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College Football’s 2019 Dark Horses

College football has been dominated by two teams since the inception of the four team College Football Playoff.  Clemson and Alabama have squared off in the culmination of the season 4 straight times, 3 of them being in the national championship game.  With each team returning star quarterbacks and numerous other weapons, it is no surprise to see them as the cofavorites to win the national championship again.  While history may say that Saban and Dabo will have their squads in there again, there is a lot of value on some other programs to join them in the Final Four. These programs have a great chance to make a run, while offering you some great value on your wager.

Purdue Boilermakers

While there are numerous contributing factors to having the kind of team success that is required to make the CFP, the head coach is the most important.  Jeff Brohm is widely regarded as one of the best in the business. When he decided to spurn his alma mater, Lousivlle, they instantly became one of my favorite teams in the 2019-2020 season.  Last season they finished 6-7, culminating by a blowout loss to Auburn in the Music City Bowl. While that may be enough to think this Purdue team has no shot, there are a lot of signs this team could make a huge leap this year.  They started 0-3, including a home loss to Eastern Washington, enough to make many teams pack it in. Brohm, however, kept control of the locker room. After winning a few in a row, they hammered Ohio State on national television 49-20.  They showed they have the talent to compete with anybody, and the roster this year is more experienced.

Elijah Sindlear will lead the offense, a welcome sight for Purdue fans.  He suffered a torn ACL in 2017, and played through the injury to lead the Boilermakers to a bowl win.  Last year tendinitis set in early in the year, and he was unable to finish the season. He has looked great in the off-season, and pro scouts have noted he has a lot of tools to play at the next level.  He is fortunate to have one of the best weapons in the country at his disposal. Rondale Moore will be returning after an incredible freshman season. The dark horse Heisman candidate will be used all over the field, providing an electric punch to an offense that loves to stretch the field.  David Bell will also join the team, one of the highest rated wide receivers Purdue has landed that has already drawn some high praise.

Markus Bailey, the leading tackler from a year ago, returns to anchor the defense. Purdue went through some growing pains on defense last year, having a slew of new starters.  They have an impressive recruiting class on that side of the ball, combined with some great experience returning. While a Big Ten Schedule is never easy, they have as friendly a road as you could imagine. Road games at Penn State and Wisconsin will be tests, but avoiding games with powers Michigan and Ohio State, opens up a great road to the Big Ten Championship.

Oregon Ducks

The flagship Nike school hasn’t been able to maintain the success that former head coach Chip Kelly was able to bring to the Ducks.  They have been able to consistently be at the top of the Pac-12, but that conference has been struggling mightily in recent years. This could be the year the Ducks make a move back to the national spotlight.  Coach Mario Christobal has done a good job recruiting, and there is a lot of talent throughout the roster.

The reason they have a chance to make a run to the final 4, however, rests solely on the arm of quarterback Justin Herbert.  He surprised many when he decided to return to Eugene, as many anticipated him being a top 10 selection in the draft. The 6’6 quarterback has all the tools to make this offense as explosive as any in the country. They return 10 offensive starters, so there is a lot of promise that Herbert will deliver a Heisman campaign and keep this team in the national rankings.  The recruiting class was excellent, ranking #7 in the country. This class includes 5 star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, an electric edge rusher.

The opening game of the season will tell us a lot about this Ducks squad and if they have a chance to make a run.  A neutral site game with Auburn is just the kind of win that can look great on a resume later in the year, something they will need coming out of the Pac-12.  Road games with USC and Washington certainly won’t be easy, but the Ducks have vastly superior talent to both. Washington has dominated recently, but the Huskies are replacing so many important pieces it is hard to imagine they have the talent to match the Ducks.  If the Ducks can beat Auburn, look for them to make a strong run through the weak Pac-12 and put themselves in position to make the CFP.

Miami Hurricanes

There has been a significant buzz around this Hurricanes program since first year head coach Manny Diaz took the reigns.  The former defensive coordinator had the unit as one of the tops in the country, and now will look to bring the same type of performance from the offense.  The offense comes into the season with a lot of question marks, including the quarterback. There are 3 guys competing for the job, including returner N’kosi Perry.  Freshman Jarren Williams and blue chip Ohio State transfer Tate Martell are the others looking to start under center. Martell has all the talent in the world, and for them to make a run to the final 4 I think he has to be the guy under center.  He has looked good in camp, and gives the Hurricanes a quarterback with pro skills. It is certainly a battle to keep an eye on, and will be the first big decision in the Diaz era. He has been able to keep and add some great talent around him.

Buffalo transfer K.J Osborn was fantastic for them during the MAC title run, and adds a great big play threat on the outside.  He is a great complement to wide receiver Jeff Thomas and tight end Brevin Jordan. DeeJay Dallas has big play capability out of the backfield, but would get bottled up a lot last year vs stacked boxes. If the quarterback play can improve and he sees more running lanes, he could be in line for a big season. The offensive line is a big question mark, only returning one starter.  It is hard to back teams that may be weak in the trenches, but they do have some big guys and good recruits that hopefully come together to do enough to keep the offense moving. The defense doesn’t need to change much, as they have been elite. They ranked first in sack and havoc rate, and were among the best on third downs. They led the nation in tackles for loss as well, forcing teams into difficult downs routinely.

The best reason to take a shot at Miami this year, is the scheduling.  Opening the season vs Florida on a neutral field will be very difficult, and they will certainly be a dog.  If they are able to find a way to win that game, they set themselves up for a great stretch. They go on the road vs North Carolina next, before getting a great 5 game homestand.  There is a chance that when they go back on the road in late October they are 7-0 and ranked in the top 10. They have a great chance of making the ACC title game, where they will likely square off with powerhouse Clemson.  While them winning that will take an incredible effort, there is a good chance it is a psuedo playoff game where the winner is in the final 4. If we can get to that point, there is a ton of value on the Canes.