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 in 2020 and still got there. In that spirit, here are darkhorse contenders for the 2022 College Football Playoff.
Note: Odds to win the CFP Championship must be 30/1 or worse. Odds found here.
1. Iowa State Cyclones (35/1)
Iowa State is a very experienced and good team. They return 18 starters from their team last season after they went to the Big 12 Championship Game. Quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall and tight end Charlie Kolar create a nice trio on offense, while the defense ranked 25th in scoring. There is a lot to like about this team heading into the 2021 season.
The path for Iowa State to make the playoff may not be entirely hard. They have a few 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 highly-ranked going into the season, they have some odds that likely don’t match how talented they truly are this year.
2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (40/1)
Notre Dame has made the CFP twice before. Last season, they were able to split with Clemson in the regular season and the ACC Championship Game to secure a bid. The Irish only return 11 starters, but they have plenty of talent to work with. Running back Kyren Williams will need to carry the load offensively. The seven starters back on the defensive side of the ball, including superstar safety Kyle Hamilton, should be able to play solidly after ranking 14th in the country in 2020.
The Fighting Irish have some tough games to get through this season. They play Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC and North Carolina in a span of six weeks. That run could ultimately end their hopes of the CFP, but if the Fighting Irish can figure out the quarterback position, they could win each of those games. Without a conference championship this year, Notre Dame will have very slim margins in order to make the CFP.
3. Miami Hurricanes (40/1)
Miami had a great season that only saw them lose 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-holding quarterback is back and should be ready for the start of the 2021 season. He’ll have tight end Will Mallory and Oklahoma-transfer wide receiver Charleston Rambo to help him, along four returning offensive linemen. The defense returns just five players, but safety Bubba Bolden is a star.
Because the Hurricanes scheduled Alabama in week one, they could actually afford to lose a game and maybe still make the CFP. If they get out of the regular season with one loss, whether it be to the Crimson Tide or someone else, and can still win the ACC Championship they can make the CFP. That is going to take some good efforts, but Miami should be favored in virtually all of their ACC games. If Clemson slips up in the ACC, Miami (or North Carolina) could swoop in and make the CFP.
4. Oregon Ducks (50/1)
Oregon won the Pac-12 Championship Game last year and look like they have some optimism heading into the 2021 season. Nine starters are back on offense and they should be able to produce points with dual-threat Anthony Brown under center. They have some good running backs in Travis Dye and C.J. Verdell to help as well. On defense, seven starters return and none are better than defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who not only rushes the passer well, but also does well against the run.
The Ducks have a big non-conference game against Ohio State. Whether they win or lose, they still can make the CFP if they run the table. They may need some help, as the Pac-12 doesn’t consistently make the CFP, but it is possible. Oregon is fully capable of winning the Pac-12 with one-loss and letting the chips fall where they may.
5. Cincinnati Bearcats (100/1)
Cincinnati had an undefeated regular season in 2020, but they were not invited to the CFP. After losing to Georgia in the Peach Bowl, a lot of Bearcats decided to return to the school. Quarterback Desmond Ridder is back for a fourth season and he’ll have plenty of weapons to utilize. Running back Jerome Ford (Alabama transfer), wide receiver Alec Pierce, wide receiver Michael Young (Notre Dame transfer) and Josh Whyle are all solid contributors. If the line can hold up they’ll put up points. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bearcats have at least two NFL players in defensive end Myjai Sanders and cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. They have enough talent to play with good teams, just as they did with Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
Last season, the CFP Committee said that Cincinnati didn’t have a tough enough schedule to get in. That won’t be the case this season. The Bearcats have road games at Notre Dame and Indiana in their nonconference schedule. They also have to play UCF in the AAC, which will be a tough game. The Bearcats will have to go undefeated (and likely get some help too), but they could find themselves in the thick of the CFP race at the end of the season.
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