Chaos Teams pop up every year. College football wouldn't really be college football without them. They're the ones that keep this sport on its toes and pull off the biggest upsets without warning. And with the 2020 offseason thrown for a loop because of COVID-19, one of the byproducts might be even more unpredictability this fall.
With that in mind, our team picked their most likely Chaos Team for 2020. These are the teams capable of pulling off one, maybe even two landscape altering wins, but without necessarily matching that level of success throughout the rest of the season. They'll knock off a top-five or top-10 team, but then lose a couple of games they shouldn't.
David Cobb: TCU
TCU is poised for a chaotic 2020 campaign as it seeks to keep a unique trend going. The Horned Frogs have finished with six wins or fewer five times in Gary Patterson's 19 seasons. They have bounced back with a double-digit win total the first four times. Doing so for a fifth time will require winning at least two of the following games: at California, vs. Oklahoma State, at Baylor, vs. Oklahoma and at Texas.
It will be a tall order for a team that loses four starters from its offensive line and opens the season on the road against a Cal team returning nearly all of its starters. Don't be shocked if the Horned Frogs struggle early and fall off the national radar before rallying with upsets in a couple of the games listed above.
TCU fit the chaos billing pretty well in 2019 by losing to SMU and beating Texas in a 5-7 campaign that also featured close losses to the Big 12's top teams in Baylor and Oklahoma. With quarterback Max Duggan back for a sophomore season and five-star freshman running back Zachary Evans in the fold, this team has the talent to grow into a major force by the end of the season and disrupt the hierarchy in the Big 12.
Chip Patterson: Ole Miss
Chaos team doesn't always fall right in line with strength of schedule, but in order to fit the definition you really do need to have at least a couple cracks at teams with national championship aspirations. Mississippi clearly fits that bill in the SEC West, but what takes this year's team over the top is the upset potential that comes with a reworked offense in Oxford. The Lane Kiffin-Jeff Lebby partnership promises production, and there's no shortage of options with two capable quarterbacks (Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee) and plenty of pass catchers (Elijah Moore as the headliner and Temple transfer Kenny Yeboah the new addition difference maker) ready to answer the call. Throw in talented sophomore running back Jerrion Ealy in what could be a breakout season after the departure of Scottie Phillips and this offense has all the makings of one that could cause headaches for anyone on its schedule.
Now you do have to get stops to win football games so you won't see anyone picking that offense to lead Mississippi to an SEC West crown, but it's an explosive enough group to think that it could pull off at least one upset during a early-to-midseason run that includes Auburn (Sept. 19), LSU (Sept. 26), Alabama (Oct. 3) and Florida (Oct. 17). Of those four SEC title hopefuls, all but LSU have to come to Oxford for high-profile games that Kiffin knows could go a long way in making his first season a success in the eyes of the fans.
Tom Fornelli: Tennessee
There are different ways to define a Chaos Team. For some, a Chaos Team might be a team that's incredibly hard to predict. It's a team that looks entirely different from week to week, or maybe even quarter to quarter, if not series to series. That might be Chaos Team in its truest sense.
That's not the approach I'm taking here, though I suppose we can't rule the Vols out from fitting that bill. Instead, I'm looking at Tennessee due to the number of times it will have a chance to turn the national title picture on its head. I don't expect the Vols to compete for a national title in 2020, but they'll have a chance to impact the College Football Playoff. In 2020, the Vols have Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama and Georgia on the schedule. Those are four programs that are considered title contenders this season, including two (Alabama and Oklahoma) that have been CFP stalwarts.
If the Vols can pull off an upset in one of those games, it could change the entire title landscape.
Barrett Sallee: Louisville
Scott Satterfield's crew is set up for a great year in his second as the head coach of the Cardinals. He has a Heisman Trophy darkhorse candidate in junior Micale Cunningham, an established star at wide receiver in Tutu Atwell and a 1,500-yard rusher in Javian Hawkins. As far as trios go, that's one of the best in college football. Cunningham is currently 150-1 to win the Heisman. That puts him in the same company as Purdue all-everything star Rondale Moore and Clemson star wide receiver Justyn Ross (prior to his season-ending injury). Not bad company to say the least. The Cardinals get Clemson in Week 2, and Florida State and Virginia at home. If they can spring an upset over the Tigers, look out.
Ben Kercheval: Arizona State
In line with what my colleagues have said, your Chaos Team needs to have not only the opportunities to knock off conference favorites/playoff contenders, but the ability, while also being unpredictable enough to drop at least a couple of games it shouldn't. I'd argue few teams have fit that description over the past two years like Herm Edwards' Sun Devils. Remember, this is a program that stunned Oregon a season ago while coming close to beating the Ducks a second time in 2018. In that vein, Arizona State has given programs like USC, Utah and Washington close calls since Edwards arrived in Tempe.
With sophomore phenom Jayden Daniels back at quarterback, the Sun Devils offense has a true dual-threat playmaker who put up his best numbers (418 yards, 10.45 yards per play) against a good Ducks defense. This year, Arizona State has to travel to Oregon and USC, but gets Utah at home. I wouldn't be surprised if Arizona State gets one, maybe even two of those games despite the travel.