- College football reporter
- Joined ESPN.com in 2007
- Graduate of Indiana University
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock has made it clear — repeatedly — that the playoff isn’t changing this season or next, which means it’s still an exclusive club reserved for four.
While the usual suspects remain at the top heading into this fall, the field of contenders runs deeper than Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Teams like Georgia and Oregon are looking to return to the CFP, while Iowa State and Texas A&M are seeking to make their debuts.
And they’re not alone.
Here’s a look at the favorites in each league — and the teams with a shot at challenging them:
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Best chance: Clemson. Been there, won that. Twice. With six CFP appearances and two national titles, the Tigers have made the ACC a mainstay in the playoff conversation. The Sept. 4 season opener against Georgia will reveal which team — and conference — takes an early lead in the race to the top four.
Outside chance: North Carolina, Miami. Both UNC coach Mack Brown and Miami’s Manny Diaz have elevated their respective programs to the point where an upset of Clemson shouldn’t be considered shocking. Miami’s game at UNC on Oct. 16 will help determine the Coastal Division winner, but it’s the two teams’ nonconference schedules that could derail their playoff hopes. Miami opens the season Sept. 4 against Alabama and North Carolina has a tough trip to Notre Dame on Oct. 30.
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