Nothing is certain for the College Football Playoff before the year begins, so what does each contender need to happen in the 2021 season?
For all of the projections, predictions and prognostication we can do for the College Football Playoff before a single snap is played, there are more factors at play than anyone would like to admit. But at the same time, when you look at the best teams and true contenders, you can always see the path to the Playoff and possibly to a National Championship.
That doesn’t mean that it’s a path devoid of potential forks in the road or multiple things that need to break right for that to happen. However, it is to say that, for most of the best teams in college football, there is one major factor that will be critical to the group’s success and what they can accomplish.
To encompass this, we’re going through the top 12 contenders for the College Football Playoff (Re: the top 12 in the preseason AP Top 25) and offering one if/then statement for each team to show what they need most to live up to their respective ceilings.
Wisconsin: If Graham Mertz unlocks a new offense, then Wisconsin can take Ohio State’s College Football Playoff spot
When you think about Wisconsin Badgers football, the brand has been consistent. The hard-nosed defense combined with a cornfed and well-coached offensive line to spearhead an elite running game has led the team to plenty of success. But if the goal is more than making a Big Ten Championship Game, they may have that chance with Graham Mertz.
Mertz’s redshirt freshman season was altered dramatically by COVID-19 but we saw flashes of the highly-touted quarterback’s talent. If he’s able to add a downfield and explosive element in the passing game that, frankly, we haven’t seen, the Badgers are going to have the familiar pieces as well and that means their ceiling gets raised substantially.
Oregon: If Oregon finds the right quarterback, then the Ducks can run the table in the Pac-12
Mario Cristobal has performed phenomenally on the recruiting trail and, as such, Oregon has one of the most talented rosters in the country. There is no concern about the defense led by Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell while the offensive weapons and line are experienced. Quarterback is the big question mark, though.
Anthony Brown finished last season for the Ducks but 5-star freshman Ty Thompson has been pushing him for the starting job. But one of the big roadblocks for Oregon in recent years was either a substandard quarterback or holding the signal-caller back. If they can find a player who they feel comfortable letting loose, this team has a roster overall unmatched in the Pac-12.
UNC: If the lines take a big leap forward, then North Carolina has a chance to spoil Clemson’s ACC dominance
Some people might talk about what the North Carolina offensive weapons need to do this season as the most important factor for the Tar Heels given the losses of Dyami Brown, Javonte Williams, Dazz Newsome and Michael Carter. While substantial, Mack Brown has talent waiting in the wings to step up and, more importantly, a quarterback like Sam Howell is a tide that raises all ships.
For the Tar Heels to make the leap many believe they can, though, it’s going to come down to the trenches. The offensive line that was young and sometimes problematic now has experience and growth helping them. Moreover, the defensive front has been bolstered by a ton of talent. If UNC can get those units to elevate from where they’ve been, they have the core to finally end Clemson’s ACC reign.