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#pounditTuesday, September 21, 2021

5 sleeper teams that could make the College Football Playoff

Justin Herbert

Some college football teams enter the season expecting to make the College Football Playoff. Clemson and Alabama expect to be there, and if they’re not, something went horribly wrong with their season. A handful of other teams harbor legitimate playoff aspirations and would feel at least a little disappointed if they didn’t make it.

But who else is out there? There are definitely a handful of teams that probably don’t expect to make the Playoff, but realistically have a chance if everything goes right. Here are five sleepers who could contend for a College Football Playoff spot.

5) Nebraska

Year two for Scott Frost at Nebraska features increased expectations and a sleeper Heisman candidacy for quarterback Adrian Martinez. Martinez is a dual-threat quarterback with the potential to put up big numbers if the rest of the offense clicks. An experienced defense should also help the Cornhuskers improve significantly. The playoff would be a huge jump, but they play in the weaker Big Ten West. If they run the table and get a win in the Big Ten Championship, all bets are off.

4) Texas A&M

Jimbo Fisher is an accomplished coach, and quarterback Kellen Mond looks poised to take the next step into the upper-tier of college signal-callers. The real question for the Aggies is whether they can overcome one of the nation’s toughest schedules; they’re good, and in a different league they’d be a much more clear-cut favorite. However, they’ll have to overcome road games at Clemson, Georgia, and LSU, plus a home game against Alabama. If they overcome those, they’ll have more than enough quality wins to be right in the middle of the conversation.

3) Syracuse

Dino Babers’ Orange won ten games last season and pushed Clemson as far as they could go before falling short of the upset. There are questions, of course, as Tommy DeVito takes over at quarterback and there will be an infusion of new players in the linebacking corps. Their defensive line is excellent, though, and they have the players to make a run at the ACC. This year, they host Clemson. If they can win that game, they could go very far.

2) Oregon

Justin Herbert’s return to school ensured that Oregon would be major Pac-12 contenders this season. This is a conference that has struggled to produce playoff teams consistently, so the Ducks may have to go unbeaten to realistically have a shot. Luckily, they have the players to do it. In addition to Herbert, they have a talented running back duo in CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, and return most of the key players they had last season on both sides of the ball. The defense, in particular, has a real chance to be very good. If they hit expectations, they could be right there.

1) Florida

Can Feleipe Franks finally become the quarterback he was expected to become during recruiting? He did not look great in the season-opening win over Miami, but they got the victory. With a good receiver corps and top-20 defense, there’s talent here, though they’ll have to navigate the SEC gauntlet the rest of the way. Franks holds the key to the Gators; if he plays like a star, the Gators could blow past ten wins and put themselves in the playoff conversation. That’s a big if, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

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