College Football has always been centered around the Power 5 conferences of the SEC, Big 12, Big 10, PAC-12, and the ACC. The teams in these conferences have been at the fore front of college football for quite some time now, especially the SEC, as they had four teams finish in the Top 10 this past season. Teams outside the Power 5 have struggled to earn spots in the College Football playoffs recently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible. Here are two teams that aren’t in the Power 5 conferences that have a chance to make the college football playoffs this upcoming season.
1. Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati plays in the American Athletic Conference, aka the AAC, and they finished the 2020 campaign at number 9 in the rankings. They played in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs to finish their undefeated regular season, and nearly pulled out a victory. Unfortunately, Georgia’s kicker, Jack Podlesny, sent the Bearcats dream of an undefeated season down the drain, as he drilled a 53 yard field goal as time expired to win the game for the Bulldogs.
The Bearcats return a lot of upperclassmen heading into 2021, having five graduate returners and several juniors/seniors in the projected starting lineup on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Desmond Ridder has been a three year starter for the program, and finished his 2020 season with 2,296 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, and a 66.2 completion percentage. On the ground, Ridder put up 592 yards and another 12 touchdowns, displaying his dual-threat ability from under center. He was a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award, which is an award that recognizes the top college football player in the country, which he ultimately ended us losing to eventual Heisman winner Devonta Smith.
Ridder and the returning upperclassmen are going to make noise in the 2021 season, as they look to take the experience from last season to elevate them as contenders in the playoffs. If they are able to post another undefeated regular season and win their conference, it would not be a surprise to see them in the playoffs, or at least in the New Years six bowl games.
2. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are a non Power 5 program that faced what many called a softer schedule during the 2020 season, as they compete in the Sun Belt Conference. They had bright spots for a smaller program, and played close games to end the season. I have them lower than Cincinnati purely on schedule strength, and 2019 being a good year as well for the Bearcats. Coastal Carolina had a primetime matchup against Brigham Young University last season, where they were able to knock off the Cougars 22-17. Zach Wilson led the charge for that BYU team, and he was later drafted number 2 overall by the New York Jets in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Coastal Carolina, like Cincinnati, went undefeated during their regular season and suffered their first loss in their bowl game. They faced off against the Liberty Flames, and lost in overtime by a score of 37-34. Liberty took advantage of their lackluster offense, and had potential 2022 NFL Draft quarterback Malik Willis put on a show in primetime. Willis put a display on with his legs, as he had four rushing touchdowns during the game. This game elevated him to many “way-to-soon” first round mock drafts for 2022 NFL Drafts.
The Coastal Carolina defense was the strength of the program last season, as they allowed only 11 passing touchdowns and 17 rushing touchdowns on the season. In fact, the most touchdowns they allowed on the ground in a single game came against Liberty and their dual threat quarterback. On the offensive side of the ball, they have quarterback Grayson McCall returning and looking to improve on his 2020 season, as he put up a total of 33 touchdowns last season. McCall put up a scary performance against Georgia State, where he contributed four touchdowns in the air and one on the ground in a dominating 51-0 win.
The Chanticleers return the majority of the starters from the 2020 season, and much like Cincinnati, they retain their star quarterback. Coming off of a dominant season, Coastal Carolina will look to build off of their 2020 season, and potentially sneak their way into the playoffs if everything goes their way.