Under-the-Radar CFB Teams That Can Alter Championship Races

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVAugust 9, 2022

Under-the-Radar CFB Teams That Can Alter Championship Races

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    Shane Beamer | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    There is never a shortage of attention on the next college football season, but that spotlight is not distributed evenly.

    Within each conference, the perceived highest tier commands the discussion. However, behind every Alabama or Ohio State, you can find a talented, infrequently mentioned team that has a few opportunities to pull off shockers in 2022.

    For example, South Carolina is slated to meet Georgia, Texas A&M and Clemson—three potential Top Five teams. Shane Beamer's squad is an ideal example of a potential spoiler in title races.

    After all, a single upset loss can ruin national championship dreams. And these programs, even though they're not considered high-end contenders based on unofficial and official polls, will have plenty of chances to provide one.

Maryland Terrapins

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    Taulia Tagovailoa | G Fiume/Getty Images

    Maryland exemplified the juxtaposition of good news and bad news in 2021.

    The bright side was that after six straight sub-.500 seasons, the Terrapins climbed to 7-6. The issue was that when they lost, they lost. Four ranked opponents—Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State—combined to annihilate Maryland 216-70.

    Whether the offense can execute in those key games will define the upside of this year's team. But there's plenty to like with Taulia Tagovailoa throwing to a deep group that includes Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr., Jeshaun Jones and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland, provided the oft-injured unit can stay healthy.

    Potential preseason Top 10 teams Michigan (Sept. 24), Michigan State (Oct. 1) and Ohio State (Nov. 19) loom. For good measure, so do Wisconsin (Nov. 5) and Penn State (Nov. 12).

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Will Rogers | Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Like Maryland, Mississippi State closed the 2021 campaign with a 7-6 record. Progress, yes, but certainly not an incredible year.

    Were the Bulldogs ever annoying, though.

    They knocked off North Carolina State, clipped Texas A&M in College Station, thumped Kentucky, upset Auburn with 40 unanswered points and nearly took down Arkansas on the road, too.

    This season, Mississippi State hosts championship hopefuls Texas A&M (Oct. 1) and Georgia (Nov. 12) in addition to a clash at Alabama (Oct. 22). Arkansas (Oct. 8) and Auburn (Nov. 5) come to Starkville, as well.

    Led by quarterback Will Rogers—who averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt yet threw for 4,739 yards and 36 touchdowns to nine interceptions—MSU can provide a twist in the SEC and national title races.

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Zacch Pickens | Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    South Carolina had a Maryland-like tendency to struggle in its toughest games last year, so the Gamecocks have much to prove.

    After an offseason of wins in the transfer portal, though, South Carolina is better prepared to be a thorn. The key addition, of course, was former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. He had a disappointing 2021 but excelled in his first season as a starter the year prior.

    Now, the schedule is brutal. Trips to Arkansas (Sept. 10), Kentucky (Oct. 8) and Florida (Nov. 12) might not be forgiving. A bowl appearance may be a fine season for second-year coach Shane Beamer even though it would not be an improvement on 2021.

    Still, the Gamecocks have three shots at possible top-tier teams. Georgia (Sept. 17) and Texas A&M (Oct. 22) travel to Columbia, and Clemson (Nov. 26) hosts the Palmetto Bowl.

Syracuse Orange

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    Dino Babers | Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    One stretch of close calls defined Syracuse's season.

    Following a 3-1 start, the Orange lost when Florida State kicked a winning field goal as time expired, Wake Forest emerged in overtime and Clemson held on for a 17-14 victory. The latter two ended the campaign as Top 15 teams.

    Perhaps in 2022, timing will provide Syracuse—buoyed by All-American running back Sean Tucker—one of the fortunate bounces it didn't receive last season.

    Yes, this three-game run could be tougher. The Orange host NC State (Oct. 15) before playing at Clemson (Oct. 22) and welcoming Notre Dame (Oct. 29).

    But they have an idle Saturday prior to the game against the Wolfpack, who will be playing the last of seven straight games. It'll be Clemson's final matchup of an eight-week run, and Cuse is the dreaded "look-ahead" opponent for ND with visiting Clemson on deck for the next weekend.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Tahj Brooks | John E. Moore III/Getty Images

    Texas Tech is a wild card. Joey McGuire has brought a well-respected voice to Lubbock, but he's working through a quarterback competition between Tyler Shough and Donovan Smith. Also, the Red Raiders are repairing a defense that endured three nightmarish games of 50-plus points allowed.

    Such a transition can, and very likely will, be challenging.

    Nevertheless, premier Group of Five threat Houston (Sep. 10) and Big 12 contenders Texas (Sep. 24), Baylor (Oct. 29) and Oklahoma (Nov. 26) each travel to Texas Tech. That's a whole bunch of marquee opportunities with home-field advantage.

    Again, expect inconsistency. But it's not uncommon to see a glimpse of a new coach's vision play out, especially at an inopportune moment for a top opponent.

UCLA Bruins

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    Dorian Thompson-Robinson | Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    Of the teams mentioned, UCLA is probably the best. Dorian Thompson-Robinson accounted for 3,018 yards and 30 touchdowns as he guided the Bruins to an 8-4 record in 2021.

    Short of the school's impending move to the Big Ten, however, UCLA isn't often mentioned. That Pac-12 attention has mostly belonged to Utah, USC and Oregon.

    Guess who's on the Bruins' schedule?

    The Utes (Oct. 8) will visit Pasadena, and both the Bruins and Ducks (Oct. 22) have idle weeks before their showdown in Eugene. UCLA hosts rival USC on Nov. 19.

    Win one, shake up the league. Win two, and the Bruins will be Pac-12 contenders.

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