3 SEC Teams That Could Make a Surprise Run at a College Football Playoff Berth

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3 SEC Teams That Could Make a Surprise Run at a College Football Playoff Berth
USA Today

By now, you've heard all the names.

Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU will all likely land in the preseason top 15, and they'll all be considered either legitimate contenders for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff or, at the very worst, dark horses.

That doesn't make it impossible for some of the outsiders to make a run at the event. 

Who's this year's "Auburn," and could that team make a surprise run at the College Football Playoff?

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Florida QB Jeff Driskel

 

Florida Gators

Yes, Florida was a joke last year, complete with a loss to then-FCS Georgia Southern and the embarrassment of two Gators blocking each other that will live in college football infamy forever.

As we saw with Auburn last season, it doesn't always have to be that way.

Phil Sandlin/Associated Press
Florida OC Kurt Roper

One tweak here and there is all a team like Florida—with top end talent up and down the depth chart—needs to get back in the title mix.

They made that tweak this offseason when they waved goodbye to former offensive coordinator Brent Pease and welcomed in former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to Gainesville.

Yes, it would take a monumental turnaround from the Gators offense to get into position to make the playoff, but the problem in Gainesville wasn't a lack of talent, it was a lack of scheme.

Driskel, was the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation in 2011, and is finally in an offense that suits his ability. Demarcus Robinson has the potential to be a game-breaker, Quinton Dunbar has the experience to help the Gators during the transition and Andre Debose has the ability to be a dangerous weapon in the slot once he's at 100 percent.

The schedule is tough, and that trip to Alabama on Sept. 20 is looming large. Get by that with a win or even an impressive loss, and it could set the tone for the season and charge back into SEC East contention.

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Florida head coach Will Muschamp

 

Texas A&M Aggies

Before you cry foul about Texas A&M's defense, take a step back.

I know it's bad. In fact, it's worse than that. It's downright embarrassing.

But, as is the case with Florida's offense, it doesn't have to be that way.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin

If Texas A&M can catch lightning in a bottle with one or more of its potential stars on defense, that's all the Aggies need to do to become a playoff contender. Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough defense" does. That's a blessing for head coach Kevin Sumlin, regardless of who his quarterback is.

Whether sophomore dual-threat Kenny Hill wins the job this August or true freshman pro-style passer Kyle Allen earns Sumlin's trust, the Aggies head coach has proven during his time at Houston and Texas A&M that he can win with either a dual-threat or pro-style quarterback.

It's unrealistic to expect that this year's Aggies offense will be comparable to the one led by former quarterback Johnny Manziel—one of the most dynamic college football players in recent college football history. But if it's close, all that defense needs to do is force some turnovers for the Aggies to be successful.

Besides, four of the last five national title winners and seven of the last 10 participants in the national title game have had first-year starters taking the snaps. A quick turnaround isn't the most outlandish prediction in the world.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill

 

Ole Miss Rebels

"But...but...Ole Miss hasn't played in an SEC Championship Game yet. Now it's a playoff contender?"

Ole Miss would certainly be a surprise, but what shouldn't be a surprise is the defense. The Rebels could boast one of the toughest defenses in the SEC, thanks to All-American safety Cody Prewitt, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and a ton of raw talent that is primed for a breakout.

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Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze

The Rebels offense has been pretty solid over the last two seasons with quarterback Bo Wallace taking the snaps, but the rising senior has struggled to fight through nagging shoulder injuries that were exacerbated by his role as a runner between the tackles. Thanks to Jordan Wilkins and Mark Dodson, he might not have that responsibility anymore. A healthy Wallace is dangerous, especially with wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram outside.

Ole Miss has the potential to boast a surprisingly stout defense and a high-scoring offense that is multi-dimensional. That's a recipe for success.

The Rebels get Alabama and Auburn at home, and they have a manageable draw out of the East with the road trip to Vanderbilt and home stint against Tennessee. 

Ole Miss making the playoff would be a long shot, but that's exactly what we're talking about here. Long shots. 

Hey, it's better than "no shot."

Michael Chang/Getty Images
Ole Miss S Cody Prewitt

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.


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