Ranking potential first-time college football playoff teams

In the past eight seasons of the college football playoffs, a total of 13 different schools have reached the semifinals. No school has appeared more than Alabama (seven times) and no conference has qualified more than the SEC (10 times).

(Insert yawn here.)

While Alabama, Clemson (six), Ohio State (four) and Oklahoma (four) topped the four-team field, it’s often overlooked that Michigan State, Oregon, Washington and the Florida State have also reached the sport’s biggest stage.

And sure enough, undefeated Cincinnati gave hope to everyone everywhere last season. Here are four teams that could trail the Bearcats and crack the top four for the first time, ranked in order of luck:

Pre-season FPI: No. 12

Why it’s realistic: The Aggies have everything they need to succeed at the highest level, including financial resources, a passionate fan base, elite recruiting classes and a veteran head coach – plus the confidence of winning. last year against Alabama. They also have a sufficiently balanced schedule to impress the selection committee (three consecutive October trips to SEC opponents) and pick up easy wins (Sam Houston, Appalachian State and UMass). If the Aggies can beat Miami and their SEC opponents, the committee will overlook these gimme games. Over the past four seasons, Jimbo Fisher has landed one of the top seven recruiting classes, including the No. 1 group in the nation this year. At some point, that talent has to translate into a CFP appearance.

This will only happen if: The defense can maintain its success despite losing coordinator Mike Elko to Duke and the Aggies can find a healthy and consistent winner at quarterback. Over the past four seasons, the Aggies have allowed the third-fewest yards per game in the SEC (334). They allowed 15.9 points per game – third-fewest in the FBS behind Georgia and Clemson. Former Ole Miss defensive coordinator DJ Durkin was hired to replace Elko. Offensively, Fisher has quarterback competition between Haynes King and LSU transfer Max Johnson.

ESPN REIT says: The Aggies have at least a 50% chance of winning every game except for Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn.

Allstate Playoff Predictor says: The Aggies have a 1.9% chance of making the playoffs.

Coach language: “[Last year’s win against Alabama] gives you the assurance that you know what you are capable of. But the thing that this league challenges you with – and I try to tell them every day – all games are great games. You circle every game and you’re only as good as your last game. When you win those matches and it shows you what you’re capable of, you have to finish. And that was a disappointing thing that I thought about last year. … We’re not done. But again, there’s a lot to grow from there and hopefully we’ll grow from there. And some of our lackluster things with inexperienced guys last year, I think that’s going to be our strengths this year to have to play against those guys.” — Fisher


Pre-season FPI: No. 13

Why it’s realistic: The defending Pac-12 champions are coming off their first Rose Bowl appearance in school history and they are returning 14 starters from this 10-win team. Starting quarterback Cameron Rising returns, with five of his top six pass catchers, and running back Tavion Thomas, who finished with 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns. With USC and Oregon under new head coaches, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham has the edge in experience, and he’s proven himself with three Pac-12 South titles over the past four seasons. .

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This will only happen if: Utah can win on the road. Utah can lose its opener in Florida and still finish in the top four — a Pac-12 title can make up for a tough road loss in Game 1 — but the Utes will be under pressure to win and repeat as than Pac-12 champions in this case. They need to beat the Gators to give themselves a cushion in league play, especially if Lincoln Riley can boost USC quickly. It starts in Gainesville, but Utah has six total road games, including particularly tough trips on October 8 at UCLA, a Thursday night game on October 27 in Washington State and November 19 in the Oregon. Utah’s inability to win road games last year at BYU, San Diego State and Oregon State cost the Utes a historic season.

ESPN REIT says: Utah has at least a 50% chance of winning every game except its opener against Florida and Nov. 19 against Oregon.

Allstate Playoff Predictor says: Utah has a 6.3% chance of reaching the CFP.

Coach language: “I think we are still fighting for [respect] in a sense. We are a program that is still working on our brand and trying to become more nationally present, but you have to earn it – no one will give it to you. The way you do it is whenever you have a chance to prove it — national television, bocce, that sort of thing — you have to push your way through it. We have made breakthroughs. Are we where we want to be? Not yet.” — Whittingham


Pre-season FPI: No. 35

Why it’s realistic: Riley quickly built up an overflowing roster of championship-caliber talent. He has made excellent use of the transfer portal beyond Caleb Williams’ title, adding a total of 13 players so far. The offense has been improved with the addition of former Oregon running back Travis Dye, as well as receivers Mario Williams, Brenden Rice and Terrell Bynum. Caleb Williams will have no shortage of options around him, and Riley has experience leading a program all the way to the playoffs before.

This will only happen if: USC can avoid going 0-2 against Utah and rival Notre Dame. (That’s assuming, of course, the Trojans win all of their other games.) USC can afford to lose to Utah while still finishing in the top four — especially now that the Pac-12 has dropped its divisions and that the top two teams will play each other in the conference championship game. If it wins the Pac-12 and its only loss is to a ranked Notre Dame team, USC should also finish in the top four. If he drops those two games, however, the Trojans will continue to be an afterthought in the playoff conversation.

ESPN REIT says: USC has less than a 50% chance of beating both Utah and Notre Dame, but the Trojans have more to worry about. In addition to these two opponents, the FPI also gives the advantage to UCLA on November 19, with a 54.3% chance of winning the game.

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Allstate Playoff Predictor says: USC has less than a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, trailing 29 other teams that have at least a 1 percent chance.

Coach language: “You don’t come to USC and you don’t come to LA to do the little things. You have to aim big. I don’t think [the expectations are] too. I do not know. I believe in what we do. I believe in what we teach. I believe in the people we have in there. Obviously, it will continue to evolve over the years. I haven’t been here for a season. I didn’t come here to do this in the short term. In some ways, you keep the long term in mind. The people we brought here, the staff we brought here, we didn’t come here to play second place. We are not wired that way. We came here competing to win championships, win them now and win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.” — Riley


Pre-season FPI: No. 14

Why it’s realistic: The Cowboys have a more favorable schedule than Texas (which faces Alabama) and Baylor (which hits the road for tough trips to BYU, Iowa State and West Virginia). With non-conference games against Central Michigan, Arizona State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff — three games Oklahoma State is favored by at least 80%, according to ESPN’s FPI — the Cowboys should be 3-0 going into the game in October 1 against Baylor. They will also have home-court advantage against the Longhorns on October 22, and ESPN’s FPI projects will be undefeated heading into that game. Unlike Baylor, Oklahoma State will also have home-court advantage against West Virginia to end the season.

This will only happen if: Quarterback Spencer Sanders remains healthy and dropping his interceptions, and the Cowboys can continue to advance on defense despite critical starts, including coordinator Jim Knowles. Sanders is on track to become the first quarterback to start all four seasons under Mike Gundy. Since 2019, he has turned the ball over 40 times (31 interceptions, nine fumbles), the most by any FBS player in that span. In the Big 12 Championship Game loss to Baylor, he threw a career-high four interceptions. While the defense was one of the best in FBS and school history, Knowles left and the Cowboys return the third-lowest FBS return experience on defense, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information research.

ESPN REIT says: Oklahoma State is favorite in every game except Oct. 22 vs. Texas (Longhorns have a slight 53.1% edge) and Nov. 19 vs. Oklahoma (Sooners have a 63.9% chance of winning) .

Allstate Playoff Predictor says: The Cowboys have the 12th-best chance of reaching the playoffs at 4%, behind Texas, which has the sixth-best chance at 18%.

Coach language: “We have a foundation. The team has to commit. The coaches don’t play in games, the team does. Our responsibility is to guide them; their responsibility is to come together as a group, to create an identity. You have to be important to them. Then go play. That’s the direction we’ll be heading in a few weeks.” –Gundy

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