B/R CFB Community: 2022 Dark-Horse Conference Championship Contenders

Adam KramerAugust 16, 2022

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are less than two weeks away from an actual college football game. This is not a drill; the season, whether we are ready or not, is upon us.

As we prepare to immerse ourselves in the madness each and every Saturday for the foreseeable future, we're also back to a familiar routine. And, yes, you are all very much involved.

Each week, I'll ask you for your feedback on college football's most pressing topics inside the B/R app. We'll then take those thoughts—from the good to the not-so-good to the flat-out bizarre—and dive deep into the responses.

Consider this our own online weekly tailgate.

We begin by exploring possible dark-horse conference champions. Also, shout out to the readers who said Notre Dame. Well done.

Here's a look at some of the suggestions with feedback for each.

All odds courtesy of DraftKings and accurate as of Monday.

Chomp Chomp

Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

User: @larryhobbs

Response: Gators all the way

Odds to Win SEC: 45-1

At 45-1, Florida certainly fits the dark-horse mold. (It is worth noting that only three teams—Alabama at -145, Georgia at +155 and Texas A&M at 18-1—have shorter odds.)

Still, it would be shocking if the Gators rebounded this big.

Let's start with the good, and there is plenty of it. Florida is doing well on the recruiting front, and Billy Napier should provide immediate stability to the program. He was superb at Louisiana, and I thought this was an excellent hire lost in some of the high-profile moves this offseason.

Quarterback Anthony Richardson is also a tremendous plus. His flashes last year were impressive, and he's only going to get better. He will make mistakes, but I also think we could see a huge climb in his production. The key for him is to stay healthy.

My issue, however, is trying to mesh these new pieces together in one year. Not to mention having to do so in a difficult conference during a season that features games against Georgia and at Texas A&M.

I don't hate the pick. I'm not sure I love it, either.

A Cavalier Mindset

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User: @bmorris34

Response: Virginia with Armstrong for the Heisman

Odds to Win ACC: 40-1

I won't bury the lede: I absolutely love this.

While we have spent months hyping other teams in the conference, Virginia is an intriguing sleeper.

That is not to say that Clemson isn't extremely talented or that other teams—Miami and NC State—aren't worthy of the hype. But given what we saw last year with Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, Virginia has enough ingredients to offer hope.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong accounted for 40 touchdowns last season. I could see Armstrong, who will have most of his major weapons back, putting up Heisman Trophy-friendly numbers. The arrival of former Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott as coach should help a great deal as well.

The schedule isn't bad. Virginia plays Miami, North Carolina and Pitt at home, and the Coastal in the ACC is very much up for grabs.

The Cavaliers could win the division. But can they conquer a team such as Clemson in the conference championship game?

At 40-1, I am willing to take my chances. Digging this.

Buckeye Kryptonite?

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

User: @alexbard

Response: WE ARE!

Odds to Win Big Ten: 16-1

There is no doubt that Penn State is entering the season under the radar. That is not a bad thing, by the way. Play games, win games, and that all changes.

Of late, this hasn't happened enough. Penn State is 11-11 in its last 22 matchups. The Nittany Lions lost to Illinois last year, which is not something a head coach being paid $7 million annually should ever be a part of.

This particular team, however, could be better. It starts at quarterback, and Sean Clifford is poised for growth. He has to stay healthy for Penn State to retain hopes of winning the conference. If he does, the offense, even without the electric Jahan Dotson, should be good.

My concern is with the defense, and specifically finding ways to generate pressure. Given the number of quality signal-callers on the schedule, this is something that has to improve. (The Nittany Lions had only 27 sacks last year, and a good chunk of that production is gone.)

The good news? Ohio State and Michigan State will travel to Happy Valley, which is one of the toughest environments in the country. But the schedule has some teeth. We will learn a lot about this team in Week 1 when it visits Purdue.

You can make a case for Penn State. I just don't think it has the firepower to get past Ohio State in the East. (I'll politely pass.)

Baby Blue Bounce-Back

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User: @towens7


User: @Lippett14

Odds to Win ACC: 15-1

Let's dip our toes back into the ACC and explore another intriguing team trying to close the gap on the favorites. While North Carolina isn't as much of a dark horse as Virginia based on the odds, it is still the fifth selection in the conference. (Also, we'll gladly take 15-1.)

As for its prospects, well, they are mixed. The conference, as mentioned above, is the right one.

The bad news for Mack Brown is that quarterback Sam Howell is in the NFL. Given the way the team fell flat last year, perhaps it's not the worst timing. While Howell was excellent, the formula simply didn't work.

The good news is that wideout Josh Downs is back, and he is spectacular. He had 101 catches for 1,335 yards, and his presence alone should drum up hope.

The even better news actually comes on the defensive side. Former coordinator Gene Chizik is back as the assistant head coach for defense, and the impact should be immediate. He’s one of the best defensive minds in the sport, and his impact on that unit and team will likely be felt early.

The schedule isn’t bad, and an early game at Appalachian State should be telling. I could certainly see North Carolina also carving its way through the Coastal, but I would need to feel more comfortable with the starting quarterback—sophomore Jacolby Criswell and redshirt freshman Drake Maye are battling for the job—to fully commit.

Hawkeye Surprise

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User: @amf99

Response: Iowa Hawkeyes

Odds to Win Big Ten: 20-1

Few teams across college football got better news from draft-eligible players who decided to return to school. Top cornerback Riley Moss, tight end Sam LaPorta and linebacker Jack Campbell all are back this year, and they are three of the best players in the Big Ten.

The concern, of course, is the offense. Last year it was, well, dreadful. And though Iowa found its way to the Big Ten Championship Game, it did so with the nation's No. 99 scoring offense.

That must improve, and I believe it will. Iowa cannot count on its defense to intercept an astonishing 25 passes again. The offense needs to do its part, though it doesn't feel like things will be dramatically different.

Even more concerning than the offense is the teams the Hawkeyes will be asked to score against.

Iowa plays at Ohio State this year, which won't be fun. (Yes, I am well aware of what happened last time the Hawkeyes played in Columbus.) Outside of that trip, Iowa hosts Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska on top of tough trips to Purdue and Minnesota.

I love the defense, and, if you've read our community pieces before, you know how I feel about the Hawkeyes. But this doesn't feel like the year for Iowa, no matter how many turnovers the defense forces.

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