The 10 Teams That Actually Have a Chance to Win the College Football Playoff

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2018

The 10 Teams That Actually Have a Chance to Win the College Football Playoff

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The offseason brings dreams of a national championship to many college football programs, but the ugly truth is there's only a small group of legitimate contenders for the 2018 crown.

    We've narrowed the list to 10 teams, which unsurprisingly include each of the four 2017 College Football Playoff qualifiers.

    And in complete honesty, if required to make a choice between taking Alabama, Clemson and Georgia or the field, there's a compelling case for the three-school group. Throw in Ohio State, and most people are probably taking those four.

    Late transfers, suspensions or injuriesas Florida State experienced with Deondre Francois last seasonmay eventually affect the list. Given the facts (returning production, strength of schedule) we have today, though, we believe only these 10 programs out of 130 FBS schools can win the 2018 title.

          

    Note: All teams accompanied by championship odds from OddsShark.

Michigan Wolverines

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Odds: +900

    This one comes with an asterisk.

    The NCAA still hasn't determined if Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will be immediately eligible. That decision affects the Wolverines' place on this list, because we're less likely to trust Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey against a brutal schedule.

    However, Michigan returns All-American-caliber players all over the defense. Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson, Lavert Hill and David Long will be key pieces of an elite group.

    With Patterson complementing that unit, the Wolverines have a chance to navigate a slate that includes Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. Without him, they'll field an extremely talented defense that is wasted by the offense's issues.

    Again.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Odds: +2500

    Michigan State accelerated its timeline for a return to relevancy with a breakout 10-3 year in 2017. And the Spartans didn't lose much.

    Brian Lewerke is a quality dual-threat quarterback. Running back LJ Scott and receivers Felton Davis, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Cody White all return. Four starters on the offensive line are back, and yet another Allenthis time, Mattshould be the center.

    Additionally, only two starters are gone from the defense, which ranked 18th in yards allowed per snap and 19th in points per game.

    Michigan State travels to Arizona State and Penn State but hosts Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State. It's not an easy schedule, but the Spartans are the only top East Division contender to not play Wisconsin or TCU.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Odds: +2200

    Tight end Troy Fumagalli and fullback Austin Ramesh used up their eligibility. Otherwise, every starter on offense is back, including Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor. Several important defenders are gone, but Wisconsin has fielded a top-10 unit for five straight years. The defense will be great.

    But every discussion about the Badgers' ceiling in 2018 must focus on Alex Hornibrook.

    He threw at least one interception in 10 contests and was painfully ineffective against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. But during the Orange Bowl opposite Miami, Hornibrook played the game of his life. The southpaw also made a couple of terrific passes to defeat Michigan.

    The Badgers need a more threatening passing attack to truly compete for a national title, considering they head to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State in 2018.

    If Hornibrook is capable of propelling the offense on the road and against elite defenses, Wisconsin will be a real contender.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Odds: +1800

    West Virginia and Texas will be trendy picks to potentially dethrone Oklahoma, but the three-time defending Big 12 champion should stay the favorite in the conference.

    Yes, the Sooners lost Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray is already the obvious starter for 2018, and he has dynamic skill-position complements in running backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon and receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb.

    The primary concern is Oklahoma's adjustment to new starters at every level of the defense. However, much of the 2018 schedule includes opponents who are also breaking in a new quarterback or would be significant upsets.

    If the Sooners can handle Texas on Oct. 6 and West Virginia to close out the regular season, they should return to the Big 12 title game with a CFP berth at stake.

Washington Huskies

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Odds: +2800

    Stanford is intriguing because of Bryce Love, a terrific offensive line and an experienced KJ Costello, but the combination of a revamped defense and a tough schedule hurts the Cardinal.

    Washington opens the season with a showdown against Auburn, but a top-10 loss won't hurt Chris Petersen's club. And a win absolutely would help atone for any future slip-up.

    Though road trips to Utah and Oregon will be tough, the Huskies should be favored against both teams. Plus, they've had zero trouble dispatching talented Washington State squads recently, and the in-state rival will be rebuilding in 2018.

    If UW can navigate September and October at 8-1, a victory over Stanford to begin November would likely seal a Pac-12 North crown. Win there, and the Dawgs may return to the CFP.

Auburn Tigers

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Odds: +2000

    Likely? Not really. That's the trouble with taking on Alabama, Georgia and LSU every yearplus a potential rematch with Georgia. And in 2018, the Tigers will meet Washington, too.

    Have fun finding a better group of potential wins, though. Auburn could have four matchups with top-10 programs before bowl season. Beat Alabama, secure the SEC crown and be 12-1 or 11-2, and the Tigers should have a terrific resume.

    Yes, that's easy to say on paper. Auburn must replace four starters on the offensive line, and the 2017 squad typically struggled when the running game lacked efficiency.

    But with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback and a strong majority of the two-deep on defense returning, the Tigers should not be overlooked.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Odds: +750

    The J.T. Barrett era is over, but Ohio State fans are excited about the futurewhich likely will feature Dwayne Haskins.

    Regardless of whether Haskins, Joe Burrow or Tate Martell starts, the new quarterback will ease into the season against Oregon State and Rutgers. Then, the Buckeyes have a showdown with TCU on a semi-neutral field (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas).

    But TCU has the kind of offense Ohio State's terrific defense can dominate. Years of top-tier recruiting should help the unit transition relatively easily, and the Nick Bosa-led D-line will be elite.

    The Buckeyes also hit the road for games against Penn State and Michigan State ahead of the annual season-ending clash with Michigan. As long as the quarterback competition doesn't linger, Ohio State could be headed to its third playoff appearance.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Odds: +750

    Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Trenton Thompson and Roquan Smith (among others) are big losses, for sure. But Georgia is prepared to handle those departures, and the schedule is workable anyway.

    Oh, and that Jake Fromm kid is pretty good.

    Besides, four starters are back on the offensive line, and D'Andre Swift will continue the trend of top-tier running backs. And with Deandre Baker, D'Andre Walker and Tyler Clark returning on defense, the unit will remain one of the nation's best.

    In addition to the annual neutral-site clash with Florida, Georgia travels to South Carolina and LSU. The Dawgs host Auburn and Georgia Tech. Tough? Yeah. Brutal? No way.

    Georgia isn't going away anytime soon.

Clemson Tigers

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    Mike Comer/Getty Images

    Odds: +600

    Defense wins championships. And this defense will be merciless.

    Clemson ranked No. 2 nationally in yards per play allowed last season, and draft-eligible standouts Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Kendall Joseph all decided to return. By rule, Dexter Lawrence had no choice but to stay.

    Moving the ball on that defense will be strenuous, and the unit will propel the Tigers during trips to Texas A&M and Florida State. The key for Clemson is having a more threatening offense to bully top competition.

    Kelly Bryant is a fine quarterback, and he should keep the starting job despite charges from Hunter Johnson and Trevor Lawrence. Against four top-25 defenses (in yards per play allowed), though, he managed just 5.7 yards per attempt and one touchdown through the air.

    Dabo Swinney has built a powerhouse that will contend for the title annually. Bryant's performance will determine whether Clemson will win its second championship in three seasons.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Odds: +275

    First of all, if we need to convince you about the Crimson Tide's merit, there's nothing that will.

    Anyway, Alabama's two-year starter has two career losses. His backup first appeared in a meaningful situation during the national championship and led the Tide to a comeback victory. No matter if Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts is behind center, they'll be great.

    Over the last decade, the Tide have boasted a top-five defense nine times. The secondary must be retooled, but there's an enormous supply of talent waiting for its chance.

    Calvin Ridley's departure creates a major void in what was a one-man receiving group, yet Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III should give Alabama a more complete unit as sophomores. Tagovailoa's presence would boost the pass-catchers, as well.

    Nick Saban's team will be the leading contender in 2018.

         

    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.comcfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.