Top 5 Sleeper Bets to Make the 2021 College Football Playoff

By Dan Vasta in College Football
| August 12, 2021 7:54 am PDT

The College Football Playoff is one of the better sporting events in the world to watch. There is excitement, pageantry, and a new year full of celebration with great happiness and health.

The CFP could be expanding down the road. We have had an average margin of victory at 18-plus points per game in the semifinals. Despite having a few epic national title games, the results have not been there for great matchups before the title game.

Many point to the fact that the teams are wide open after Alabama and Clemson. There is plenty of room for others to join the party. We have seen some come out of nowhere to reach the dance.

Washington and Michigan State were two teams that were far from locks to reach the playoff. There will be a few more teams that will have an opportunity to do the same.

Without further ado, here are my top sleeper picks to reach the College Football Playoff in 2021.

Oregon Ducks (+650)

A program with continued success is always a threat. Mario Cristobal has landed some highly touted players recently. The talent at running back and receiver are impressive.

Considering everything they have to offer, their odds at the best sites for betting on college football are pretty tempting.

The biggest concern of this team is their schedule ahead.

There is no room for error if they lose to Ohio State at the horseshoe. The Pac-12 schedule features teams that could put a scare into the Ducks. The Utes and Huskies are two defensive squads that can harass the Oregon offense. Plus, Arizona State and UCLA won’t be cakewalks with explosive signal-callers.

Still, this is a team that has historically enjoyed plenty of success. Here’s a quick look at their bowl games since 2001.

2001 2009 2010 2011 2012 2014 2019 2020
Fiesta Rose BCS Title (Glendale) Rose Fiesta Rose & CFP Title Game Rose Fiesta

I would prefer having better than +650 on the Ducks reaching the playoff, but that is dead on based on their overall talent level. They have seen so much success over the years that they should be considered a strong play.

The main concern about this value is the play from their quarterback. Anthony Brown is the projected signal-caller, but he has struggled at times completing passes. The program is talented enough at receiver and running back to avoid scoring droughts.

The other concern is whether the Ducks can survive their gauntlet.

If they can pull off a key road win, they could be the favorites to appear and win the Pac-12 title. If they receive any help from the other power conferences, Oregon could get back to the playoff.

There is solid value here because this is not a team you should worry about their talent, but it is more about their path.

Wisconsin Badgers (+800)

The Wisconsin coaching staff is one of the more underrated ones in the country, but they have the perfect formula for success. I call it the KISS formula to winning (Keep it simple, stupid).

They have been stout against the run without allowing chunk plays in the secondary. They take care of the ball and can run downhill on the opposition.

This Wisconsin squad is one of my favorites to watch in the 2021 season. They certainly qualify as a sleeper since they have yet to get over the hump in the CFP era.

The Badgers will be stifling on both sides of the ball, and there will be excitement in Madison this fall.

It’s not like Wisconsin hasn’t enjoyed success over the years, of course.

  • 8 BCS/NY6 Bowls since 1998
  • 7 finishes in AP Top 10 since 1998

Jalen Berger should be the next great Badger back, but take a look at their schedule. Wisconsin should be favorites in every game for the regular season. Even if they were to slip up in one of them, they should be alive for the CFP when they head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title.

They are solid favorites to win the West division (-120), so they will be in the hunt all season. That is what you want when looking at sleepers that can help you win the big bucks.

They are not the most talented roster in the Big Ten, and they will fail to blowout teams every week. However, they are a fundamentally sound team that can dominate without the scoreboard indicating it.

Paul Chryst and Jim Leonhard have mixed well as Badger coaches. Their non-conference matchup with Notre Dame at Soldier Field could be the driving force towards a high ranking by the committee. They will get after the Irish and are talented enough to play keep away on offense.

I love the amount of production that is returning, and this is one of my best bets among the top College Football Playoff sleepers in the country. They also rank #1 in my breakdown of NCAA football teams most likely to improve this year.

NCAA Football Teams Most Likely to Improve in 2021

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Washington Huskies (+1000)

We have already seen the Huskies make the CFP during the 2016-17 season. Not much has changed since Chris Petersen has handed over the keys to Jimmy Lake. The defense will be legit yet again.

The secondary has remained borderline elite with a few studs in the front seven mixed in. This team also has an enjoyable schedule in Pac-12 play. The majority of the challenging games are at home. UW hosts Oregon in a matchup that should decide who plays in the Pac-12 title game.

The best teams on the conference slate are Cal, UCLA, and Arizona State. All will travel to Huskie Stadium in front of a hostile environment.

They’ll be running into a balanced unit. Check out their FBS ranks.

Scoring Offense/Total Offense Scoring Defense/Total Defense
No. 8 (41.8 PPG) & No. 32 (456.9 YPG) No. 12 (316.9 YPG) & No. 8 (17.7 PPG)

The game that will impact their CFP odds during the season will be their result in Ann Arbor.

A night game at the Big House against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan will be telling. The Huskies could be favorites in that game, but most have had the Huskies as early-season slight underdogs in that matchup.

If Washington finds a way to win that game, the rest of the schedule opens up significantly.

Stanford may be one of their trickier games on the road, but the Cardinals could miss a bowl game this season.

Washington is on the rise, and the Pac-12 desperately needs them to show up. They are among two programs to play in the national semifinals in the College Football Playoff era. An early-season victory over Michigan will get the love they will need from the committee that might propel them towards their second appearance in the CFP.

North Carolina Tar Heels (+1100)

This program has begun to improve their play. Mack Brown landed Sam Howell three years ago, and it has been a home run for the Hall of Fame coach.

Howell has become the favorite to be the first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, and he’s among the best quarterbacks in college football in 2021. His poise, accuracy, and ability to complete huge completions have allowed the scouts to drool over him.

Howell is a decent athlete but has been as cool as a cucumber when pressure picks up. The offense will be one of the more explosive units in the country with depth across all positions.

The offensive line remains intact, which allows plenty of time for Howell to expose opposing defenses. There will be a few intriguing matchups that make this team feast or famine once Thanksgiving rolls along.

Here’s a look at some potential landmines for UNC in 2021.

Date Opponent
September 3 At Virginia Tech
September 16 Vs. Miami
October 30 At Notre Dame
November 26 At NC State

The season opener at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg is a doozy. See if the Tar Heels and Hokies season-opener made our recent article for the top NCAA football matchups for opening weekend.

The ACC is all about Clemson, and they are easily the favorites, but the ACC title game very well could be a win and get in the playoff. The ACC will be elite towards the top with Clemson, Miami, and North Carolina.

If the Heels can get to 11-1 heading into the ACC title game, a victory over a dominant Clemson team would likely earn them a berth into the CFP. At +1100, this team can hang with every team on their slate, including Clemson.

Utah Utes (+2200)

One of the best sleepers to reach the 2021 College Football Playoff is Utah. The Utes have been flirting with success over the years with a pair of undefeated seasons and six double-digit win seasons since 2004.

I would look at not just this future that can land you in the green, but several others. Utah will exceed their win total and cover in several games this season.

The defense and special teams have been off the charts with their awareness and execution. Some elite programs gag a game away due to not excelling in either.

Another reason for the optimism is their ability to grab a few solid graduate transfers.

TJ Pledger (Oklahoma) and Charlie Brewer (Baylor) are talented enough to boost the offense. They nearly made the CFP two seasons ago before they lost to Oregon in the conference title game.

The schedule has critical home games against the Ducks, Bruins, and Sun Devils. Other than a road game at Southern Cal, the gauntlet is manageable. The matchup against the Trojans could cost them a shot at the conference title game, but that is still worth a shot at taking one of the better coached teams in America.

Kyle Whittingham is a winner and has led the Utes to great success. There is a reason why he slides into the top 10 of my 2021 college football head coach rankings.

Due to all of that, this could finally be the year they reach the College Football Playoff.

Will a Surprise Team Make the CFP This Season?

If I had to pick one College Football Playoff sleeper to back in 2021, it’d be Utah. They have some of the best balance in the nation, and Whittingham is an amazing coach.

The Utes have the goods to get to the CFP, but all of these sleeper picks are in play.

You’ll want to consider these teams when betting on who will get to the 2021 College Football Playoff, but the odds are good that a top team will still win it.

To get a good idea of who those teams are, take a look at the following posts.



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