3 Non-Power 5 Conference College Football Playoff dark horses: Who could be this year's Cincinnati?

Houston Cougars football team
Photo of Caleb Wilfinger

Caleb Wilfinger

NCAAF · 1 week ago

Show Bio

Deputy Editor for Pickswise. Lover of all US sports and Southampton FC.

The 2022 college football season is finally on the horizon. The battle for a spot in the College Football Playoff begins on August 27 and won’t slow down until December. 2021 was a banner year for the Group of 5, as Cincinnati pulled off the improbable and became the first Group of 5 team in the College Football Playoff.

Could we possibly see a repeat of that in 2022? Is there a team from outside the Power 5 that could make a run at a playoff berth? We’ll just have to wait and see. 

There are a few teams that we have targeted as longshot playoff contenders. Let’s dive into each of these dark horse playoff candidates.

Odds taken from FanDuel Sportsbook at time of publishing. 

Houston Cougars

Of the Group of 5 teams this season, Houston probably has the best chance of following in Cincinnati’s footsteps. After all, the Cougars faced the Bearcats in last season’s AAC title game. With a strong, veteran-laden team on both sides of the ball, Houston should make it back to that stage again. The Cougars have one of the best quarterbacks in the Group of 5 in Clayton Tune, to pair with explosive wideout Nathaniel Dell. Furthermore, their defense is anchored by several projected All-AAC first-team selections. This is a complete team, and they’ll play a manageable schedule.

If Houston runs the table in the nonconference, it will have beaten a pair of Big 12 teams and UTSA. That’s certainly a respectable start. The Cougars should then cruise through their conference schedule before facing UCF or Cincinnati in the title game. These are both respected programs that have made noise on a national stage in recent years. If the Cougars go undefeated and win the conference, the committee could take notice of their case. Houston is currently 300/1 to win the National Championship. And while I certainly wouldn’t go that far, I’ll be on the lookout to play any “make the playoff” odds for the Cougars as they become available.

Check out our Heisman Trophy best bets!

BYU Cougars

BYU is in an interesting position. On one hand, the Cougars are an independent and penalized for that. However, their schedule is so daunting that they’d deserve a seat at the table if they manage to pull off a few upsets. BYU plays Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame, and Arkansas in the span of 7 weeks to open the season. If they manage to stay undefeated, the Cougars still have games against Stanford and Boise State. That’s a schedule that includes a couple of big Power 5 brands, which is imperative. It also gives them a chance to get near the playoff rankings quickly, with their biggest games coming earlier in the season.

Jaren Hall is returning for his second season at quarterback, and he’s already shown that he has the talent to thrive against Power 5 defenses. If BYU’s defense can hold up in the trenches, it wouldn’t surprise me if it pulled off an early upset or two. At 500/1 to win the National Championship, BYU is also worth looking out for as its odds to make the playoff become available.

Fresno State Bulldogs

Fresno State is another interesting case. I was surprised to see the Bulldogs at 1000/1 to win the National Championship, far below the likes of below-average Power 5 teams. After all, this team still has Jake Haener at quarterback and a nonconference schedule that offers opportunities to impress. Fresno State will host Oregon State in Week 2 before traveling to Pasadena for a date with USC in the following weeks. If the Bulldogs can start 3-0, they’ll certainly be ranked in the AP Poll top 20. This bodes well for them going forward, as their Mountain West schedule features only 1 or 2 coin-flip games.

If Fresno State can run the table, they should at least enter conference championship week as a serious New Year’s Six bowl contender. Haener made some noise in upsetting UCLA last season, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a stellar year this fall. I’ll likely be taking a small shot on the Bulldogs as their odds become available.

Read our College Football National Championship preview, including an +8000 longshot!

At Pickswise we offer free expert College Football Picks and College Football Predictions for all games in the Power Five conferences and the top 25 teams outside of Power Five, including our College Football Parlay picks each week.

Virginia Bonuses

See All
PointsBet

$500

Get 5x $100 Risk-Free Bets!

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Make a bet of up to $100 and receive a refund if you lose

Get this offer once a day for the first 5 days you sign up

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

BetMGM

$200

Get $200 in Free Bets & a PICKSWISE HAT!

Sign up for a new account with BetMGM, and make a deposit of $10+.

Place a $10 moneyline wager on any team

Win $200 in free bets and a FREE Pickswise hat

21+ and new players only. Full terms available at BetMGM Sportsbook.

FanDuel Sportsbook

$250

Bet One, Get One: FanDuel will match your first bet placed up to $250 in free bets

Sign up for a new account with FanDuel Sportsbook

Deposit at least $10 into your account

FanDuel will match your first bet up to $250 in Free Bets!

Must be 21+ in CO. First deposit of at least $10 required. Bonus issued as non-withdrawable free bets that expire 14 days after receipt. See full terms at fanduel.com/sportsbook.

DraftKings

$100

Bet $5+ on MLB and get $100 in Free Bets Instantly!

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5+ on any MLB team to win their next game

Win $100 no matter what!

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.

PointsBet

$2,000

Get $2,000 in Risk-Free Bets!

Register for a new PointsBet account & deposit

Receive a free bet refund up to $500 if your first fixed odds bet loses

& a free bet refund up to $1,500 if your first two PointsBetting Wager loses

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Caesars Sportsbook

$1,500

Get up to $1,500 Risk-Free First Bet!

Sign up for a new Caesars Sportsbook account

Make your first deposit of $50+

If your first bet is not a winner, get it all back as a free bet (up to $1,100) if you lose!

21+. Terms and conditions apply.

Monkey Knife Fight

$100

Claim Instant Deposit Match up to $100 + Free $5 game

Register for a Monkey Knife Fight account & deposit using promo code PICKSWISE100

Monkey Knife Fight will match your first deposit up to $100

Deposit $100 and you'll get $100 bonus + a free $5 game

18+. Terms and conditions apply. You must live in one of the states where real money DFS is legal.

BetRivers

$250

Get a $250 Deposit Bonus!

Sign up for a new BetRivers account using promo code PICKSWISE

Make a deposit & get it doubled up to $250 total

To get a $100 bonus, deposit $100

Must be 21+. Play in IA Only. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-BETS OFF

Unibet

$500

Get a $500 Risk-Free Bet!

Register for a new Unibet account & make a deposit

Place your first bet up to $500 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $500

New players only. Terms & conditions apply. 21+. VA only.

BetMGM

$1,000

Get a $1,000 Risk Free Bet!

Register for a new BetMGM & deposit

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

21+. Terms & conditions apply.

FanDuel Sportsbook

$1,000

Get a $1,000 Risk Free Bet!

Register for a new FanDuel Sportsbook account & deposit

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

21+. Terms & conditions apply.

DraftKings

$1,000

Get a $1,000 Deposit Bonus!

Register for a new DraftKings Sportsbook account & deposit

DraftKings will match 20% of your deposit up to $1,000 total

To get a $100 bonus, deposit $500

21+. Terms & conditions apply.

Monkey Knife Fight

$100

Claim 100% Instant Deposit Match up to $100!

Register for a Monkey Knife Fight account & deposit using promo code PICKSWISE100

Monkey Knife Fight will match your first deposit up to $100

Deposit $100 and you'll get $100 bonus + a free $5 game

18+. Terms and conditions apply. You must live in one of the states where real money DFS is legal.

Yahoo DFS

$25

Get $25 in Site Credit With Yahoo DFS When You Deposit $5!

Register for a new account with Yahoo DFS and deposit $5+

Enter a $5 DFS contest

Upon entry, you will receive a bonus $25 in credit into your account!

21+ and new players only. Full terms available from Yahoo DFS.

TVG

$200

Get Your First Single-Horse Win Wager Back Up to $200 if you don't win

Register for a new TVG account and make a deposit

Place your first single horse win-type bet up to $200

If your horse doesn't win you'll get a refund up to $300

21+. T&C's apply. Please gamble responsibly.

TwinSpires

$200

Get a $200 Sign-Up Bonus with Twinspires Racebook!

Open your TwinSpires.com account using offer code BET200

$200 bonus cash will be credited in increments of $100 for every $400 wagered

To earn the full $200 bonus players must wager $800 within 30 days

21+. Terms and conditions apply.