Before you have a conversation about dark horse playoff teams, I think you have to define the category a little. For the purpose of this piece, we are looking at teams that are currently beyond the top four college football playoffs odds, as technically they are the favorites, and I am also looking only at teams that have never participated in the playoffs since their creation. If you have done it once before I am not sure you can truly be a dark horse.
With that criteria in place we quickly eliminate the following: Alabama, Georgia, Oregon, and Ohio State (top four odds) plus Oklahoma, Notre Dame, LSU, Clemson, Michigan State, Florida State and Washington (remember those guys).
Now that we have established who is not “eligible,” we can take a meaningful look at some other teams.
Iowa Hawkeyes +4000
With Wisconsin’s record well below normal standards, the Hawkeyes are looking like the team to beat in the Big Ten West. After facing Maryland and Penn State, only a trip to Madison looks problematic. I am not a fan of their quarterback and overall offense but the Hawkeyes are well-coached and content to win ugly. It would help if whoever they play in the Big Ten title game was highly ranked too.
Penn State Nittany Lions +4000
Penn State and Iowa have a showdown coming up, and probably only one of those teams has a good chance at the playoffs after that game. Penn State was the first to expose the weakness of Wisconsin and has a win over Auburn too. The Nittany Lions will have plenty of chances to show they are an elite team, or not. They have to visit Ohio State, so if you are a believer in the Nittany Lions, the time to make your bet is sooner than later. If they win that one, their odds will drop big time.
Cincinnati Bearcats +4000
After facing Notre Dame (a game they’re favored in), they are probably double-digit favorites against everybody else. SMU is the only team left on their schedule that might give them a bump if the Mustangs stay undefeated. SMU’s win over TCU last week helped out the Bearcats quite a bit. Especially if TCU plays well in the Big 12.
Ole Miss Rebels +5000
We will find out a lot about Ole Miss against Alabama. The Rebels have a fantastic offense and a legit Heisman candidate in QB Matt Corral. Ole Miss is probably the only team on this shortlist that could afford a “good loss.” If they win the rest of their games after facing Alabama, and get some help (if they need it) they could be in the playoffs. The SEC can get a couple of teams in depending on the way things break.
Oklahoma State Cowboys +15000
The Cowboys have the games on their schedule they need to be a contender; all they have to do is win and hope that an undefeated Oklahoma team is waiting for them at the end of the season. If so, that might be a play-in game for the playoffs, though the nature of the Big 12 title games means they are going to have to beat somebody twice. Last year’s team was more talented, but this year’s group is doing the little things. At least so far.
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