College football playoff dark horse candidates: One team from every Power Five conference to watch in 2022

When spring training broke out in 2021, there would be no guessing Michigan and Cincinnati would be on the college football playoff field with Clemson and Oklahoma sitting at home. College football always gives us the unexpected, but it’s never too early to decide our shots with dark horse contenders for this season’s CFP.

To limit our field of “dark horse” teams, we exclude 14 teams with odds of 50-1 or better, including Alabama, Notre Dame, Utah and a number of other options. Don’t worry, that still leaves over 50 teams vying for position.

Here are the teams from each Power Five conference that fit our dark horse criteria that could shock the world and make the pitch.

Caesars Sportsbook Odds: 150-1

The wolf pack has hovered on the edge of good and good over the past decade. Dave Doeren’s side have won between seven and nine games in all but one season since 2014, including a 9-3 year in 2021 that could have led to more had the bowling game not been called off.

Now North Carolina State is the only top-15 playoff team to place in the top-15 in return production. Specifically, the Wolf Pack ranks No. 5 in defensive return production, but potential All-ACC quarterback Devin Leary will ensure the offense keeps moving forward.

NC State was close to competing for the conference championship in 2021, but fell short. Circle a game on the road against Clemson on Sept. 30 — it could decide the ACC Atlantic.

Caesars Sportsbook Odds: 75-1

Penn State is still a quarterback. Unlike last season, the Nittany Lions have more than one usable flagger in the room to lift the ground.

Sean Clifford is back for another chance to rewrite Penn State’s record books after an injury-plagued season. However, all eyes will be on rookie Drew Allar, the No. 1 quarterback and No. 3 overall in the Top247 rankings. Moreover, replacement Christian Veilleux has shown encouraging signs.

Penn State has built a consistent defensive reputation and should be able to maintain it after losing two star defensemen in the second round of the draft. However, the full slate of options at quarterback might be what Penn State ultimately needs to get into the playoff mix.

Caesars Sportsbook Odds: 60-1

The Bears are the defending Big 12 champions, but their 60-to-1 odds still push them outside the top 15 in national championship odds. Despite losing six players to the NFL Draft, Baylor still has an intriguing chance to make its first College Football Playoff.

Baylor has the best trenches in the Big 12 on both sides of the ball with four offensive linemen and every defensive lineman back. The Bears also added intriguing inside lineman Jaxon Player from Tulsa to bolster the unit alongside future NFL draft pick Siaki Ika at nose tackle.

The big question about Baylor taking the plunge comes from the quarterback. The Bears elevated second-grader Blake Shapen to starter after Gerry Bohanon led the most successful team in program history. While Bohanon was solid, Shapen brings a new level of upside that could prove useful with Oklahoma and BYU on the schedule.

Caesars Sportsbook Odds: 200-1

The three teams with real playoff chances all sit at 50-1 odds, so heading to the Pac-12 required us to get creative. Ultimately, it took us six years back to find one of two conference programs with a playoff appearance to its name.

Washington was 4-8 last season, but the off-field disaster surrounding Jimmy Lake’s tenure has obscured what has always been one of college football’s most consistent programs. The offense was particularly bad, but new coach Kalen DeBoer produced dynamic units everywhere he coached. If the defense doesn’t drop much, there’s a potential two-way street.

The Huskies ranked No. 17 nationally in composite talent in 2021, just within the range of Michigan, Penn State and Florida State. DeBoer added a top-25 national transfer class, including Indiana quarterback Michael Penix and four skill-position players. The ingredients for a turnaround are heading to Seattle.

Caesars Sportsbook Odds: 125-1

Obviously, finding a dark horse in the SEC takes a little extra work with so many easy suitors in the field. If there’s a team out to ruin some Saturdays in the fall, Sam Pittman’s Hogs are that team.

The Razorbacks built on a strong start with a 9-4 campaign and victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Arkansas has won five of its last six games in the streak and only lost to the then No. 1. 2 Alabama by seven points.

A few key pieces are being cut from the NFL, but quarterback KJ Jefferson should only continue to grow behind an offensive line that should still be excellent. The Razorbacks get Cincinnati, South Carolina and Texas A&M in the first four weeks of the season leading up to Alabama. We will quickly know what to expect.

Bets on the rich strike

On Saturday, Rich Strike pulled off the biggest upset of the kentucky derby since 1913. Upsets make the sport great, so we’ve decided to round up a few more underdog betting options that match or exceed Rich Strike’s 80-1 odds to win it all.

Kentucky (125-1): Hey Will Levis, do you want to live up to Chris Trapasso’s too-early 2023 draft simulation by placing yourself as the No. 1 pick? I have just what it takes. Kentucky won 10 games last year for the second time and returning star running back Chris Rodriguez next to Levis. With still excellent defense on the other side and a manageable schedule leading up to a showdown with Georgia on Nov. 18, why not the ‘Cats?

BYU (200-1): Rating BYU below North Carolina, Iowa State and UCLA seems insane, but I’m no bettor. The Cougars have an impressive schedule with Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame and Arkansas on the schedule. BYU is also returning a number of fantastic team stars, including quarterback Jaren Hall and wide receiver Puka Nacua. The perfect mix of talent and opportunity is there, especially in what could be a tumultuous 2022 season.

Houston (300-1): Like BYU, these Cougars are technically not on our list for being a Five Eyes program. But with Cincinnati graduating from nine NFL players, Houston could be the smart new bet to make the AAC college football playoff field. UH went 12-2 with a victory over Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl, and returns star quarterback Clayton Tune and wide receiver Nathaniel Dell. With UTSA and Texas Tech on the non-conference roster, there will be manageable opportunities to build momentum.

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