How 20 college football teams become legit national title contenders

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      Ute Fan

      This is my annual “Ifs List” piece — an attempt to see how many “ifs” it takes me to turn a team into a genuine national title contender. The favorites don’t require many; a few others might have more than you think.

      4 Ifs

      Utah (+4000)

      If … Cam Rising and the Utes are good favorites. Thanks in part to Rising’s emergence — he ranked fifth in Total QBR after October 1 — Utah surged to its first Pac-12 title. An accurate passer and devastating scrambler, Rising is receiving dark-horse Heisman hype, and the Utes will enter 2022 as the hunted instead of the hunter. Can this chip-on-its-shoulder program respond well to life as a heavyweight?

      If … the passing game finds a few more big plays. As good as Rising was, he only averaged 12.2 yards per completion, and Utah finished just 103rd in passing marginal explosiveness. Whether it’s 6-foot-5 sophomore Devaughn Vele or someone else, the emergence of a quality deep threat would raise Utah’s ceiling immensely.

      If … the old Utah run defense returns. In three of four losses, the Utes scored more than 30 points; in three of four, they also allowed at least 200 rushing yards. Inefficient run defense was costly, and while the line is less youth-reliant now, two linebacker transfers — Gabe Reid (Stanford) and Mohamoud Diabate (Florida) — need to make a huge difference.

      If … the defensive spine is glitch-free. Middle linebacker Devin Lloyd and safeties Vonte Davis and Brandon McKinney were safe and sturdy, and they’re all gone. Improved run defense would fix a lot, but increased glitches from the safety valves would create a new set of issues.

      * Marginal explosiveness looks at the magnitude of a team’s successful plays (per the success rate definition) and adjusts for field position.

      ESPN+ article


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