5 Dark Horses That Could Crash 2021 College Football Playoff Party

Zach Brunner

The 2019-20 college football season is in the books, with Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers knocking off Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers, 42-25, in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship game. And the opening odds to win next season's championship have already been released, with Clemson getting the best shot to win it all at +200 odds, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Following Clemson, a few blue-blood programs top the odds to win it all, including Ohio State (+350), Alabama (+700), Georgia (+750) and LSU (+1400). However, there is always a chance that a new contender emerges. Here's a look at the top-5 dark horses that could make a splash in the 2021 CFP title next January.

All college football betting odds and lines are according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

5. Oregon Ducks (+8000)

Mario Cristobal won the Rose Bowl in his second season as Oregon's head coach.
Mario Cristobal won the Rose Bowl in his second season as Oregon's head coach. / Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Oregon graduates senior quarterback Justin Herbert, but this Ducks' team has shown it can be a hard-nosed, tough team to take out. CJ Verdell is one of the best returning RB talents in the country, and head coach Mario Cristobal should have his team prepared to play week in and week out. In his two seasons running the show in Eugene, Cristobal has led the Ducks to a 9-4 and 12-2 season, respectively. Oregon also boasted the No. 9 scoring defense this season (15.7 points per game), of which rising sophomore DE and former consensus No. 1 overall high school recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux should help carry into the 2020-21 season.

4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (+8000)

Tanner Morgan passed for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Tanner Morgan passed for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns as a sophomore. / Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Finishing the 2019-20 season at No. 10 in the last AP Top-25 Poll, the Golden Gophers were one of the hottest teams in the country before stumbling down the final regular-season stretch. Returning QB Tanner Morgan now has a full year of starting experience under his belt with the Gophers and could be on his way to another great year after tossing for 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions last season. Sitting in the less-competitive Big Ten West, Minnesota also avoids matchups with both Penn State and Ohio State in its 2020-21 regular-season schedule. If Minnesota can repeat its 9-0 start to the 2019-20 season and get the best of Wisconsin and Iowa this time around, the Gophers should be rolling into the 2020 Big Ten championship game with a legitimate path to the CFP ahead of them.

3. Florida Gators (+2500)

Dan Mullen went 11-2 in his second season as Florida's head coach.
Dan Mullen went 11-2 in his second season as Florida's head coach. / Mark Brown/Getty Images

Florida has all the makings of a championship-caliber team after an 11-2 season that only featured losses to the No. 1 (15-0 LSU) and No. 5 team (12-2 Georgia) in the nation. The Gators will likely have a preseason QB battle on their hands between Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks, which could pose to make next year's team even more competitive down the stretch from a depth standpoint. The Gators had the No. 8 scoring defense in the country in 2019-20, allowing only 14.4 PPG, and they know how to get after opposing QBs too, averaging 3.77 sacks per game (No. 4 in FBS). While Florida is losing a few notable names from that side of the ball to the 2020 NFL Draft, the Gators still hauled in one of the most impressive recruiting classes in the nation during December's early-signing period. If their offense can take it to the next level with a little more explosive QB play, this Florida team could find itself competing for it all next season.

2. Auburn Tigers (+6000)

Bo Nix started as a true freshman for Auburn.
Bo Nix started as a true freshman for Auburn. / Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Auburn finished the season at No. 14 after a surprising loss to Minnesota in the 2020 Outback Bowl, but that finish remains an impressive feat considering both the Tigers' ridiculously challenging schedule and youthful inexperience on offense. Bo Nix, Auburn's true freshman QB, could be primed to take a leap in his sophomore season after being tested by the SEC's best defensive metal all year long, while running backs JaTarvious "Boobee" Whitlow and D.J. Williams return as a junior and sophomore, respectively. The Tigers' wide receivers are also incredibly young, with their top two producers in 2019-20, Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, heading into their junior seasons. Auburn was simply a young, inexperienced team that already exceeded expectations playing in college football's toughest neighborhood (SEC West), and the Tigers seem to have all the indications of a team trending in the right direction ahead of 2020-21.

1. Penn State Nittany Lions (+5000)

Sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford scored 28 total touchdowns this season.
Sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford scored 28 total touchdowns this season. / Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As discussed around Minnesota above, the winner of the Big Ten is always likely to be considered a serious CFP contender, and Penn State gets two of its three toughest opponents at home in Happy Valley next season, including Ohio State. After leading Penn State to a 7-2 season in conference play, QB Sean Clifford is returning for his junior season after orchestrating the No. 15 scoring offense in the country (35.8 PPG) in 2019-20. On the other side of the ball, Penn State finished with the No. 7 scoring defense (14.1 PPG), led by a strong pass rush that averaged 3.46 sacks per game (No. 7 in FBS). The Nittany Lions are losing star DE Yetur Gross-Matos to the 2020 NFL Draft, but they still return arguably the most talented defender in the Big Ten in Micah Parsons at linebacker/DE for his junior season. Parsons capped off his sophomore season by terrorizing a Memphis team with 14 total tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defended in the 2020 Cotton Bowl Classic. With a host of returning talent to a team that finished top 15 in both scoring offense and defense last season, the Nittany Lions should be in business to make a run at the 2021 CFP.

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