Every year in college football, there are only a handful of teams that enter the season with legitimate national championship aspirations. The number is much smaller than people think.
In the four-year history of the College Football Playoff, only nine different programs have made the final four: Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington.
Only three different teams have won a title over those four years: Alabama (twice), Clemson, and Ohio State.
With that in mind, we’ll take a look at the only eight programs that have a shot at winning the title this year.
Alabama is the only program to have made every College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014. With five national titles over the past nine seasons, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are the odds-on favorite to win the national title in college football year-in and year-out.
We won’t start to doubt the Tide now, especially since Tua Tagovailoa showed his magic in a come-from-behind victory over the Georgia Bulldogs in last year’s title game. Losing talent to the NFL doesn’t seem to faze Alabama, and it won’t be the case this year as the Tide look to claim a sixth title under Saban.
Arguably the SEC’s best team from the 2017 season, the Tigers return a plentiful bunch, including standout quarterback Jarrett Stidham. A poor bowl game against UCF and a contract extension for Gus Malzahn should prove to be enough motivation for the Tigers, who have a tough schedule in front of them.
Auburn opens the season against Washington, a game that could make or break its season in the very first week of the year. It’s then smooth sailing for the Tigers until trips to Georgia and Alabama in the final three weeks of the 2018 campaign.
Dabo Swinney has built a monster at Clemson, and the Tigers are poised for yet another run at the College Football Playoff. Clemson joins Alabama as the only team to make at least three CFP runs, defeating the Tide to end the 2016 season.
After Christian Wilkins, and Clelin Farrell decided to return, the Tigers immediately became a national title favorite. Add in the fact that Clemson landed the No. 1 quarterback in Trevor Lawrence and also have one of the nation’s best pass rushers in Dexter Lawrence, the Tiger should be just fine this season.
Kirby Smart proved the Bulldogs have what it takes to play with the big boys after a run to the College Football Playoff title game in 2017. Although Georgia couldn’t get it done, the team returns eight starters on offense (including four on the offensive line) and five on defense.
Jake Fromm took over the quarterback position from Jacob Eason during the 2017 season, and will be pushed by incoming freshman Justin Fields, who ranked slightly behind Trevor Lawrence as the nation’s top recruit from the 2018 class.
Georgia is definitely in the conversation as a title favorite.
The ultimate wildcard. Michigan has plenty of talent but hasn’t finished higher than third in the Big Ten East under Jim Harbaugh. So what’s different this year?
The answer comes in the form of two words, and he plays the most important position in football: Shea Patterson. If he’s anything like the hype, Patterson will lead Michigan to the promised land (a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance.)
It’s a tough task, especially with trips to Notre Dame and Ohio State to open and close the season. All the pieces are there for the Wolverines, but it won’t be an easy road.
Now on to the team that could knock Michigan out of College Football Playoff contention. After getting snubbed last season (karma for 2016 if you ask Penn State fans), the Buckeyes return one of the nastiest defensive lines in college football, headlined by potential No. 1 pick Nick Bosa.
While Ohio State will have a new quarterback in Dwayne Haskins, Urban Meyer has shown he can win at the highest level with whoever takes over under center – just remember 2014.
After bringing in yet another top five recruiting class, Ohio State is loaded on both sides of the ball and is easily the favorite to come out of the Big Ten yet again.
No Baker Mayfield, no problem. That’s what Lincoln Riley and the Sooners are hoping at least. After losing the Heisman Trophy-winner to the Cleveland Browns, Oklahoma turns to Kyler Murray, a transfer from Texas A&M who was the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback from the 2016 class.
The Sooners were an overtime loss away from facing Alabama for a national title. That stinging defeat should fuel a team with a relatively easy conference schedule during the 2018 campaign.
Washington fans won’t be happy with this one, especially with questions at the quarterback position for the Trojans after Sam Darnold was drafted No. 3 overall by the New York Jets. USC must replace the quarterback and running back positions after losing Darnold and star running back Ronald Jones to the NFL, but that shouldn’t phase the Trojans who brought in one of the best recruiting classes this year.
J.T. Daniels is a heralded quarterback prospect who will push more experienced players at the position, including Matt Fink. Games at Stanford and Texas won’t be easy, but if the Trojans escape with a “W” in both, they’ll be in prime position to win the Pac-12 yet again.
There you have it, the eight programs that can win the national title this year. Sorry, Penn State fans.