The AP Top 25 is out this week and as always, the No. 1-4 teams are the on-paper preseason favorite to make the playoffs. But that's a little boring, isn't it? From the SEC, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs, Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, and ACC darlings, the Clemson Tigers round out the top four. All great teams, yes, but four teams we've all seen before. The same can be said for Michigan and Notre Dame who sit inside the top 10. But isn't it much more fun to see an underdog team make the playoffs for the very first time? Like Cincinnati? Luckily for us, college football is anything but boring. And just like Cincinnati last year, it's always fun when an underdog crashes the party of college football elites.
There are a couple of boxes a school must first check to become crashers. Most important, no two-loss teams. Since the College Football Playoff started, every participant has had one or no losses and this year will be the same with so many quality teams. Next is a good head coach, and finally, at least two to three future NFL prospects. That said we put together a list of five underdogs we think may be able to crash the CFP in 2022.
Biggest test: at Texas Tech (Sept 10)
Odds to reach Playoff: N/A
Odds to win national championship: +25000
The Houston Cougars appear as the biggest underdog on this list and the only Group of 5 school. Houston could be this season's Cincinnati Bearcats -- an underdog outside of the Power 5 that sneaks into the playoffs. Houston has been a good football school for a few years, having finished ranked in the Top 25 four times over the past seven seasons, but like Cincinnati before them, the only way Houston gets into the playoffs is to go undefeated. And that isn't totally out of the question. Houston is a strong team with a weak schedule. They went 12-2 in 2021 and lost the AAC title game to those crashers from Cincinnati. Houston returns several starters on both sides of the ball, and they picked up a few players through the transfer portal that have played at the Power 5 level. They have one of the better defenses in the nation, too, with several linemen who should play on Sundays. So the directive is clear, go undefeated, win the AAC and pray. Still, if there is any Group of 5 school we like as a prime candidate to crash the College Football Playoff, it's Houston.
Provided the Cougars can get past the first two weeks of their season unscathed, they don't have many challengers beyond that. A Week 1 matchup at UTSA, where the road team was victorious in 2013 and 2014, and Week 2 at Texas Tech, which has beaten Houston in its last three meetings, are going to be tough outings for the Cougars.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Biggest test: vs Oklahoma (Nov 19)
Odds to reach Playoff: +1400
Oklahoma State lost the Big 12 Championship by a literal yard when Dezmon Jackson was taken down a foot short of the goal line on fourth down late in the game. It was also a day when First Team All-Big 12 quarterback Spencer Sanders tossed four interceptions and still the Cowboys almost won. Sanders is back with an ax to grind, and Mike Gundy also returns seven starters to the high-powered Cowboy offense. They have a top-ranked defensive line heading into the year, too, but they lost defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State. All this has the 12th-ranked Pokes not just thinking Big 12 Championship but crashing the Playoff as well. After all, they beat Baylor (in the regular season), Texas, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl last season. We like the way they get things done.
The Big 12 is nothing but a grind, and coming out of the season with no more than one loss won't be easy. Okie State sees two ranked opponents and Texas on their schedule in 2022, but teams like Iowa State, TCU, and Texas Tech can be pesky as well. The grudge match vs. Baylor on October 1st will be something every college football fan should tune in to. And then of course there is "Bedlam" against Oklahoma on November 19th, and we wouldn't be shocked or more ecstatic if we got Bedlam II in the Big 12 Championship Game.
NC State Wolfpack
Biggest test: at Clemson (Oct 1st)
Odds to reach Playoff: +1400
NC State was one of the most overlooked teams in college football last season. Forget getting anyone to notice them in their own conference with Pitt and Kenny Picket and Wake Forest and Sam Hartman stealing everyone's thunder, the Wolfpack were quietly a very good team. In fact, they have quietly been a good team for a while. *Read this next part in a whisper* In the last eight seasons, NC State has the second most wins in the ACC. That's right, second only to Clemson. It's time to start making some noise about underdog NC State, because they just may make some of their own this season. The AP-ranked No. 12 school is buoyed by its ruthless defense. ESPN's David Hale ranked the secondary and the linebacking units both No. 1 in the ACC. Quarterback Devin Leary returns behind a veteran offensive line one season removed from tossing 3,433 yards, 35 TDs, and 5 INTs as well
There are two tough battles on the schedule for the Wolfpack: Clemson on October 1st and Wake Forest on November 5th. FSU isn't going to be a walk in the park either, but let's focus on that Wake Forest game for a moment; it comes at a time when you would expect Sam Hartman to be back under center for the Demon Deacons. Currently, he is out indefinitely with a non-football medical issue, but it's been said he is expected to return this season. If that is the case, NC State's path to the postseason might get a little cloudy, unless they can pull off an upset against Clemson.
Biggest test: at Oregon (Nov 19th)
Vegas odds to reach Playoff: +425
What's not to like about Utah in 2022? Reigning Pac-12 champions, the highest-ranking Pac-12 team according to the AP Top 25 at No. 7, a top-10 defense, and an under-the-radar, Playoff-caliber quarterback in Cameron Rising. In fact, let's look at that last point a little closer. One might argue that if Rising had been able to finish the Rose Bowl in January, Utah may have beaten Ohio State. They lost 48-45 after Rising went out in the fourth quarter with a head injury, but they clearly showed they can compete with the best of the best.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham is also an under-the-radar head coach. In his 18 seasons with Utah, the Utes have played in 15 bowl games with an 11-4 record. We talk about crashing the Playoff in 2022, but back in the days of the BCS, Utah was the original "BCS Buster". They were the first team from a non-Power 5 school (they were the Mountain West at the time) to appear in a BCS Bowl game when they beat Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
All that being said, Utah's schedule has some potential tripping points. But, for a team that demolished Oregon twice in 13 days and took Ohio State down to the wire, we think they are capable of handling themselves. Two ranked teams appear on the schedule: USC on October 15th and at Oregon on November 19th. They travel to SEC country to open their season at Florida. Utah is an underdog that could easily find itself in the Playoff when the season ends.
Texas A&M Aggies
Biggest test: at Alabama (Oct 8)
Odds to reach the Playoff: +700
Something has been building in College Station for a while now, and this could be the year it erupts. Texas A&M put together the best recruiting class in history this year, and no recruiting class has fallen outside the top 10 since 2019. History is on Jimbo Fisher's side when it comes to high recruiting classes making the playoffs, too. Seven of the 10 highest recruiting classes in history have won or played for a national title within four years of that class, according to 247Sports. Some say that may still be a few years away for A&M, but we think this is the year they break through and we start putting them in the yearly conversations with Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson.
This year, the Aggies have an elite defense that projects to be one of the country's best. On offense, running back Devon Achane, ranks in our top 10 backs in the sport. What they need to become a playoff contender is top-level quarterback play from either Haynes King or LSU transfer Max Johnson. ESPN's Bill Connelly ranked the winner of the A&M quarterback battle as the most important player in 2022's playoff race. No pressure!
Unlike the other teams on this list, Texas A&M is being recruited, built, and coached like a powerhouse team. This is good because they play in the SEC, where the titans of college football clash as like in a Godzilla movie. Three of the Aggies' SEC foes are ranked with Florida, Auburn, and LSU waiting in the wings. Add a visit from No. 16 Miami early in the season, and it won't be easy for A&M in 2022. The biggest game is obviously Bama, who will be looking to get revenge following last year's loss.
An Aggies upset over 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and Nick Saban's Crimson Tide should secure them a spot in the SEC Championship Game as long as everything else falls into place. Despite the toughest schedule of any other team on this list, we like the Aggies as our best bet underdog to crash the Playoff this year. If that happens, who's to say they might not be playing in the national championship game?