These are the five dark horse teams that could bring home the national championship.
The usual suspects are projected to compete for a national championship this season: Alabama. Florida State. Ohio State. USC. Maybe Oklahoma, too. But evaluating those teams is no fun, so we decided to take a look deeper into the field and see if there are any strong competitors a little further down the line, past the handful of expected contenders.
We're counting down the five dark horse teams that could compete for a national championship, ranked below by how much of a dark horse team they are:
Starting off the list is LSU, the perennial powerhouse stuck in a conference with other powerhouses. The talent is there, as always, but the road to a college football playoff will not be easy for LSU. The Tigers have one of the toughest schedules in the entire nation, but with a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator, could it be their year? Derrius Guice is a Heisman candidate, but like we saw with Leonard Fournette, one talented rusher won't be enough—especially against the likes of Alabama. With a superb offensive line, this season rides on Danny Etling's shoulders. If he is able to make the leap, LSU is a legit contender. If not, the Tigers will probably win eight or nine games.
Wisconsin benefits from a laughably easy schedule this year—the Badgers' only real threat is Michigan late in the season. It's not crazy to think they could be a one-loss team when it's all said and done. It might seem like a bit of a stretch, but with Alex Hornibook firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, an intimidating secondary on defense and a phenomenal offensive line, it's hard to find a weakness in this team. The offense might lack some firepower in the backfield and in the receiving corps, but the Badgers are as well-rounded a team as it gets. They should sail through the regular season; the real test will be in the conference championship game.
For SEC teams, all roads to the national championship run through Tuscaloosa, and while Georgia is one of the favorites to win the SEC East, the Bulldogs are still a a dark horse to make the college football playoff. They have the second-toughest schedule in the entire nation according to ESPN's FPI, but the Bulldogs also have a loaded team ready to take the season head-on. Defensively, Georgia might have the best unit in the nation, as they return all 11 starters. The offense is led by sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason and he's flanked in the backfield by Sony Michel and Nick Chubb at tailback. Georgia is absolutely stacked, but the season is going to be a grind. If the Bulldogs stay healthy, they should be in position to compete for a CFP berth and a national title.
Like the Bulldogs, the Miami Hurricanes return a boatload of talent—15 starters to be exact. Unfortunately, one starter not returning is quarterback Brad Kaaya, who instead opted to enter the NFL Draft. While the Hurricanes will be fine on the defensive side of the ball, they might struggle early to find their footing on offense. With a relatively manageable schedule—aside from a week three matchup versus Florida State—the offense has time to find an identity while leaning on the defense to win games. All the talent is there, however, and if the offense can deliver, Miami can make a late-season push into contention.
The darkest of all the dark horses on this list, UCLA could be a title contender this season. No that isn't a typo. Under head coach Jim Mora, the Bruins have really taken off as a football team, and with last year's dreadful season firmly in the rearview, I expect a huge rebound year, especially from quarterback Josh Rosen, who was sidelined for half the season last year with a shoulder injury. Rosen is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and with 14 starters returning, there will be no shortage of talent on either side of the ball. Add in a superb 2017 recruiting class, and you've got the makings of a championship squad. Sure, the Pac-12 is loaded this season, but I expect UCLA to shock a lot of people. It won't be an easy by any means, but if this team manages to stay healthy, a national championship berth is not just possible, but likely.