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Darkhorse Candidates to Make the NCAA Football Playoffs
College Football 2014
Braxton Miller's injury impacts playoff picture
Based on last season's performances and the early rankings, Ohio State was expected to have a very good chance to qualify for the first college football playoffs. When Ohio State lost Braxton Miller to a season ending shoulder injury, that may have opened the door for unexpected teams to compete for a playoff spot. Last season, Florida State was the 13th ranked team in the nation coming into the regular season, but their surprising performance quickly elevated them to the number one spot in the polls. This season, once again a team outside the top 10 could put together a performance that is playoff worthy as they climb into the top five rankings in the polls. With a few teams outside the top five, waiting to make their move when a team falters, that creates some strong candidates in the dark horse category for playoff teams in college football. A further look at some of these teams, will help to show why they are legitimate candidates to make that move into the top four to clinch a playoff berth in the NCAA's first season with a college football playoff.
Life after Johnny Football is not so tough for the Aggies when they have Kenny Hill producing at a record setting pace. Its still early in the season, but it appears that the Aggies defense is better than it has been in the past two seasons, which could result in Texas A&M making a strong push for a playoff spot this season. Kenny Hill's record breaking game on the road as an underdog against South Carolina, could be the huge win that A&M needed to propel them to their goals for this season. The Aggies still have five very strong opponents on their schedule, but wins in four out of five of those games, would put A&M in the driver's seat for an NCAA football playoff berth.
Two years ago with quarterback Everret Golson under center, the Fighting Irish produced a perfect regular season on their way to a National Championship appearance. With Golson back from a season long suspension in 2013, and looking as strong as ever at the quarterback position, Notre Dame could put together a season that surprises many. Notre Dame has lost some very good defensive players since the last time Golson was playing quarterback for them, but strong recruiting has led to impressive defensive performances so far in 2014. Notre Dame is definitely a team to keep an eye out for as the NCAA football playoff picture materializes this season.
The Trojans big win on the road at Stanford, allows for significant expectations moving forward this season. With USC passing their first significant road test, they will look to continue their strong play in a tough PAC-12 conference, led by a fast and aggressive defense. Without having Oregon on their schedule, toughest remaining opponents for USC are Arizona State and UCLA. USC's offense will largely determine the outcome of their season, if they are able to put up enough points to win against Arizona State and UCLA, or if they fall short of their goal of qualifying for the NCAA football playoffs. After winning on the road at Stanford, USC becomes one of the more interesting teams to watch moving forward in the college football season.
In the Cardinals first season in the ACC, they made a statement in their home opener against a team that is typically an ACC powerhouse. Louisville's impressive win over Miami showed that they have a strong football program that will continue to play well even after Teddy Bridewater's departure for the NFL. As a team with a very strong defense, and an offense that showed the ability to flourish with a young quarterback under center, Louisville becomes a dark horse to climb up the rankings quickly. With games remaining at Clemson and hosting Florida State, the Cardinals will get the opportunity to prove they belong in the NCAA football playoffs, if they come up with wins in each of those matchups.
With the loss of Braxton Miller, probably only one or two spots could be up for grabs in the college football playoffs, so its unlikely that all four of these teams will make the postseason in the first year of the college football playoffs being in place. Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech opens the playoff race for any team that was originally outside the top five to start the season. With all of these interesting story-lines developing early in the college football season, this makes for a very interesting season as the weeks progress. Ultimately the four best teams in college football should qualify for the playoffs, as the NCAA shows the forward thinking progress to allow a playoff system that supports the highest level of competition.