College Football Playoff contenders 2022: Who can sneak up on Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia

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Will the exclusive College Football Playoff Club welcome new members in 2022?

The 2021 CFP had two first-time participants in Michigan and Cincinnati. However, in the eight seasons of its existence, only 13 schools have made it to the four-team playoffs. Only six schools — Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Ohio State and Oregon — have competed in the CFP championship game, and half of those schools are in the SEC.

So a list of real national championship contenders for the 2022 season doesn’t have to be that deep. That’s not to say there aren’t a few teams that can be this year’s version of Michigan and Cincinnati. We have sorted this list into three categories.

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A national title contender are those who will be playing in Los Angeles. A playoff contender could make the field, but we’re not sure they’re ready to go through. Wildcards are teams that we just don’t want to remove from the list should they make this run.

The semifinals of the College Football Playoffs will take place on December 31st this season. These semifinals will be played at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta and the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. The College Football Playoffs championship game will be held on January 9th at SoFi Stadium in Glendale, California.

A look from conference to conference to find the national title-worthy teams, playoff contenders and wildcards that could potentially wreak some havoc into the 2022 season:

Acc

National title: Clemson

Playoff contenders: NC state

Wildcards: Wachwald, Miami

Why? Clemson lost three games last season, but a 10-win season is far from the end of the program. The Tigers still ranked second in defense in the FBS (14.8 points per game), and future first-round picks Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy and Trenton Simpson are back. We’re confident that offense will be back to ACC championship levels, but there will be competition. NC State defeated Clemson 27-21 last season, and the Wolfpack have been looking for a playoff breakthrough with Dave Doeren. Wake Forest has an elite offense, and Miami is a cycle or two away under new coach Mario Cristobal. We’ve removed defending ACC Champion Pitt from the list. It will be difficult to recoup the loss of first-round pick Kenny Pickett at quarterback and Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, who joined USC.

big ten

National title: State of Ohio

Playoff contenders: Michigan, State of Michigan

Wildcards: Pennsylvania

Why? Why the disregard for the Big Ten West? The Big Ten West Division winner is 8-0 in the Big Ten championship game, and they’ve lost the last four, averaging 21.3 points per game. That makes it difficult to put Iowa, Wisconsin, or Nebraska on that list. We’ll believe it when one of these teams wins the Big Ten championship game. Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State all take turns chasing the Buckeyes, and each school has a CFP-era Big Ten championship. Ohio State still has a combined 20-3 record against those three schools since 2014, and this year’s Buckeyes team could have the best offense in the game with a line-up that includes CJ Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson have FBS.

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big 12

National title: none

Playoff contenders: Oklahoma, Baylor

Wildcards: Texas, State of Oklahoma

Why? Baylor is the conference’s defending champion, and the Bears finished seventh in the final CFP rankings last season. A Week 2 trip to BYU is a good early test to see if the Bears really are a playoff-caliber team. Oklahoma will be back with new coach Brent Venables, but this is the same program going 0-4 in the CFP semifinals. Oklahoma State is coming off a 12-win season, but defensive coordinator Jim Knowles headed toward Ohio State. Yes, we know Texas finished last season 5-7, quarterback Quinn Ewers hasn’t even won the seed and could be left off that list after the Week 2 matchup against Alabama. The Longhorns still have enough offensive firepower to win the wide-open Big 12. Could they make it with a loss?

Pac-12

National title: none

Playoff contenders: Utah, USC

Wildcards: Oregon

Why? The Pac-12 has not promoted a team to the CFP since 2016. Utah completed the program’s first Rose Bowl run last season, but the Utes still had three losses in the regular season. The start in Florida will not be easy. USC should probably be considered more of a wild card given the Trojans went 4-8 last season. Lincoln Riley’s transfer portal magic brought in Caleb Williams, Travis Dye and one of the nation’s top receiving tandems in Addison and Mario Williams. Dan Lanning has talent to work with in Oregon, but even Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly lost three games in their first seasons with the Ducks. This could be a little honeymoon for the Ducks, who could be fighting uphill after that opener against Georgia.

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SEC

National title: Alabama, Georgia

Playoff contenders: Texas A&M

Wildcards: Tennessee, Arkansas, Ole Miss

Why? Alabama and Georgia will be the overwhelming favorites to contest another rematch in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs are 59-6 combined against the rest of the SEC as of 2018. There is a good chance that both teams will end up back in the CFP. Texas A&M will start the season in the top five in most preseason polls, but it’s time for Jimbo Fisher to confirm that. Arkansas and Ole Miss are SEC West sleepers, and both are getting Alabama at home this season. Tennessee is becoming a chic sleeper despite last year’s 7-6, and there are reasons to buy in. The Vols had a top-10 offense last season, and Hendon Hooker is returning as quarterback. Just consider that Tennessee hasn’t beaten Alabama, Florida and Georgia in the same season since 2004. This Vols team still lost three games.

Independent/group of 5

National title: none

Playoff contenders: Our lady

wild card: none

Why? Notre Dame has made it to the CFP twice, and they could enter as an independent this year with an 11-1 record. The Irish can prove it in the opener against Ohio State, and they should go 7-1 into a November that includes a home game with Clemson and an away game at USC. This is a tough first-year schedule for new coach Marcus Freeman. There will be no Group 5 sleepers in the CFP this year. Cincinnati lost nine players in the NFL draft and Houston will be their main rival in the AAC. It’s hard to see both teams going undefeated. Remember that The Path to CFP is a 2 year project for a group of 5 schools.

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The last count

If you add up the numbers, there are 22 teams. That’s 16.7% of the 131 schools in FBS that will be in the College Football Playoff.

That’s just four real contenders for the national championship. Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State have combined for seven of the eight CFP championships. It would be better for the sport if someone — like LSU did in 2019 — broke through, but these are the four teams that have built the best rosters through elite recruitment.

Of the nine teams listed as playoff contenders, Notre Dame and Texas A&M would be closest to this label for national championship contenders. The Irish have to pass two of those contenders at Ohio State and Clemson. Texas A&M meets Alabama on Aug. 8 in one of the most anticipated games of the year, aggravated after the offseason beef between Fisher and Nick Saban.

Oregon is the only team listed among our nine wildcards to have attended the CFP, and that was in 2014 with Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Which of these wildcard teams has a real Heisman contender? Keep an eye on Miami with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. They play at Texas A&M on September 17th and Clemson on November 19th. If the Hurricanes can get a split in those two games, Van Dyke could get that kind of attention and they’ll have a chance in the ACC.

Dave Gallo

Dave Gallo is a pioneering sports analytics expert, renowned for his revolutionary work in AI-driven sports simulations, projections, and advanced statistical analysis. With a profound passion for sports and technology, he crafts cutting-edge computer models that accurately predict outcomes. Dave's game-changing insights have reshaped strategy, player evaluation, and decision-making across various sports. His dynamic presentations make complex analytics accessible and inspiring, ensuring his legacy as a visionary in sports analytics. Check out Dave's Pick Record.

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