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Betting long shots to make the four-team College Football Playoff field can be a futile endeavor. The nation's top programs have dominated since the playoff was introduced in 2014. Alabama (5), Clemson (5), Oklahoma (4), and Ohio State (3) have the most appearances, while Michigan State in 2015 can qualify as the only real surprise.
Cinderella stories are rare, but long shots have come close to breaking through. Just last year, Utah, Minnesota, and Baylor put themselves in positions to reach the playoff before late-season losses eliminated them from the mix.
Can a team make a similar run this season? Here are three schools with longer odds that have a chance to buck the trend and make the CFB Playoff in 2020.
(Odds source: theScore Bet)
Cal is a sneaky dangerous team heading in the 2020 season. Head coach Justin Wilcox doesn't get enough credit for the job he's done. The Golden Bears may be just 20-18 in Wilcox's three years, but he's turned Cal from a soft, underachieving squad into the Pac-12's most physical team.
The Golden Bears return 18 starters from last season's 8-5 team. We know the defense will be strong under Wilcox, but it's the offense that gives them a shot to make a playoff run. Wilcox brought in Bill Musgrave to oversee a unit that closed 2019 strong. After averaging just 17.4 points in its first eight games, Cal scored 27.4 in the last five, going 4-1 over that span.
Junior quarterback Chase Garbers is 13-2 as a starter when he plays at least half the game. His problem has been staying healthy behind a sometimes porous offensive line. Now, here's the good news: Cal returns all five starters on a line that has combined for 110 starts. If one of the most experienced O-lines in the country can play with more consistency, Garbers could enjoy a breakout season.
Cal also has arguably the most favorable schedule in the Pac-12. The Golden Bears host conference foes Utah, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, and UCLA. Trips to USC and Arizona State won't be easy but overall, it's a schedule that sets up for a conference title run.
When you add it all up, Cal is a team that can shock the world and make the playoff with a few breaks. Getting them at 125-1 is highway robbery.
There isn't much room left on the North Carolina bandwagon heading into the season, but the hype surrounding Mack Brown's team is justified.
A master recruiter, Brown has built UNC into the ACC's second-most talented team in just two years. The Tar Heels' biggest roadblock is the team ahead of them: Clemson. The Tigers are favorites to win the national championship, and a playoff berth for the Tar Heels will go through Clemson in the ACC title game.
Still, there are reasons to be optimistic in Chapel Hill. North Carolina almost shocked Clemson last year but came up just short after a failed two-point conversion in the final minute. Close losses were the theme for UNC in 2019. All six of the Tar Heels' defeats came by eight points or fewer.
The Tar Heels will be much-improved this season with 17 returning starters, including quarterback Sam Howell. A strong Heisman Trophy candidate, Howell leads what is expected to be one of the country's most potent offenses.
North Carolina doesn't have to face Clemson until a potential ACC Championship Game but opens the season at UCF and versus SEC power Auburn in Atlanta. If the Tar Heels get past those two games unscathed, watch out. The rest of the schedule sets up nicely for an undefeated regular season and showdown versus the Tigers for a spot in the CFB Playoff.
The Big 12 has been Oklahoma and everyone else in recent years. The Sooners have won five straight conference titles and are favored to make it six in 2020. However, the Big 12 looks to be more competitive this season with Texas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State all posing serious threats.
Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell has done a remarkable job, and this looks to be his best team yet, led by star quarterback Brock Purdy. The junior has already set 21 school records and may be the most underrated quarterback in the nation.
The offense is good enough to win any game on the Cyclones' schedule. A Big 12 title run will come down to the defense. The unit returns nine starters but had issues at times last season. Iowa State ranked 89th in third-down defense and 103rd in stuff rate. Improvement in those two areas is vital if the Cyclones are going to push Oklahoma.
Iowa State hosts Oklahoma on Oct. 17 but must navigate through tough road games at Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Texas. If their experienced defense improves slightly, Purdy and the offense can get the talented Cyclones to the conference championship out of the loaded Big 12 South. At 18-1, Iowa State is worth a flier.
Thomas Casale is theScore's supervising editor of sports betting. He's been following the sports betting industry for almost 30 years. A devoted fan of the wishbone offense, Thomas bets on all sports but specializes in college football, NFL, and college basketball. Find him on Twitter @TheTomCasale.