Going into the 2022 season, which teams have the most realistic shot of making the College Football Playoff? Here’s our ranking of the 20 teams with a path to the playoff and what has to happen for each.
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It’s really hard to make the College Football Playoff.
Just winning your conference championship isn’t enough, and if you’re a Group of Five program, going undefeated doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything.
What have we learned since the start of the CFP experience in the 2014 season? You win your Power Five conference and finish with one loss, you’re a mortal lock to get in. You go 11-1 with that one loss to the eventual powerhouse conference champ, and you’ve got a shot.
You lose two games, and there’s a fun bowl game somewhere with a delightful array of goods, services, and prizes waiting before your glorified exhibition, but you’re not going to the show.
What’s the path to the College Football Playoff for all of the top contenders? Below are the key games that matter for each team that can reasonably dream about being among the top four, along with whether or not they’ll make it in.
Before diving in, some ground rules …
– Again, one loss and a Power Five championship, or unbeaten and a Group of Five title. Outside of a few special circumstances – SEC Championship loser, Notre Dame – two losses ends the run.
– Schedules mean almost everything. Take just about anyone in the SEC West and put it just about anywhere else but the Big Ten East, and it would be a contender to get into the CFP. Oklahoma’s path is a whole lot different than Texas A&M’s.
– Getting into the College Football Playoff and winning it require two very, very, very different skill sets. A team might have the schedule and magical formula to be one of the top four, only to find a two-piece of Alabama reality waiting behind the door.
The consensus odds to win the College Football Playoff are listed, but the goal is to find the teams that can get there. Here’s our ranking from the least likely among the top realistic options to make the College Football Playoff to the most likely.
This isn’t based on how good the teams are. This is about who controls their destiny, what has to happen, and the pecking order of 20 teams with the most realistic chances, starting with …
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +20000
Must Win Game: at Arkansas, Sept. 3
Landmine To Sidestep: at SMU, Oct. 22
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at UCF, Oct. 29
Bottom Line: The College Football Playoff repeat appearance dream could be over right away with a trip to Arkansas. However, win that, and it’s Game On. Going to SMU and UCF in late October is a bear, but everything else – including the home date against Indiana – is doable. One loss, though, and the CFP is out. There will likely be more than one loss.
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +10000
Must Win Game: at Georgia, Nov. 5
Landmine To Sidestep: at South Carolina, Nov. 19
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Pitt, Sept. 10
Bottom Line: It’s a HEAVY lift, but if the Vols somehow go 11-1 and get into the SEC Championship, the respect given to the schedule might be enough to keep them in the playoff hunt even with another loss. They’ll be good, but at Pitt, Florida, at LSU, Alabama, at Georgia, Kentucky, at South Carolina … that’s too nasty.
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +9020
Must Win Game: Georgia (in Jacksonville), Oct. 29
Landmine To Sidestep: South Carolina, Nov. 12
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Utah, Sept. 3
Bottom Line: Florida will be much, much better under new head coach Billy Napier, but it’s not beating Utah, and Kentucky, and LSU, and South Carolina, and getting by Georgia, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Florida State away from Gainesville. The College Football Playoff is too tough a goal, however, beat Georgia and the SEC East race gets interesting.
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17. Penn State
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +9100
Must Win Game: Ohio State, Oct. 29
Landmine To Sidestep: Minnesota, Oct. 22
Where It Could All Go Wrong: at Purdue, Sept. 1
Bottom Line: Considering the Big Ten East is much tougher than the West, if the Nittany Lions can get by Auburn on the road early on and split the dates against Michigan and Ohio State, they’ll be favored in the Big Ten Championship. It’s all too daunting for an elite Penn State team, but this version doesn’t appear to be close to that. However, if Michigan could do it last year …
Odds To Win the College Football Playoff: +7520
Must Win Game: Alabama, Nov. 5
Landmine To Sidestep: Tennessee, Oct. 8
Where It Could All Go Wrong: Mississippi State, Sept. 17
Bottom Line: Welcome to the SEC, Brian Kelly. Yeah, LSU might be able to stun Alabama if everything goes right, but can it go at least 12-1 with road games at Auburn, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M, and home dates against Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State? No, and all of that – and Alabama, too – comes with a season-opener against Florida State and whatever happens in the SEC Championship if everything goes right.