Friday Five: Five teams not named Alabama or Clemson who have a realistic shot to win the national title
If the Crimson Tide or the Tigers don't win the College Football Playoff, here's five teams who could
Over the summer, I wrote about the. The premise of the post that while every team technically starts the season with the same chance, the reality is much different. Now, only a few weeks into the season, that list of 16 has been culled a bit.
It hasn't stopped anybody from asking me a familiar question, though. Whether on radio, podcasts or social media, I've been asked multiple times some variation of "which team is most likely to win the national title if it isn't Alabama or Clemson?"
Well, for this week's Friday Five, I'm going to answer the question, though I doubt it will stop anybody from asking me. There's still a very long way to go in the season, but based on what we've all seen so far, these are the five teams I would give the best odds to right now.
5. Texas: Sometimes I wish I called this feature Friday Four instead of Friday Five because it's not always easy coming up with a fifth entry for the list. This was one of those times. I was going back-and-forth between Texas and all the honorable mentions listed below and ultimately decided on Texas for a couple of reasons. First of all, Texas is a talented team, and you need talent to win national titles. In 247Sports's team talent rankings, the Longhorns rank 7th in the country, ahead of the honorable mentions. More than that, however, Texas has an "easier" path to the College Football Playoff.
There's only one obstacle in its way in the Big 12, and it's named Oklahoma. Now, it won't be easy to beat Oklahoma twice in the same season, but it's not impossible. Meanwhile, Auburn might be the third or fourth-best team in its own division. Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State since 2011. Penn State has to get through Ohio State as well. Notre Dame can get to the playoff, but it has to be perfect to do so, and that's very hard to do. Then there's Oregon, which might be the best team in the Pac-12, but being the best team in the Pac-12 doesn't seem to mean much to those who decide which teams get in. So Texas gets this fifth spot in a bit of a tie-breaker.
4. LSU: Now we enter the portion of the list where the only tough decision was figuring out which order to put these four in. I included LSU on my list of 16 teams over the summer because it was LSU, but if you'd have asked me at the time if it would be one of the top four teams on this list, I probably would have said no. The Tigers have answered a lot of questions in the first three weeks of the season. Yes, they were serious about their new offense, and more importantly, it's working. Quarterback Joe Burrow has entered the Heisman conversation, and suddenly the Tigers are a team who can score points with anybody.
Furthermore, the Tigers already have a win over the No. 5 team on this list. That helps the resume quite a bit, but I can't put them higher than this simply because they still have to play Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. Those will be difficult games, and should they get through them all, they'd likely be facing Georgia in Atlanta. That's a lot of potential speed bumps along the way.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners are an obvious candidate. They've been to the College Football Playoff three times in the last four seasons, though they've yet to win a game while there. Still, two years ago the Sooners played Georgia in a classic Rose Bowl. The same Georgia team that lost to Alabama in overtime of the title game that season needed to go to overtime to get past Oklahoma.
Last season the Sooners lost to Alabama 45-34, but after getting blitzed 21-0 in the first quarter, Oklahoma looked like the better team for much of the last three quarters. This is a team that can outscore anybody. The question is whether or not it can put together a defense that can get enough stops against elite teams to put it in a position to win playoff games. That remains to be seen, but Oklahoma's offense might be the best unit in the country. That makes it a legitimate threat.
2. Ohio State: The gap between Ohio State at No. 2 and Oklahoma at No. 3 is slim. In the end, I went with Ohio State because of its defense. The Buckeyes offense isn't as good as Oklahoma's, but it's not like Ohio State is starving for points. They've shown they can score against good teams. That defense has looked very good through three weeks, however. While I'm not going to sit here and say "defense wins championships," I will say that in this modern era of football, it's a lot harder to win one without a good one.
If you look at Ohio State's defensive depth chart you see a lot of future NFL players, many of whom will be first-round picks. I can't say the same thing looking at Oklahoma's defense.
1. Georgia: The Bulldogs were my obvious No. 1 for this list. Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff in 2014, but since then the only team that's come close to toppling either Alabama or Clemson has been this Georgia team. The Bulldogs lost to Alabama in overtime of the title game two seasons ago. In last year's SEC Championship they held a 21-7 lead over Alabama in the second quarter. Then they made some QUESTIONABLE decisions, and things fell apart.
Through all of this, it's become clear that while Alabama has the history of dominance, the gap between these two programs isn't all that wide right now. Talent-wise, this Georgia team is right up there with Alabama and Ohio State. My concern is this team's conservative nature. Offensively, the Bulldogs remind me a lot of those Alabama teams we saw win national titles. They bully you and pound you into submission. That's very effective against teams that can't match up with you, but it can sometimes prove to be a problem against teams that can.
Honorable Mention: Auburn, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon, Penn State
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