2021: The Year of Chaos in the College Football Playoff?

Since its inception in 2014, the College Football Playoff has essentially been the annual Alabama and Clemson show. The two teams have won the national title in five of the seven years under the current format and have been major players in the two seasons that neither team won (2014 Ohio State, 2019 LSU). However, both teams are facing turnover on their rosters that could open the door wide for some party crashers. Keep reading the Year of Chaos in the College Football Playoff.

Clemson replaces arguably the face of college football, Trevor Lawrence, who led the Tigers to a national championship his freshman season and two subsequent playoff berths during his sophomore and junior campaigns. Alabama replaced Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, as well as five additional first-round draft picks, ushering in a new wave of talented but inexperienced players to make the climb back to the top of the mountain. 

Outside of the two mainstays, Ohio State and Oklahoma are the next most frequent visitors to the year-end tournament, having appeared in the playoffs five and four times, respectively. Ohio State, the runner-up in the 2021 playoffs, is in the same boat as Clemson and Alabama, replacing their mainstay at quarterback, first-round pick Justin Fields, as well as a host of other players who have graduated or turned pro. Oklahoma returns a host of players from a relatively down season, led by quarterback and Heisman Trophy preseason favorite Spencer Rattler (+400), but the Sooners have yet to win a game in their four appearances in the playoff. 

With all of that said, these four teams (along with Georgia) hold the best odds by far to hoist the trophy at the end of the season (all +600 or better per Bovada). The team with the next best odds is Iowa State (+2500), who returns a wealth of talent and experience led by running back Breece Hall and quarterback Brock Purdy. 

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The Contenders:

Alabama (+250): 

The Tide enters the season as the favorite to defend their 2021 title. However, Alabama replaces starters at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and play caller as offensive guru Steve Sarkisian takes over the Texas Longhorns this year.  Nobody will feel sorry for the Tide, as they can choose from a cupboard of five-star talent to fill those holes. 

Clemson (+400): 

A virtual copy and paste from the Alabama write-up could suffice for the Clemson Tigers this year as well. The Tigers replace starters at the same positions as the Tide and have talent chomping at the bit, ready to see the field in Death Valley. Both teams should be bolstered by talented defenses to give the offenses time to adjust as the year goes on. Clemson benefits from a weak ACC and should have a fairly clear path to the CFP as the conference favorite (-900). 

Oklahoma (+600): 

The Sooners present an interesting case as a betting pick for the 2022 championship. Rattler returns at quarterback for the Sooners as a Heisman favorite and likely early pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and given the success of OU quarterbacks under Lincoln Riley, it’s safe to assume the offense will be explosive as ever. 

However, it’s the Oklahoma defense that began to show up late in 2020 that has fans and media members thinking that this team could provide a different result in the playoffs. Iowa State offers the most competition in the conference, and the two split the series last year, with the Sooners ultimately taking down the Cyclones in the Big 12 championship.

The Longshots:

Texas A&M (+3500): 

Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies narrowly missed a CFP berth in 2020 and hoped to build on that success this season with a loaded room of offensive weapons. The odds mirror those of LSU in 2019 to start the season (+3300), and this SEC West member needs a similar explosion from the quarterback position to have a chance to replicate that success. Alabama stands in the way of winning the division and the conference, but the Aggies get the Tide at home this year, and the 12th Man at Kyle Field should give Texas A&M a fighting chance. 

North Carolina (+5000): 

Mac Brown’s Tar Heels finished the 2020 season with a loss to the above-mentioned Aggies in their bowl game, but ACC preseason player of the year Sam Howell brings back a wealth of experience at the position. The schedule sets up nicely for UNC if they can get past Virginia Tech on the road in their opening game, most of the big challenges are at home save a Halloween weekend trip to Notre Dame, and the Tar Heels avoid Clemson until a possible ACC Championship matchup.

Oregon (+5000): 

The Ducks enter the 2021 season as back-to-back Pac-12 Champions and return 86% of their production from a season ago. Mario Cristobal has brought Oregon back into the national conversation, and junior defensive end Kayvon Thibadeaux may be the best all-around player in college football this year. The Pac-12 has been left out of the CFP more times than it has been represented, but if the Ducks can knock off Ohio State in an early-season match-up, they’ll put themselves squarely in the mix for a return to the big stage. 

Cincinnati (+8000): 

Only Notre Dame has made the playoffs as a team outside the power five conferences, and that’s largely in part to playing a schedule that resembles one of a power conference member.

The Bearcats, led by senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, get the chance to play the Irish this season to show the selection committee that their success the past few years is based on their quality play and not just a weaker schedule. With all of the change happening amongst the top tier of teams, this could be the year that a few stumbles from the contenders open the door for a possible underdog story.

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