The College Football Playoff seems like it is ages away, but it is never to early to start speculating about which teams can make it through to the promised land. There will be a lot of predictions of who will make it, but sometimes the teams who make it aren’t necessarily on peoples’ radars at the start of the season. Here are some teams who could surprise people this season.
All teams mentioned have odds of 15/1 or worse of making the College Football Playoff.
West Virginia Mountaineers
CFP odds: 15/1
There will be a power struggle in the Big 12 with the absence of Baker Mayfield. They could still win the conference, but it is really anyone’s to win. A team like West Virginia could win the conference and make the CFP.
The offense is loaded with quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver Davis Sills V returning. Those two create a great combo and are great in the red zone especially. Gary Jennings will be another experienced target for Grier. If Grier can stay healthy, they will be able to outscore anyone in the conference.
Justin Crawford will be replaced at running back, but Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway will be able to fill the void with the help of four returning starters on the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, there will be some questions. They have just five returning starters from a defense that allowed 31.5 points per game. The defensive line play will be specifically a concern, as two starters decided to transfer. the back-end of the defense is full of experienced players and transfers. The focus should be to create more turnovers, as even with some improvements it will not be great.
The offense should be able to overcome the defense in most matchups, but in others, the defense will have to step up.
West Virginia has a game against Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina to open the season as well as another non-conference game at NC State, which will be tough. The good news is though that they have quality games on the schedule, which is something the committee likes to see. In conference, the Mountaineers get Oklahoma and TCU, their biggest threats to the Big 12 title, at home.
If the offense gets hot and the defense is timely, West Virginia could get out of the regular season with few enough losses to qualify for the CFP.
CFP odds: 15/1
Washington is the team that most people will say is coming out of the Pac-12 as champion. They have had two great seasons in a row and a lot of returning experience. If they slip up though, another team could represent the Pac-12 in the CFP. Stanford could be the team to do it if they have improved heading into the season.
Nine starters are returning on offense for Stanford, but the most notable is running back Bryce Love. He will produce once again, like last season when he rushed for 2,118 yards. In front of him, four solid linemen are back to help pave the way.
While a lot of their receivers are back, Stanford has needed a quarterback since Kevin Hogan graduated. K.J. Costello figures to be the starter after getting some action last year. He started the last half of the season and powered Stanford to a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. His improvement is critical to the success of Stanford.
The defense brings back six starters with talent at every level. They will be relying on Alijah Holder to shut down receivers at corner, Dylan Jackson to lead the defensive line and linebackers Bobby Okereke and Jordan Perez to be all over the field.
Stanford’s schedule sets up well for a run at the CFP. Their two toughest games are on the road, but if they can beat either Notre Dame or Washington, while still qualifying for the Pac-12 Championship, that should be enough to have them in contention at the end of the year. They are on the road at Oregon as well, but do avoid playing the dangerous Arizona Wildcats from the Pac-12 South during the regular season.
CFP odds: 50/1
This is the biggest dark horse on this list. Arizona has 16 returning starters, a great head coach, one of the best quarterbacks in college football and a chance to win the Pac-12 South, which all factor into them making this list.
Khalil Tate was not the starter at the beginning of last season and still almost got invited to the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. He finished the season with 1,591 yards passing, 14 passing touchdowns, nine interceptions. 1,411 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. With six returning starters around him and a full season to work with, Tate should be able to do even better.
He will have a lot of help from his receivers, but has just two returning offensive linemen. The running back position is set with J.J. Taylor and Nathan Tilford. They will be in a lot of zone reads with Tate.
The defense was an issue last season, ranking 108th in the country in points allowed. Kevin Sumlin should be able to do more with the defense in his first season as a head coach, especially given that nine starters are back on that side of the ball. If the passing defense, which was near the bottom of the country, can improve, Arizona’s defensive statistics will improve overall.
The schedule has some good teams on it, but is actually somewhat manageable. They have nonconference games with BYU and Houston, which are both winnable. For conference games, the Wildcats will be tested by USC, Utah and Oregon. That schedule isn’t daunting at all. If they can get to the Pac-12 Championship with just one loss, they could upset the representative from the Pac-12 North and qualify for the CFP.
Other notable teams with 15/1 odds or worse
Mississippi State (15/1): The Bulldogs have 15 returning starters, but have to break in a new coach and have to find a way to get past Alabama and Auburn.
LSU (15/1): It’s a new year for LSU, but the same problem. The defense is talented and the offense needs to pick up their game in order to be serious contenders.
Virginia Tech (20/1): Josh Jackson was great as a freshman. Unfortunately, the Hokies just lost too much talent to beat Clemson in a possible ACC Championship Game. If Clemson somehow gets upset and doesn’t make the ACC Championship Game, Virginia Tech could sneak into the CFP.
Nebraska (20/1): Who would’ve thought that Scott Frost would have this big of an effect on the odds? Nebraska was not a good team last year and will have to get through the heavily favored Wisconsin in the Big Ten West. If they do get past Wisconsin, they’ll have to beat the champion of the Big Ten East, which won’t be easy with the amount of talent in that division.
TCU (25/1): Just eight starters are staying with the Horned Frogs from last season, but Gary Patterson has gotten them fairly good odds to make the CFP.
Texas A&M (25/1): Jimbo Fisher is the new man in College Station, but getting past all of the SEC teams already mentioned will be a lot to ask.
Florida (25/1): Dan Mullen returns to Florida as the head coach with a lot of returning talent on offense, but it will be tough for him to make the CFP in year one.
Oregon (25/1): The Ducks have an easier schedule and 14 starters back. Their issue will be getting past both Washington and Stanford in the Pac-12 North.