Cleat Geeks

College Football Dark Horses

The underdog. The long shot. The David. The dark horse. This is the team nobody is talking about and everyone doubts in the preseason. They rise up, seemingly out of nowhere, as the team to beat and suddenly they’re in the conversation for the College Football Playoff.

This happens every year, as the lovable underdog conquers feats no one predicted and capture’s the nation’s attention. Just last season TCU was a perfect example of this. They had gone 4-8 in 2013 and were not on the national radar, but by the end 2014 the turnaround happened and they went on to win 11 games, just missing out on the playoffs.

The team that beat them out, the Ohio State Buckeyes, were underdogs themselves most of the season. After losing to Virginia Tech early, they went on an impressive second half run and torched Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game to earn a berth in the playoff and go on to become the 2014 National Champions.

So who are this year’s dark horse teams to watch? Who can beat the odds and make a run at the College Football Playoff in 2015?

LSU Tigers (Last Season’s Record: 8-5)


What I Think Their Record Could Be This Season
At Best, 12-0 | At Worst, 10-2

Why They’re One To Watch
The LSU Tigers return 15 starters and only lose four players from a season ago to the NFL Draft. They have dynamic playmakers all over their offense, with players like running back Leonard Fournette and wide receivers John Diarse and Travin Dural. This should be a big help to the inexperienced Brandon Harris, who I think could have a big coming out year.

Most importantly, LSU has a very favorable schedule, as their most difficult non-conference opponent is Syracuse. They also get Auburn and Arkansas at home. Sure, the Tigers get Alabama on the road, but they’ve won five of their last seven trips to Tuscaloosa.

Wisconsin Badgers (Last Season’s Record: 11-3)


What I Think Their Record Could Be This Season
At Best, 12-0 | At Worst, 10-2

Why They’re One To Watch
Yes, I’m picking the same team that was demolished 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship game and lost their head coach Gary Andersen and Heisman-finalist running back Melvin Gordon.

Despite all of this, this is still a team that is very dangerous in 2015. Remember, the Badgers never run out of running backs and huge offensive linemen. They just reload at these positions. On top of that, they have a very experienced secondary returning.

The biggest question mark will be at quarterback, as usual for the Badgers. If Joel Stave can just be a competent, replacement level quarterback they can win a lot of games.

Of course I picked this team to go undefeated last season and they proceeded to lose to LSU in their opening game, thanks to some of the worst time management I’ve ever seen. But, Andersen is gone now and his replacement Paul Chryst is an improvement in my mind. If Wisconsin can knock off Alabama in the opening game, all bets are off.

Stanford Cardinals (Last Season’s Record: 8-5)


What I Think Their Record Could Be This Season
At Best, 11-1 | At Worst, 8-4

Why They’re One To Watch
Everyone essentially dismissed this team after losing close games to Notre Dame and Arizona State mid-way through 2014. They were promptly ignored after getting crushed by Oregon and Stanford has faded into the background ever since.

But this is not wise considering Stanford returns a lot of talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Nine starters return, including senior quarterback Kevin Hogan.

The biggest question mark is the defense, which only returns three starters. The schedule is mostly favorable, although this is only in terms of the PAC-12, as it’s proved to be a crazy conference full of unpredictability (#PAC12AfterDark exists for a reason).

If they can get by a tough road test in USC early, they get all of their toughest opponents at home after this. It’s a stretch, but Stanford could pull it off if everything comes together.

Other Dark Horses To Watch Out For
Texas Longhorns
Virginia Tech Hokies
Houston Cougars
Boise State Broncos
Marshall Thundering Herd

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