Cincinnati and Michigan shocked the collective college football world when they made the College Football Playoff last season. Now, Shehan Jeyarajah of CBS Sports is calling his shots for dark horses for the 2022 season.
While many teams could qualify as a surprise, Jeyarajah explained the criteria each dark horse candidate must meet to be considered.
“To limit our scope of ‘dark horse’ teams, we’re excluding the 14 teams with 50-1 or better odds, including Alabama, Notre Dame, Utah and a number of other options,” wrote Jeyarajah. “Don’t worry, that still leaves more than 50 teams jockeying for position to overcome the odds and play for the national championship at season’s end.”
Here’s who CBS Sports believes are the dark horse programs for the College Football Playoff among all Power Five teams.
College Football Playoff: One team from each Power Five conference to watch in 2022, via CBS Sports:
“North Carolina State is the only postseason top 15 squad to rank top-15 in returning production,” revealed Jeyarajah. “Specifically, the Wolf Pack rank No. 5 in defensive returning production, but potential All-ACC quarterback Devin Leary will ensure that the offense keeps moving.”
Big Ten: Penn State Nittany Lions (75-1): Could Penn State mimic Michigan and shock the Big Ten on the way to the College Football Playoff? Jeyarajah believes the Nittany Lions are only a quarterback away from contending, and this season they have some fine options.
“Sean Clifford is back for another opportunity to rewrite the Penn State record books after an injury-plagued season,” wrote Jeyarajah. “However, all eyes will be on freshman Drew Allar .. Additionally, backup Christian Veilleux has shown some encouraging signs.”
Big 12: Baylor Bears (60-1): While the Bears are the defending champions of the Big 12, they’re still on the outside looking in when it comes to College Football Playoff odds.
Like Penn State, the CBS Sports writer believes quarterback will be most important, writing, “The big question about Baylor taking the step comes at quarterback. The Bears elevated sophomore Blake Shapen to the starting job after Gerry Bohanon led the most successful team in program history.”
“The Huskies ranked No. 17 nationally in talent composite in 2021, right in the range of Michigan, Penn State and Florida State,” wrote Jeyarajah. “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.”
SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks (125-1): Finally, Jeyarajah explained that finding a sleeper team in the SEC is the most difficult, due to the sheer amount of contenders within the conference. Still, the Razorbacks stood out above many others.
“The Razorbacks built on a strong debut with a 9-4 campaign and victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Arkansas won five of its last six games down the stretch, and only lost to then-No. 2 Alabama by seven points,” wrote Jeyarajah. “A few key parts are off to the NFL, but quarterback KJ Jefferson should only keep growing behind an offensive line that should always be excellent.
“The Razorbacks get Cincinnati, South Carolina and Texas A&M in the first four weeks of the season leading into Alabama. We’ll know what to expect quickly.