Teams that could throw a wrench in the College Football Playoff
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Teams that could throw a wrench in the College Football Playoff

There have been seven College Football Playoffs. Alabama and Clemson have played in six of them. Ohio State and Oklahoma have each played in four. And of the 28 possible berths, only 11 different schools have gotten one ... and only five have been there more than once. Needless to say that we tend to see the same schools over and over again playing for the national championship.

Still, there are schools that could disrupt the status quo. Some new blood. Those schools aren't the only ones that could dramatically impact the 2021 College Football Playoff. Just because a team isn't ranked in the top four or five right now doesn't mean it can't surge into a title contender. It also doesn't mean that not being a title contender keeps a team from making an impact on the Playoff race.

These aren't just teams that could crash the playoff party. These are teams that could pull off that upset that keeps a title contender out of one of those four coveted spots. We've seen a few upsets during the season that has ended another school's Playoff hopes.

So here are 15 schools that could throw a wrench in the 2021 College Football Playoff.

Cincinnati Bearcats
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Bearcat fans were already enraged when their undefeated team wasn't seriously considered for a playoff spot. How does a Group of 5 team find a way to crash the party? Well, going undefeated again helps ... especially when you up the non-conference schedule. Cincinnati travels to the Hoosier state twice to take on Indiana and Notre Dame. Winning those games would go a really long way to putting them into the CFP conversation. Desmond Ridder, one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks, is back. So is Luke Fickell's stout defense. The path is there for a run.

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Florida Gators

Florida Gators
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Florida is the perfect example of a team who could either play spoiler for some top College Football Playoff contenders or find their way competing for one of those spots. Florida has a brutal schedule, hosting Alabama in Week 3 and then facing Georgia in Jacksonville on October 30th ... right after a bye week. It isn't impossible to think the Gators could win one or both of those games. Sure, they're breaking in a new quarterback (Emory Jones) and will be revamping their defense, but Dan Mullen is a tough-minded coach who gets a lot out of his teams. Florida went into their regular-season finale against LSU with a shot at a playoff berth last year, so it isn't out of the question that they could be in the thick of it in 2021. 

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Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana Hoosiers
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The Hoosiers were a rule reversal away from playing for the Big Ten championship last season, but their loss to Ohio State kept them at home. This year, the Hoosiers have the Buckeyes at home in what may be the biggest game in Hoosiers' football history. The Hoosiers also host Cincinnati and travel to a tricky game at Western Kentucky in the non-conference, while going to Penn State and Michigan after opening up the season at Iowa. This is a difficult schedule, but one that would put Indiana in the playoff if they meet the challenge. If they can beat Ohio State on October 23rd, it would go a long way to locking in a Big Ten East title. 

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Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa Hawkeyes
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Iowa is on this list for two reasons: They have the opportunity to pop the balloon of some playoff contenders (Indiana, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Penn State) and are good enough to make a run at a Big Ten West title. Look at that schedule: Winning those games, finishing atop the Big Ten West, and having a crack at (likely) Ohio State in the conference championship game is a formula for a College Football Playoff resume. Of course, you have to win all -- or certainly almost all -- those games to crash the party. That is probably unlikely, but the Hawkeyes are good enough to put a hurting on one or more of those teams' playoff hopes. Iowa is a solid program with NFL talent and is more than capable of ending someone's playoff dreams. 

Iowa State Cyclones
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Remember that Iowa State was the 2020 Big 12 regular season champs by two full games and would end the season with a Fiesta Bowl win. Of the 22 starters, 19 of them return, including Heisman candidates quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall. This team is stacked, solid, and fully capable of winning the league again, the Big 12 title game, and getting into the College Football Playoff. Most of the top-tier teams in the nation are undergoing some major roster changes, which makes the continuity of the Cyclones a huge advantage. 

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LSU Tigers

LSU Tigers
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LSU followed a dominant national championship season with an uneven 5-5 season. The coaching staff has undergone some changes and the defense (hopefully) can't get any worse than it was last year. LSU opens up at UCLA for an interesting cross-sectional matchup of teams looking to reverse their 2020 fortunes before playing an always difficult SEC slate. The Tigers will get Auburn and Florida at home before traveling to Alabama on November 6th. After facing the Tide, LSU gets Arkansas, Louisiana-Monroe, and Texas A&M at home. The 2019 Tigers came from nowhere to capture the nation and this team could do the same, provided everything comes together as it did in '19 and does not fall apart like last season. This team is good enough to play spoiler to Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Florida at the very least. 

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Miami Hurricanes

Miami Hurricanes
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Miami has the perfect schedule to make a run at a playoff spot. First, they open against Alabama in Atlanta ... a game where the experienced D'Eriq King could out-duel a young Crimson Tide offense and sneak out a win. Even if they lose, they have plenty of time to recover and make a run at an ACC title. They'll travel to North Carolina for their biggest conference test during the regular season, but with get Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and NC State in South Florida. Appalachian State and Michigan State also come down to Miami Gardens to beef up the non-conference schedule. Of course, their later-than-usual showdown with Florida State in Tallahassee could be a trap game that derails the whole thing. Get through that and Clemson likely awaits in Charlotte with an ACC title on the line. That's all you can ask for. 

North Carolina Tar Heels
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Quarterback Sam Howell is a strong candidate for the Heisman and the top overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Heels lost a lot of offensive talent from last year's team but Mack Brown has been retooling with great recruiting classes. Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler will get a chance to follow Michael Carter and Javonte Williams as the starting back while a new crop of receivers catching Howell's passes. The defense will be improved with one of the better secondaries in the nation.  

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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The Irish made themselves at home in their one-year experiment in the ACC last season. They went undefeated during the regular season, beat Clemson in an epic showdown, and reached the College Football Playoff. Of course, Clemson stomped the Irish in the rematch for the ACC Championship in Charlotte, then Alabama destroyed them in the playoff ... which has become the norm for Notre Dame in those kinds of games. Notre Dame goes back to its independent ways in 2021 and gets back its normal-looking schedule. They open the season at Florida State and during the season travel to Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Stanford. The Irish will face Wisconsin in Chicago and will welcome North Carolina, Cincinnati, USC, and Georgia Tech to South Bend. That's a very strong schedule and one filled with chances to spoil playoff hopes as well as build on their own. Kyren Williams could be a Heisman candidate. 

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Oregon Ducks

Oregon Ducks
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The Pac-12 hasn't sent a team to the College Football Playoff since Washington was there in 2017, and the league has sent a team to only two of the seven Playoffs. Could Oregon break that spell? Well, they've had some great recruiting classes over the last few years and feature CJ Verdell at running back and seniors Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd at receiver. They are replacing Tyler Shough (transferred to Texas Tech) with Anthony Brown, or star freshman Ty Thompson. The biggest game on the Ducks' schedule doesn't come in the Pac-12, but when they travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State. A win there (or a very respectable showing) should launch Oregon into a conference slate where they have some difficult road games (Washington, Utah, UCLA) with Colorado and Cal coming to Eugene. 

Penn State Nittany Lions
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Penn State entered last season as title contenders and then fell apart out of the gate, going 0-5. The Nittany Lions won their final four games, though all of those wins were against Big Ten bottom feeders. We'll get to find out if Penn State is for real right off the bat as they head to Wisconsin to play the Badgers. The Nittany Lions also have to head to Iowa, Ohio State, Maryland, and Michigan State this season making for a difficult schedule that could derail any Big Ten title hopes. Auburn, Indiana, and Michigan head to Happy Valley, and Penn State has a stretch of four straight home games (and five of six) at home in the first half of the season. Sean Clifford is back and Noah Cain returns from injury, adding to a nice receiving corps that will need to have a big year as the defense retools. Penn State is good enough to beat the best teams on its schedule ... but can they beat all of them? 

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Texas Longhorns

Texas Longhorns
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A lot of things need to go perfect for the Longhorns to nab a College Football Playoff berth. There is talent under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, but they'll be replacing quarterback Sam Ehlinger ... making it tough to run through a very competitive Big 12. And there is the point: the Longhorns have plenty of opportunities to spoil some playoff parties as well. They'll get Oklahoma in the annual Red River Rivalry game in Dallas, host Oklahoma State the following week, then play at Iowa State in November. Three big chances to play spoiler. If they can win all three of those games and handle their business elsewhere, a non-conference schedule of Louisiana, at Arkansas and Rice is strong enough to give consideration to Texas for a playoff spot. 

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Texas A&M Aggies

Texas A&M Aggies
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A&M felt they deserved to make the College Football Playoff last year but didn't have that signature win that vaulted them above Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, or Notre Dame. This year, the defensive-minded Aggies have a great shot at finishing the deal. They get Alabama at College Station which is a fantastic opportunity for a resume-solidifying win. A&M should be 5-0 heading into the Bama game and the rest of the SEC schedule lays out nicely. The key, of course, is if the offense can find its rhythm, breaking in a new quarterback and rebuilt the offensive line. That's where Jimbo Fisher shines.

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USC Trojans

USC Trojans
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Clay Helton sits squarely on the hot seat, but he can cool it off by leading a very talented team to a Pac-12 title. Last season, the Trojans were 5-0 heading into the Pac-12 championship game, where they lost to Oregon. Kedon Slovis threw for over 1,900 yards in an uneven season but did show off his clutch ability in late-game situations. The defense is aggressive and they have a good enough non-conference schedule (BYU, Notre Dame) that if they can get through to a Pac-12 championship, they have a shot at earning a playoff spot.  

Wisconsin Badgers
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There is more to the Big Ten than just Ohio State and the East Division. Wisconsin found themselves struggling with COVID issues last year and ended with a 4-3 record. This year, they returned much of their defense, QB Graham Mertz has a season under his belt and the Badgers are favored to win the West Division. Mertz is the key -- one of the top recruits to ever sign at Wisconsin and someone who could make the typically run-heavy offense much more vertical. Wisconsin opens with Penn State (another Big Ten team trying to erase its disappointing 2020 season) and will take on Notre Dame in Chicago in Week 3. The Badgers host Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, and Nebraska which is an extremely favorable schedule for UW. Road games at Illinois, Purdue, Rutgers, and Minnesota are very winnable and could put the Badgers in a position to beat Ohio State or Indiana in the Big Ten title game for a playoff berth. 

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