An Exclusive Look at the National Title Frontrunners
The Alabama Crimson Tide have built a dynasty. Two championships in a row and three of the past four. Can the Tide keep on rollin’ or will another team step up and dethrone them? We don’t have that answer for you. You’ll have to tune into the upcoming season for that answer. What we do know is there are going to be some excellent games and teams you should keep an eye on as the season progresses. Among those teams are what we consider the national title frontrunners. More specifically, these 10 teams…
#1. Alabama Crimson Tide
That’s right, the two-time defending national champions are still the favorite to win it all. As they say, “they’re the champs until someone proves otherwise”. We are of the same mindset. Until another team proves they can dethrone Nick Saban’s squad, they are our #1 team. Alabama is led by senior quarterback AJ McCarron. After two-straight championships, McCarron has more than proven himself as a worthy team leader. The schedule sets up nicely for a championship run. If the Tide can roll past their first two opponents (Virginia Tech and Texas A&M), only LSU on November 9 appears to stand in their way until the SEC Championship game.
- PIVOTAL GAME: September 14 at Texas A&M
- UPSET ALERT: November 16 at Mississippi State
#2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State didn’t lose a game in Urban Meyer’s first season, but it didn’t matter because they were on probation. They’re off probation and ready to get back to the BCS Championship game. The Buckeyes have some question marks on defense and return just 6 starters on that side of the ball. But they are led by one of the most dynamic players in the land – quarterback Braxton Miller. He’s on our short list of early Heisman frontrunners. As Braxton Miller goes, so will go the Buckeyes.
- PIVOTAL GAME: November 30 at Michigan
- UPSET ALERT: September 14 at California
#3. Oregon Ducks
Chip Kelly is gone and new coach Mark Helfrich is in. But the coaching change shouldn’t affect the potency of Oregon’s offensive attack. The combination of quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas will have the Ducks scoring points like scoring points is going out of style. They don’t have the same kind of talent on defense but Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as good of a shutdown cornerback as you’ll find in the country.
- PIVOTAL GAME: November 7 at Stanford
- UPSET ALERT: October 12 at Washington
#4. South Carolina Gamecocks
In all honesty, we don’t think South Carolina is a Top 5 team. But we do think they have the schedule to win 10-11 games and they’ll be an upset away from contending for a national title potentially. They have a quarterback controversy. Will Steve Spurrier use last year’s starter Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson – the guy that’s stepped in when Shaw has been injured? On the defensive side of the ball, there’s no question who the leader is – defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. If we ware going to see a defensive end win a Heisman Trophy in our lifetimes, it will be Clowney.
- PIVOTAL GAME: September 7 at Georgia
- UPSET ALERT: October 19 at Tennessee
#5. Clemson Tigers
In the SEC, Clemson is likely a 3-4 loss football team. In the ACC, they’re a threat to go unbeaten. That’s not to say they aren’t a good team. After all, they do have one of the best QB’s in the country – Tahj Boyd. But they simply do not have enough defensive depth to be a real national title threat. With that said, give some credit to defensive coordinator Brent Venables for transforming the Tigers defense into a respectable unit by midseason last year.
- PIVOTAL GAME: November 30 at South Carolina
- UPSET ALERT: October 19 vs Florida State
#6. Georgia Bulldogs
There’s no secret, Georgia is going to have to win ballgames with their offense. Is it possible to win a championship without a quality defense? If any team can pull it off it will be Georgia. The Bulldogs boast one of the most talented offenses in the nation. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for an almost surreal 2,144 yards on the ground and 26 touchdowns in 2012. And we haven’t even mentioned the return of 4th-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray. If Georgia is going to make a run this year, they’ll have to earn it with a brutal schedule.
- PIVOTAL GAME: September 7 vs South Carolina
- UPSET ALERT: November 30 at Georgia Tech
#7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
We have Oklahoma State ranked a bit higher than most preseason polls. That’s because we predict rankings based on schedules and how they match-up with each opponent. The Big-12 will be down this year. There are no dominating teams and Oklahoma State appears to be the most talented. Their biggest question mark – other than their average defense – will be whom Mike Gundy will select as his quarterback. It will come down to Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. Both have started and won games in Stillwater.
- PIVOTAL GAME: December 6 vs Oklahoma
- UPSET ALERT: August 31 vs Mississippi State (in Houston)
#8. Michigan Wolverines
Brady Hoke has Michigan right back to where they were when Lloyd Carr left. It’s almost like the Rich Rodriguez era never existed. But now they must find a replacement for the explosive Denard Robinson at quarterback. Drew Gardner will do his best. He’s a better passer than Robinson. But they will miss D-Rob’s big plays. Fitz Touissaint will carry the load at tailback…if he can stay healthy. If Michigan is going to challenge Ohio State in the Big-10, they’re going to have to get back to playing defense the way they did in 2011.
- PIVOTAL GAME: November 30 vs Ohio State
- UPSET ALERT: October 12 at Penn State
#9. Boise State Broncos
You’ve heard it before – Boise State’s ranking is based on their weak schedule. That’s still true for 2013. Boise State, in any BCS conference other than the Big East, loses 4 ball games. The offense should be explosive again. The Broncos return an experienced quarterback – Joe Southwick – and nearly all of their top rushers and pass receivers from a season ago.
- PIVOTAL GAME: August 31 at Washington
- UPSET ALERT: August 31 at Washington
#10. Texas A&M Aggies
The good news is Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is back. The bad news is their defense is going to struggle to contain any decent offense. Manziel is going to have to work some more magic if he’s going to lead the Aggies to a BCS bowl. But, as we learned last year, if anyone can perform magic, it’s Johnny Football.
- PIVOTAL GAME: September 14 vs Alabama
- AlabamaUPSET ALERT: October 12 at Ole Miss