This article is part of our College Football Picks series.
The 2021-22 College Football Playoff showed that it was in fact possible for new blood to finally break into the sport's final four teams. With big question marks hanging around a number of the playoff's annual contenders, could the 2022-23 season repeat with two programs making their debuts in the College Football Playoff, and perhaps even walk away with a national title trophy as well? While that's fun to picture, it's hard to imagine that at least one of the playoff's traditional contenders will not make their return to this field of four finalists and inevitably compete for a title once again, also.
College Football National Championship Odds
Alabama +190 at BetMGM
Ohio State +350 at BetMGM
Georgia +380 at DraftKings
Clemson +1200 at BetMGM
Texas A&M +3000 at DraftKings
USC +3000 at DraftKings
Oklahoma +5000 at FanDuel
Michigan +6000 at FanDuel
Notre Dame +6000 at FanDuel
Texas +8000 at FanDuel
College Football National Championship Bets
Ohio State Buckeyes, +350 (BetMGM)
Ohio State comes in among the trio favorites (along with Alabama and Georgia) to win the 2022 national championship, despite being the only program of this group that fell short of the College Football Playoff last season. This was primarily due to the Buckeyes' glaring shortcomings on defense, particularly against the pass - allowing 246.2 YPG (97th nationally) and a 43.5 percent passing success rate (94th nationally). Head coach Ryan Day went to work on improving this side of the ball during the offseason by bringing in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State. If this investment in Knowles returns even half of the on-field results of his 2021 Cowboys defense, which ranked first in scoring (18.1 ppg) and total yards allowed (297.9 ypg) in the Big 12 while also ranking in the top six for both defensive efficiency (35.8 percent) and explosive plays allowed (4.5 yards per play), then Ohio State should have all it needs to make a run to the national championship game once again.
The Buckeyes also return the bones of their core on offense - a unit that led the nation in scoring (45.7 ppg), total yards (561.5 ypg), efficiency (54.3 percent) and yards per play (8.1) last season. Quarterback C.J. Stroud is back after an impressive campaign as well as a potential phenom in the making at running back with TreVeyon Henderson. Leading receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba headlines a stable of wideouts featuring no shortage of top-end talent. Ohio State's poor performance on both sides of the line of scrimmage ultimately led to their loss to archrival Michigan. So, while an improved unit up front would be a welcome change from last season, Stroud and the Buckeyes should cruise to double-digit wins and be one of the clear leaders for the College Football Playoff once again.
Clemson Tigers +800 at BetMGM
For the first time since 2015, Clemson failed to break into the College Football Playoff. This below standards 9-3 campaign was due in large part to the team's overall incompetency on offense. For the first time in a long time, the Tigers lacked an all-world talent under center to fix the team's offensive deficiencies. The problems on offense were not limited to just the quarterback, however, as the Tigers lacked any consistently healthy difference-makers at the skill positions. These problems also exacerbated the Tigers' subpar offensive line recruiting efforts over the past few years.
There are in fact reasons to believe Clemson can bounce back in 2022. Though there are question marks on the back end of the defense, the defensive front seven could prove to be even better in 2022 with four returning starters on the defensive line to combine with a highly talented core of linebackers. This consistency will be important after the loss of longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who took over as the new head coach at Oklahoma. The Tigers ranked among the top 10 in four of the five statistical factors (field position, efficiency, explosiveness and finishing drives allowed) last season, and there should not be much, if any, drop-off on this side of the ball in 2022.
Clemson's glaring offensive woes still caused the team to finish 37th and 44th in overall efficiency and explosiveness margin, respectively, last season. Therefore, the emergence of dynamic offensive playmakers will be a must if the Tigers want to lift themselves back into their status as annual championship contenders. The return of Clemson's top three running backs, four of its five starting offensive linemen and a host of talented, but unproven, wideouts should indicate that there's nowhere to go but up on this side of the ball. The addition of 2022 five-star freshman Cade Klubnik should either push or, if need be, supplant quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei after he performed well below expectations in his first year as starter (55.6 perception percentage, 9-to-10 TD:INT ratio and a lowly 6.0 yards per attempt)
The overall path to ensuring a return to the College Football Playoff remains the same as always: Clemson will have to win the ACC while suffering no more than one loss to its three biggest threats on the schedule in Wake Forest, NC State and Notre Dame. Assuming the Tigers regress back to the mean on offense, there's enough reason to believe Dabo Swinney's squad can get back into the national picture once more.
Texas A&M Aggies +2500 at DraftKings Sportsbook
It's seemed like Texas A&M is on the precipice of taking the next step as a program for the past three seasons under head coach Jimbo Fisher. The recruiting results have been there, and the annual offseason hype has followed, but they've yet to culminate in any double-digit win seasons. However, these elusive on-field results may finally be on their way for the 12th man in 2022.
Underachievement epitomized Texas A&M's 2021 season, as the Aggies stumbled to an 8-4 final record. The lows brought on by the curse of high expectations were matched only by the highs of what might have been, as a home win over powerhouse Alabama showed just what the Aggies were capable of at their absolute best. This included a defense that finished third nationally in points allowed (15.9 ppg), seventh in limiting explosive plays (4.8 YPP) and eighth in defensive efficiency (36.5 percent). It was actually Fisher's offense that never found its footing due to incredibly inconsistent quarterback play (first from starter Haynes King followed by 'Bama slayer Zach Calzada). After the latter transferred to Auburn in the offseason, the Aggies will need to find a true starting quarterback if they hope to finally get over the hump in 2022.
After bringing in three-straight top-10 ranked recruiting classes, the Aggies finished off this year's recruiting cycle with what could go down as the greatest, and most controversial, high-school recruiting class in the modern era - at least on paper. So, while it's unfair to expect these returns to fully cash in immediately, this freshman class contains enough overall talent that it should make somewhat of an impact from day one.
Overcoming the gauntlet that is the SEC West is no small task for any College Football Playoff hopeful. But closer examination shows that the team's only true road test will likely come during its Week 5 trip to Tuscaloosa - a test which the Aggies have already passed at home. Maybe 2023 really will be the final breakthrough campaign for Fisher's squad, but given their overall talent and relatively favorable schedule, it's fair to ask: if not now, then when for Fisher and the Aggies?
Utah Utes +8000 at FanDuel Sportsbook
It would be very easy for any college football diehard to mistake Utah as a team from the Big Ten West rather than the West Coast over the past few seasons. Head coach Kyle Wittingham has cooked up his own style of physical, ground-and-pound football, allowing his teams to consistently out-muscle their Pac-12 conference opponents. The Utes' 48-45 loss in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State showed there's a difference between making it to and winning the big-time games, but Utah's shown that their style of play is good enough to match up well against the biggest programs in the nation. Now, the Utes appear to finally have all the ingredients necessary to become the league's first representative in the College Football Playoff in over five years.
The program should have plenty of positive momentum after posting an impressive 10-3 regular-season record and a Pac-12 title for the first time in 2021. Utah's offense got on track once quarterback Cameron Rising took over the full-time starting job in Week 4, and this side of the ball returns the majority of its starters from last season. Consistency on offense will also help assuage some key losses from the middle of the team's battering defensive front. With a proven corps of skill position players and a veteran defensive secondary that includes an up-and-coming player in cornerback Clark Phillips, Utah should have all the talent it needs to compete on the national level.
At the end of the day, winning games on the biggest stage will determine Utah's fate in the College Football Playoff conversation come November. With fellow conference heavyweights USC and Oregon both transitioning to new head coaches and quarterbacks, Utah should be favored heading into both of these regular-season matchups. A statement win at Florida in Week 1 would also be a valuable resume booster for the entire Pac-12 conference. It might be a longshot for the Utes to win the whole damn thing, but +8000 odds combined with the right mix of internal and external factors make them a savvy, high-reward pick heading into 2022.