The 2015 college football season has begun! Last season, we saw the four-team playoff get its start and we were gifted with the chance to see the first iteration of an actual playoff — even if it was just two games.
This year, the bowl schedule has expanded to 41 overall games including the national championship. The Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl will host the semifinals, while the national championship will be held in Glendale, Arizona. But to earn a bowl bid, teams must win their division. There are favorites who are predicted to cruise through division play (Alabama and the SEC, anyone?) but every so often a dark horse candidate emerges and makes things interesting for everyone else.
Who are those dark horse college football candidates and how much of a chance do they have of winning their division title?
SEC – Georgia
It’s odd to call a team a dark horse when they have averaged nine wins per season since 2001, but that’s what Georgia is. The team will install a West Coast style offense (i.e. a lot of play-action passes built around Heisman candidate Nick Chubb) which is tailor-made for a team that still doesn’t know who the starting quarterback will be with the season starting in a week. They just need to get past Nick Saban. Kudos to anyone that finds a picture of Saban smiling.
ACC – Louisville
Bobby Petrino is an evil man. Just search “2007 Atlanta Falcons” and see. With that said, this evil man is a genius when it comes to offense. Like Georgia, they are still debating on the starting quarterback, but on sheer coaching alone the offense can manage. The defense is shaky but they can rush the passer with the aggressive play-calling of Todd Grantham. The only problem? Florida State.
Big 12 – Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury has risen from low-level assistant to head coach of a Power 5 school in just five years. With David Gibbs bringing his Tampa 2 scheme to the often trounced Red Raiders defense, they can pin their ears back and play more aggressively knowing that they will surely be playing with the lead. But can they get past powerhouses like Baylor or TCU?
BIG 10 – Penn State
If you were to hire a coach to bring a school back to life from the well-documented past, James Franklin would be that guy. He brings the swagger that the school desperately needs he can go full steam ahead without the NCAA sanctions. The team brings back Christian Hackenberg at quarterback and he is equipped with an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. Once again, they have a powerhouse to get through, mainly defending national champion Ohio State.
PAC-12 – Oregon State
New Coordinator David Baldwin is bringing a spread option style offense to the team. The problem is that all quarterbacks on the roster have zero playing experience. Enter Storm Woods (awesome name, kudos to his mom) who stands 6’4’’ and weighs 235 pounds. He’s a freak athlete at receiver and will have any quarterback thanking the heavens for being on his team. But Stanford, UCLA, and Oregon are looking at them like younger brothers. Can they compete against such prestigious programs?
Conference USA – RICE
Kudos to anyone that finds a picture of Rice head coach David Bailiff angry. His high energy is infections. From the assistants, to the ball boy, all the way to his players. Throughout numerous games last year, the defense went through some crazy illness called the “don’t-you-even-think-about-getting-a-first-down” flu. With the best defense in the conference, all they will need is a quarterback that won’t lose the game. “We are coming for you Marshall,” says Bailiff. Find that picture yet?
MAC – UMass
If you go from winning two games in two years to taking an SEC team to the brink (it was Vanderbilt, but an SEC team nonetheless) then you know there is something brewing. UMass is leaving the MAC after this year, but having an NFL late-round sleeper at quarterback in Blake Frohnapfel with a rocket arm can’t hurt. The defense can rush the passer with relative ease, as they finished in the top 30 in the country in quarterback pressures last year.
SUN BELT – Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern took the Sun Belt conference by storm last year. Having a top-20 defense and having the No. 1 rushing team in the country is a gift when you are moving up to the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision. Georgia Southern runs the triple option offense just as well as Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech, who are the Godfathers of the triple offense. They can also stop the run and run the ball and that’s as close to your grandfather’s style of football as you are going to get.
MOUNTAIN WEST – Utah State
This team in another “ouch that hit hurt” old school style football team. They finished in the top-15 in points allowed on defense. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton was in the discussion of being a first-round pick before injuries ended that discussion last year. They bring a blitz heavy, man to man defense that can scare the dickens out of opponents with tall, physical corners that can eliminate any receiver they play. Utah state is just like Alabama. They just don’t have those country strong big uglies on the lines of scrimmage.