Oregon and Washington have done it. LSU won everything in 2020.
So why not USC? Iowa State? Texas A&M?
It’s not hard, at least for Power 5 teams (and any team that has a realistic chance of winning the conference), but it’s far from easy to get serious attention. The typical playoff pattern: win the conference title, beat a handful of seeded opponents, beat a respectable Power 5 opponent, and finish undefeated or with a loss.
Even then, it’s not guaranteed – there will always be a team left out.
It’s very difficult to win every week, not to mention the fact that opinions vary in a subjective system and you also have to rely on luck – teams can only hope that the selection committee counts their opponents in the top 25 – which is why only a handful of elite teams make it into the top 4. Four teams – Alabama and Clemson (six each), Ohio State and Oklahoma (four each) – are in 20 of 28 semifinals.
I think anyone who follows football, even casually, can understand that the teams you mentioned in August, when we start, we’ll probably start inside, and a lot of us will start in the eighth or ninth lane, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. It always has been, but I’d also say ….. Things can change a bit over time. Best advice: You have to win every game. If you want to get to the last four, if you win all your games, you at least have a better chance than if you lose one. You probably have no chance of losing one if you’re at a school like Iowa.
What about a school like Iowa State?
After winning the Fiesta Bowl and placing in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll, the Cyclones have an experienced team capable of winning the Big 12 and possibly more. They are ranked fourth in ESPN’s Preseason Football Index, behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Clemson.
The reality at Iowa State is that it will never be easy, coach Matt Campbell said. … You know you’ve got to be firing on all cylinders when it counts. We know that, we understand that. It’s a great challenge, and a pleasure to climb up the rough side of the mountain. The reality is that you are always climbing on the uneven side of the mountain.
This is not to say that reaching the top cannot or will not happen.
Here are seven teams that have never been in the CFP, but have potential to shake up an otherwise predictable postseason:
Preseason IPF: № 4
Application set: 11. Sept. v. Iowa. The stakes of this match can be much higher than just bragging rights. Iowa has the potential to be a top 25 team in the CFP, and a win over the Hawkeyes could earn Iowa State another semifinal berth if it’s a matchup with another undefeated team. Or he could help Iowa State finish in the top four with Oklahoma. If Iowa State beats OU in the regular season but loses to the Sooners in the next Big 12 title game, don’t rule out the possibility of two Big 12 losing teams in the top 4. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, the Big 12 has the second-best chance of sending multiple teams to the CFP (27%), behind the SEC (35%).
Why take cyclones seriously: Iowa State should be in the top 10 this fall in terms of defensive and offensive efficiency, a common trait of playoff contenders in the past. With the return of QB Brock Purdy and FBS captain Breece Hall, FPI predicts that Iowa State will have the third most potent offense in the country this season, behind Oklahoma State and Ohio State. The Cyclones have six of eight players back who caught at least 10 passes in 2020.
Biggest obstacle: Other than Oklahoma? Sequence. When asked recently what the key is to beating the Sooners twice in the same season, Campbell told ESPN that disciplined team football is the only way to make up for a lack of talent. It’s not that we don’t have good players, it’s not that we don’t have talent, because we do, Campbell said. But there are teams in our conference that have elite talent, and lots of it. Our goal is always to play the best team football possible every Saturday? The Cyclones have to find a way to play consistently – they can’t lose to Louisiana and beat OU in the same season – and they have to do it against the sixth toughest program in the country.
Preseason IPF: № 6
Application game: October 9 against Alabama. According to FPI and Allstate Playoff Predictor, this contest will have the biggest impact on the CFP race, with the winner taking the lead in the SEC West Division. No. 5 A&M was hurting last year when it landed on the bubble, and the cause was a 52-24 loss at Alabama. It was the Aggies’ only loss this season, but it kept them out of title contention. And unlike Notre Dame, which defeated Clemson in the regular season and competed for the ACC title, Texas A&M does not have a single loss or Championship Game appearance on its resume. This could become a problem again this fall. A&M’s non-conference schedule includes Colorado State, which is expected to be better than its 71 FPI ranking, Kent State (No. 101) and New Mexico (No. 117).
Why take the Aggies seriously: Because they were so close to it last year, coordinator Mike Elko and his staff have hired a championship caliber defense. Texas A&M has 20 of 22 players back from a group that led the SEC in total defense last year (317.3 yards per game). While the Aggies have a brand new look offensively with a new quarterback and an almost entirely new offensive line, they are one of four teams, along with Iowa State, Clemson and Alabama, that will rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Biggest obstacle: Restore the offensive line. Aggies must replace four starters in the offense, the most important element to pave the way for a new quarterback. We have a new football team, coach Jimbo Fisher said. Everyone will say: Last year, well, you build on that, but you have a new team. Each team has its own personality, the lifespan is one year. The team has only been together for a year, so they need to develop a work ethic, a standard.
Preseason IPF: No. 13
Application contest: 30. October at Notre Dame. A win on the road against a top-25 Irish team could put UNC in the top four, provided they finish the season with one loss. Think of the scenario where UNC wins in South Bend, but loses a narrow game to Clemson in the ACC Championship to take the only defeat. Based on what is happening in other conferences, it is not unreasonable to think that the committee will consider both ACC teams, as they did with Clemson and Notre Dame last season. The Tar Heels must seize this opportunity against the Irish, however, as wins against non-conference opponents like Georgia State and Wofford will not help them make the playoffs.
Why take the Tar Heels seriously: They are good enough to win the Coastal Division and earn a spot against Clemson in the ACC Championship. UNC gets back Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Sam Howell, as well as every starter on the offensive line and 10 starters on defense, and the team has attracted a top-20 recruiting class for the second straight year. The Coastal Division is wide open – four schools have at least a 10 percent chance of winning the division, according to FPI – a chance for the Tar Heels to rise above the mediocrity of the rest of the division and meet Clemson in the ACC title game. If we beat a team like Clemson, Howell said, I think we’ll get everyone’s attention.
Biggest obstacle: Other than Clemson? Racing set. In the spring, coach Mack Brown focused on replacing two 1,000-yard runners, Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, who both gave up for the NFL draft. Last season, the Tar Heels averaged 235.8 yards per game, which was second in the ACC. Williams and Carter averaged 84.3 percent in the 2020 game against North Carolina and were the second-best duo in the country in the run game.
Sam Howell is one of the reasons UNC can get into the PSC. Michael Reeves/Getty Images
Preseason IPF: 23
Correspondence with the applicant 11. September at Iowa State: When the Hawkeyes start the season 2-0 with wins over IU and rival Iowa State, that should be noted. An early road win against a seeded opponent will carry weight with the selection committee until November, especially if Iowa State wins the Big 12 or finishes second. According to ESPN’s FPI, this game has the fourth highest rating (83.6) of all non-conference games. Iowa has an extremely busy schedule. – 2. Place in the Big Ten – with trips to Iowa State, division favorite Wisconsin, Northwestern, plus a game against what should be a much improved Penn State team.
Why hawks take it seriously This is a developmental program with an NFL draft that speaks for itself. And while there are questions in the trenches, this staff is known for maximizing everything they get. Iowa won six games and quarterback Spencer Petras made key plays before the 2020 season was disrupted by COVID-19. Petras, Tyler Goodson and Sam LaPorta are back to bolster an offense that has scored at least 26 points in each of its six wins.
Biggest obstacle: Depth, especially on the defensive line. Iowa’s defense was the best in the country last year, allowing just 4.3 yards per game, but the Hawkeyes will have to replace three of their four starters on offense. The only starter returning is senior Zach VanValkenburg, who led the nation with four recovered losses last year. He also had 30 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Preseason IPF: No. 25
Application game: October 23 against Ohio State. The road to the playoffs runs through Ohio State in the Big Ten, and Indiana put the pressure on the 2020 Buckeyes for the 42-35 loss in Columbus, but that almost doesn’t matter in the committee room. To win the East Division, the Hoosiers must beat the Buckeyes at home and have a chance at the Big Ten title. I think we put ourselves in a position where that should be part of the conversation, coach Tom Allen said. Indirectly, by talking to our team, if you are in a Power 5 conference like the Big Ten, and you win your conference, you have now earned the right to be in the discussion for the College Football Playoff. A win against the Buckeyes would get them there.
Why Hoosiers Take Things Seriously They have something to prove, and 19 returning rookies can do that. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is rehabbing from a torn ACL, but he’ll be ready to go this summer. Last year, IU was defeated by Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game and then eliminated in the championship. Allen said his team has something to prove every day. It’s not going away, Allen said. I accept. I’m not backing down. I could see it when people were talking about the 2021 lineup….. That’s good, that’s what they expect. Well, that’s their opinion, but I think they base it on Indiana’s past.
Biggest obstacle: What Allen called the hardest schedule since I’ve been here. It’s the 33rd in the country, but Iowa opens on the 4th. September will set the tone for the season, and the 18th. September against Cincinnati is a chance to impress the committee. No break until the 9th. October, and the Hoosiers will need it after the trip to Penn State.
Preseason IPF: No. 26
Application contest: 23. October at Notre Dame. If the Pac-12 wants to step out of the Power 5’s shadow, it needs to win on the national stage in the playoffs, and this is one of those opportunities. Seven of the Trojans’ 12 games are at home. They will need to win on the road to impress the committee. The Trojans outrun Oregon and Washington during the regular season. A win against the Irish would give their resume a much-needed boost.
Why the Trojans are serious They get back a number of veterans who competed for the Pac-12 title in 2020, including their quarterback, two top rushers, four starting linemen and nine players who caught a pass last year. The defense also returns 18 of the top 21 tacklers of 2020, including leaders in sacks, tackles for loss, pass deflections and forced fumbles. The Pac-12 hasn’t sent a team to the CFP since Oregon in 2016, and while the Ducks are once again the league’s preseason favorite, Oregon and USC have at least a 50-50 chance of playing for the conference title, according to FPI.
Biggest obstacle: To improve the running game. Averaging 97.3 yards per game, the Trojans are last in the league and 120th in the FBS. Helton fired offensive line coach Tim Drevno and hired Clay McGuire, who doesn’t have much time left to do the heavy lifting.
USC will have a number of veterans back next season, including Kedon Slovas. Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Preseason IPF: 27
Application games: September 18 at Indiana and October 2 at Notre Dame. They are the only team on the list with two assertive games, and it is those combined opportunities that lead the Bearcats to success here. Critics of the CFP system maintain that a Group 5 team will never finish in the top four, but this table may disprove that theory – if the Bearcats remain undefeated. (No pressure.) With preseason road games against two top-25 FPI teams, Cincinnati’s schedule is designed to impress the committee. If the Bearcats can beat these two opponents and go through the regular season undefeated, their record will be on par with last season’s playoff contenders. The average top-25 team has a 15% chance of remaining undefeated against the Bearcats in 2021.
Why cats take bears seriously Luke Fickell brought the program to the national level. He has won 31 games in the last three seasons and scored one goal last year. Expectations remain high, especially with quarterback Desmond Ridder’s decision to return, as well as the three starting offensive linemen.
Biggest obstacle: Finish is unbeatable. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, the Bearcats have a 1.2 percent chance of making the playoffs.
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