Each year we go through the same motions trying to predict who is going to make the college football playoff. While we may all disagree on who eventually makes the college football playoffs, I wanted to take a look at some potential dark horses and the reason why I believe they could make a run for the playoffs. All of these teams have major obstacles in there way but each team also has a solid foundation to start from.
ACC – Miami FL: The country will find out very early if Miami is truly a contender this season. In case you have been living under a rock all summer, Miami starts the season against defending national champion Alabama. D’Eriq King is recovering from a torn ACL but will be ready to go for the first game. His key targets this year will be tight end Brevin Jordon and receivers Mike Harley, Mark Pope, Dee Wiggins, and Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo. Running back Cam’Ron Harris is also coming off a 10 touchdown season. One of the biggest questions for Miami is the offensive line. Last season they finished 98th in sacks allowed surrendering nearly three sacks per game. Protecting King and creating running lanes for Harris are vital to their success. The secondary led by Bubba Bolden should be in good shape this season. The front seven have concerns after losing Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche. The defensive line acquired Tennessee transfer Deandre Johnson which should help the transition.
Big Ten – Penn State: When you look at Penn State, they have the skill players to make a run at the playoffs. Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington are one of the top three duos of wide receivers in the Big Ten. Penn State may have the deepest stable of running backs in the country which includes Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee, Caziah Holmes, and John Lovett. On defense the Nittany Lions are led by defensive back Jaquan Brisker who has been picked as a preseason All-American. The two biggest question facing Penn State are the defensive line and quarterback position. The defensive line only returns one starter and overall lacks experience. They did gain a transfer in Arnold Ebiketie from Temple who led the team in sacks. At quarterback, Penn State is led by two year starter Sean Clifford. Clifford has seen ups and downs in his career after leading Penn State to a double digit win season in 2019 but then being benched for Will Levis in 2020. For Penn State to make the playoffs, Clifford will need to play better than he did two seasons ago. In 2019, Clifford’s passing attempts were focused on KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth. Now that Clifford has more proven options, he needs to capitalize on their playmaking abilities.
Big 12 – Texas: If we are truly being honest with ourselves, the Big 12 has two legitimate contenders and then everyone else. I could not justify TCU, West Virginia, or Oklahoma State so we landed on Texas. If Texas is going to make a run at the playoffs, it will be running behind Bijan Robinson. I personally believe Robinson will end up in New York for the Heisman ceremony when the season is all said and done. Texas has rumored to pick Hudson Card to quarterback the Longhorns this season. The biggest concern for Texas is their defense. The secondary returns experience as all five starters from their bowl game are back. The linebackers are major question after leading tackler Juwan Mitchell transferred to Tennessee. If Texas wants any chance at making the playoff this fall, Steve Sarkisian will need to major improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The Longhorns finished 9th in passing yards allowed in 2020. Only one player on the Texas defense recorded multiple interceptions, and it was linebacker DeMarvion Overshown. The secondary needs to force more turnovers and limit mistakes in order to give Texas a chance.
Pac-12 – Arizona State: When looking at Arizona State, it feels like Jayden Daniels is hidden in plain sight. Daniels has the potential to be the best quarterback in the Pac-12 this fall. He is a dynamic runner rushing for 578 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons. He has also limited his turnovers with just three interceptions in his career. The offensive line led by Rachaad White and Kellen Diesch should give Daniels enough time to find open receivers. On defense, the Sun Devils should have a formidable pass rush. Tyler Johnson had five sacks in their four game season. Arizona State will need to see more production from their secondary as only one defensive back recorded an interception in the shortened season. One other area of concern is the uncertainty around the program. Arizona State is currently under an NCAA investigation which could cause a lack of focus within the program this season. The Sun Devils have the talent to win the Pac-12, but can they put it all together and maintain stability within the team this fall?
SEC – LSU: I truly do not believe anyone in the SEC outside of Alabama or Georgia can make the playoff this fall but I have to pick someone. Last season’s LSU team saw numerous injuries and opt outs which made the team hardly recognizable from the year prior. Max Johnson is expected to be the guy at quarterback after stepping in for Myles Brennan last season. Johnson appeared to get more comfortable as the season went on as he helped upset Florida on the road. Kayshon Boutte is back after leading the Tigers in receiving yards last season with 735. LSU’s rushing attack needs to get better in order for them to have success. The Tigers had the 3rd fewest rushing yards in the SEC last year. Both Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery are back which should help provide stability at the position. The defensive backfield has incredibly talented players but struggled at times last season. Derek Stingley Jr and Eli Ricks led a secondary which intercepted 13 passes but allowed an SEC leading 323 yards passing per game. Daronte Jones was hired as the defensive coordinator to replace Bo Pelini. Jones will be tasked with improving the defense back to an LSU standard.
ACC – NC State
Big Ten – Iowa
Big 12 – TCU
Pac-12 – Utah
SEC – Ole Miss