While anything is possible before the start of a season, some things are certain in the world of college football. Before the first ball is snapped, we already have a good idea of which teams can win a national title and the ones who have no hope.
Some people see this as a problem for the sport, and while I'd love to see more parity at the top myself, I look at the current situation, and I see opportunity. I see the chance for chaos. Sure, we know there's a group of eight to 16 teams (if we're generous) capable of pulling it off, but not all of them can reach the College Football Playoff. Into each season, a little chaos must fall.
But who will provide that chaos?
That's the question I'm seeking to answer today. Going through the 2021 college football schedule, I tried to identify the programs that might not be capable of winning a national title but could turn the national title race on its head. Teams that can't go 12-0 but can go 1-0 on the right Saturday. While there are plenty of potential candidates for this job, these are the five teams I think are most likely to mess stuff up in 2021.
Arkansas fans might look at their team's schedule this year and want to cover their eyes. There aren't many places to hide, as the Razorbacks will play five games against teams that could conceivably be considered as national title contenders. After opening the season with Rice, the Hogs will welcome Texas to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Two weeks later, they'll head to Arlington, Texas, to face Texas A&M. The week after that, it's a road trip to Athens, Georgia, to face Georgia. The Hogs will also play consecutive road games against LSU and Alabama in November.
Now, the problem here for Arkansas is that these games are bunched together. It's one thing to face national title contenders coming off a bye or an easy win, but to have to play them in consecutive weeks -- on two separate occasions -- is a big task if you're looking for Arkansas to pull off a season-altering upset. Still, that's five chances to take a bite at the apple.
I can already hear people telling me they're not national title contenders, but in a world where the Pac-12 still has access to the College Football Playoff, there are three teams in the conference that are all capable of winning it and getting there. The two obvious choices are Oregon and USC. The other team in Washington, which like Oregon, has reached the College Football Playoff before. Well, however serious you consider those three as contenders or not, it doesn't change the fact that Colorado will play all three of them this season.
The Buffs will get USC in early October before finishing the month with a road trip against Oregon. Then, in the penultimate game of the regular season, they'll welcome Washington to Folsom Field. And that's not all! Before the Buffs ever begin Pac-12 play, they'll be heading to Denver to play a neutral site game against Texas A&M during the second week of the season. The Buffs caught the college football world by surprise last season, and they'll have four chances to grab the nation's attention again this season.
Like Arkansas, Florida State will have five bites at the apple. I know FSU fans won't be happy to see their Seminoles on this list. After all, if you're capable of winning a national title, I'm not considering you for this list (so tell yourselves that's why you're not on it, Nebraska fans). Most Florida State fans are smart enough to understand the position the program is in entering 2021, and while they may entertain the notion of getting back into the playoff picture soon, it's not bound to happen this year.
So instead, Noles fans will have to take pleasure in the chance to destroy another fan base's hopes and dreams. Florida State opens the season with Notre Dame at home, and starting in October, will play a stretch of seven games that includes Miami at home and North Carolina, Clemson and Florida all on the road. In other words, while Florida State isn't likely to compete for an ACC title this season, it could help determine which teams do while also possibly spoiling the hopes of Notre Dame and rival Florida.
Like both Arkansas and Florida State, Georgia Tech has five games against title contenders this season. Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, its schedule breaks down much the same way that Arkansas' does. While Florida State spaces out its big games somewhat, the Yellow Jackets will play at Clemson and then home against North Carolina in Weeks 3 and 4. Then, after a road trip south to face Miami to start November, they'll finish the regular season with games at Notre Dame and the annual game against Georgia.
While I don't imagine the spreads for any of these games will be kind to Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets do have the kind of explosive players on offense who can make things happen out of nowhere, and that will make them dangerous against better teams.
I mean, how can you not have a Lane Kiffin-coached team on a list of chaos teams? We merely adopted the chaos. Lane Kiffin was born in it, molded by it. The thing about Ole Miss that makes it the most dangerous is that, in the 2021 version of college football, you need to be capable of scoring at least 40 points if you want a realistic shot at knocking off somebody like Alabama. You need to have the capability of outscoring the elite.
Ole Miss has that capability. It averaged 39.2 points per game last season. The Rebels put up 35 points on Florida and 48 on both Alabama and LSU. Of course, they also lost those three games because they allowed 167 points in those three games, but if Ole Miss could play defense, it would be a national title contender, not a chaos team.
Also, while Ole Miss only has three games against title contenders this season, they're spaced out nicely. The Rebels will try to outscore Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Oct. 2, host LSU on Oct. 23, and get Texas A&M at home too on Nov. 13. They even have a bye week before the Alabama game to give Lane extra time to draw up some plays we've never seen before.