Top College Football Playoff Contenders' Biggest Flaws

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2021

Top College Football Playoff Contenders' Biggest Flaws

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    Clemson coach Dabo Swinney
    Clemson coach Dabo SwinneyMatt Cashore/Associated Press

    Despite how it may feel sometimes, no team is perfect. Not even the College Football Playoff champion is ever impeccable.

    For example, while 2020 Alabama didn't have a glaring weakness, the secondary had a few rough performances during the season. And looking ahead to the 2021 campaign, there are early concerns about all the top CFP threats.

    Since your definition of a top contender is perhaps different than mine or someone else's, we eliminated some of the subjectivity. We focused on the 10 programs with the strongest odds to win the 2021 title, according to DraftKings.

    The list is organized by those championship odds.

The +3300 Club: Iowa State, Texas, Texas A&M, USC

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Iowa State Cyclones: Good Brock, Bad Brock

    Brock Purdy is a quality quarterback who is efficient, productive and mobile. He's also not immune to questionable decisions. That frustrating fact showed up during a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game when he tossed three bad interceptions.

    At his best, Purdy can throw for 10-plus yards per attempt and provide an excellent complement to star running back Breece Hall. The worst-case scenario, though, has been crushing.


    Texas Longhorns: Elevating the Offense

    In the simplest terms, Tom Herman failed to extract the best of his offense in the games that mattered most. During his four-year tenure, the Longhorns went 1-11 in regular-season games against opponents that ended in the AP Top 25.

    New head coach Steve Sarkisian has sparked a wave of optimism, and expected starting quarterback Casey Thompson had an incredible bowl performance in relief of Sam Ehlinger. But anything we suggest will happen in key games is nothing but a projection.


    Texas A&M Aggies: New Quarterback

    On the bright side, Texas A&M has a reasonably favorable slate to begin 2021. That also means the Aggies must win immediately while breaking in Kellen Mond's replacement.

    Whether it's Haynes King, Zach Calzada or Eli Stowers, the offense will be turning to someone with fewer than 25 career pass attempts. That's not a disqualifying factor, but quarterbacks not at Alabama have routinely struggled to navigate the SEC in their first year as a starter.


    USC Trojans: The Offensive Line

    This one won't require any convincing for USC fans. Last year, the Trojans ranked 84th or worse in tackles for loss (7.2) and sacks (2.5) allowed per game. And that poor blocking also resulted in the nation's 14th-least-efficient running game.

    Completely turning around the unit's performance will be an incredibly difficult task in 2021.

LSU Tigers: Defensive Improvement

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Improving from a subpar defense to an elite unit is possibleOhio State made the jump between 2018 and 2019but it's not a simple process. And LSU really struggled last season.

    As the Tigers posted a 5-5 record, they finished 98th in scoring defense and 125th (out of 127) in yards allowed per play. The ineffective year led to head coach Ed Orgeron moving on from defensive coordinator Bo Pelini and replacing him with Daronte Jones.

    On paper, LSU should have a strong defense in 2021. The line is full of experience with Ali Gaye, Andre Anthony, BJ Ojulari, Glen Logan and Neil Farrell Jr., while Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks are a terrific combination at cornerback. Key linebackers Micah Baskerville and Damone Clark are back, too.

    But on paper, LSU shouldn't have faltered as much last season, either. We're not breaking any news to say navigating the SEC will require a much stronger defense in 2021.

Georgia Bulldogs: Rebuilt Secondary

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    Georgia S Lewis Cine
    Georgia S Lewis CineBryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Georgia has helped show the evolution of great defense. Instead of needing an overwhelming, disruptive front six/seven, the Dawgs have limited opponents from the secondary forward.

    But in 2021, they're basically starting over at cornerback.

    Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, Mark Webb and DJ Daniel are pursuing the NFL, and Tyrique Stevenson headed to Miami. Those five players held the largest roles in 2020, combining for six of UGA's 10 interceptions and 17 pass breakups. (For good measure, departing safety Richard LeCounte III snagged three of Georgia's four other picks.)

    Fortunately for Georgia, the pass-rushing corps should be overwhelming and disruptive anyway. That strength may need to atone for an inexperienced coverage unit, though.

Oklahoma Sooners: Cornerback Depth

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Two seasons ago, Oklahoma had suspect depth at cornerback. Joe Burrow-led LSU exposed that vulnerability under the brightest lights, wrecking the secondary in the College Football Playoff.

    Last year, however, the Sooners fared much better. They surged from 60th in yards allowed per pass to 21st andperhaps more notablyimproved from allowing 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions to 12 scores and 16 picks.

    While it's not "starting over" to Georgia's level, Oklahoma has a few notable departures with Tre Brown and Tre Norwood. They combined for eight of the Sooners' 16 interceptions last season.

    Now, the seemingly bolstered depth will be scrutinized.

    Woodi Washington, D.J. Graham and Brendan Radley-Hiles (if he stays) should make up the first-string unit, while Jaden Davis, Jeremiah Criddell and Tennessee transfer Key Lawrence have some experience. Joshua Eaton played a bit in 2020, too.

    If the secondary holds up, Oklahoma is a legitimate national championship threat. If not, the Sooners' six-year Big 12 title streak will be in serious jeopardy.

Ohio State Buckeyes: New Quarterback

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Talent is not a concern in Ohio State's quarterback room. The notable players are CJ Stroud and Jack Millerboth 4-stars in the 2020 recruiting classand incoming 5-star Kyle McCord.

    Stroud, to be sure, is the favorite to replace Justin Fields. But no matter the starter, he'll have zero career pass attempts entering the season.

    As mentioned with Texas A&M, a new starter does not preclude a team from competing for the CFP. And in Ohio State's case, the path through the Big Ten is more favorable than the Aggies trying to emerge from the SEC West, let alone the SEC as a whole.

    By the end of September, it might be clear Ohio State has a star quarterback. To assume it's a certainty is bold, however.

Clemson Tigers: Needed Improvement on O-Line

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    From an overall perspective, Clemson had a decent offensive line in 2020. However, relative to the CFP competitionAlabama, Notre Dame and Ohio Statethe Tigers had the shakiest unit.

    In losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State, they combined for just 78 rushing yards. Even excluding four sacks from that number, Clemson averaged 1.9 yards per carry. While passing wins games in this era, an ineffective running game can be problematic.

    Three starters on the line return in 2021, but Clemson needs to replace left tackle Jackson Carman and center Cade Stewart.

    In all likelihood, Dabo Swinney's team will be back in the CFP next season. Fueled by an experienced defense, the Tigers remain the class of the ACC. Nevertheless, Georgia's aggressive front will test Clemson's new-look unit in the opener and show whether the unit can handle one of the nation's top defenses.

Alabama Crimson Tide: Overhauled Offense

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Congrats on the national championship and all that. Next season, just rebuild the entire offense and do it again, OK?

    Look, nobody is feeling bad for a program with six titles in the last 12 years that consistently brings in an elite recruiting haul and recently added the highest-ranked class in the sport's history. Alabama is better positioned for this significant transition than 100 percent of the other teams in college football.

    Still, this is a huge challenge.

    Alabama must replace quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, tight end Miller Forristall and linemen Landon Dickerson and Alex Leatherwood. While having top-rated prospects as replacements is exciting, that's not a guarantee for success.

    Again, it's Alabama. The level of concern is low because head coach Nick Saban has continually proved the Tide can handle this, and 5-star quarterback Bryce Young will lead the revamped unit in 2021.

    But with Miami and Florida both on the schedule in September, Alabama must be prepared for tough matchups right away.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from, or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.