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Dark-Horse Contenders To Make The New Look College Football Playoff

In the world of college football, the BCS system was created in 1998 to select two teams for the National Championship. However 2014, the College Football Playoff format was introduced, allowing a 13-member committee to choose the top four teams.


Now, the College Football Playoff has expanded to include 12 teams, allowing more teams than ever to make it to the postseason. This expansion means that more teams have a shot at making the playoffs. Here are my dark horse candidates who could make it to the new-look playoffs. In the world of college football, the BCS system was created in 1998 to select two teams for the National Championship. However 2014, the College Football Playoff format was introduced, allowing a 13-member committee to choose the top four teams. Now, the College Football Playoff has expanded to include 12 teams, allowing more teams than ever to make it to the postseason. This expansion means that more teams have a shot at making the playoffs. Here are my dark horse candidates who could make it to the new-look playoffs.


Dark-Horse College Football Playoff Contenders


Utah Utes, CFP Odds: +280

College Football Playoff Contender Utah Utes
College Football Playoff Contender Utah Utes

Utah is starting their first year in the Big 12 after spending the last 12 seasons in the Pac-12. Last season, the team was plagued by injuries, with quarterback Cam Rising suffering a knee injury in Utah's Rose Bowl loss in 2022, which kept him out for the entire 2023 season. If Cam Rising can return to his previous level of performance, along with Utah's formidable defense under Kyle Whittingham, the Utes could have a shot at making it to the expanded College Football Playoff.


NC St WolfPack, CFP Odds +470

College Football Playoff Contender NC State
College Football Playoff Contender NC State

NC State has a chance to win its first ACC title in school history, with Clemson and Florida State having holes to fill on their roster. The Wolfpack added quarterback Grayson McCall through the transfer portal, who has won three straight Sun Belt Player of The Year Awards, and running back Jordan Walters, who led Duke with 819 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, the defense has lost six starters, including linebacker Payton Wilson, who will be difficult to replace.


USC Trojans, CFP Odds: +410

College Football Playoff Contender USC Trojans
College Football Playoff Contender USC Trojans

USC is currently being undervalued. Last season, the team's performance was hindered by its bottom-14 defensive unit, which was under the guidance of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. With Grinch no longer in the picture, former UCLA defensive coordinator D'Anton Lynn has been brought in. Lynn successfully led UCLA to a top-ten defensive ranking last season. If the Trojans' defense can perform at an average level, USC stands a good chance of making the 12-team College Football Playoff, thanks to its highly potent offense led by the country's best offensive-minded head coach, Lincoln Riley.


Auburn Tigers, CFP Odds: +650

College Football Playoff Contender Auburn Tiger
College Football Playoff Contender Auburn Tigers

Hugh Freeze has a trend of teams making large jumps in his second season. In 2011, Freeze took on his first head coaching position with Arkansas State, leading the Red Wolves to an 11-2 season, a considerable leap from their 4-8 record the year before. A year later, he became the 37th head coach for the Ole Miss Rebels, achieving a 7-5 record in his first year. The following year, he further improved the Rebels' performance, securing a 9-3 record and marking a historic victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1988. Later, with Liberty, Freeze attained a 7-5 record in his first year and an impressive 10-1 record in the following season. With Auburn overhauling its roster with experienced and young talent, the only remaining question for the Tigers is whether Payton Thorne can perform well enough for Auburn to make a mark in the SEC.


Oklahoma St Cowboys, CFP Odds: +950

College Football Playoff Contender Oklahoma State Cowboys
College Football Playoff Contender Oklahoma State Cowboys

With Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, the Big 12 conference is now wide open. Oklahoma State is well-positioned to capitalize on the opportunity. The Cowboys return the fourth-most production in the country from a team that made the Big 12 Championship. They boast the nation's top running back in Ollie Gordon II and the top returning offensive line in experience and production. Each member of the offensive line has at least 20 starts, totaling 172 combined starts as a unit. Quarterback Alan Bowman will return for his seventh season and second consecutive year as the starter. Although the Cowboys' defense ranked No. 122, they still made it to the Big 12 title game. Improving the defense's performance could propel the Cowboys into contention for a College Football Playoff spot for the first time in program history.


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