tough road games at Stanford, Utah and Oregon. Other tough games include Notre Dame, Arizona State and Washington. USC has the talent, but they’ll have to come to play every week to make the CFP.
4. Wisconsin Badgers (+4000)
The Badgers always seem to be hovering around CFP contention, but have not been able to make it. They will likely have their shot again this season. Wisconsin won 10 games last season and have 13 returning starters. Quarterback Jack Coan will have to step it up now that all-time great running back Jonathan Taylor is in the pros, but Wisconsin always finds a running game. The defense has eight starters back after ranking 10th in scoring last season.
Wisconsin doesn’t usually have trouble in the Big Ten West, although Iowa and Minnesota can cause some problems this year. One of their crossover games with the Big Ten East is with Michigan on the road. It comes a week after their neutral site game with Notre Dame at Lambeau Field. The Badgers will likely win around 10 games, but with some luck, they can get through their tough schedule to stay in contention for the CFP.
5. Miami Hurricanes (+6000)
Miami hasn’t played up to their program’s standards in years, but there is reason for optimism. They play in the ACC Coastal, which is much more manageable for their schedule. The hurricanes also went to the transfer market to get dynamic quarterback D’Eriq King and edge rusher Quincy Roche. Those two should help their nine returning starters. While they won six games last year, Manny Diaz should be able to have this team win at least a few more games.
They have two tough nonconference games, one at home against Temple and one on the road against Michigan State. They get North Carolina and Florida State at home and Virginia Tech on the road, which makes for a manageable schedule. If King can recapture his 2018 form, the ACC Coastal could be one. If that can be done, they will still have to get through Clemson, their likely opponent in the ACC Championship Game.
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