College Football National Title Sleepers

College Football National Title Sleepers

Anyone can pick Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Florida State, Ohio State or Michigan to win this year’s college football national championship. After all, all of those teams seem to be popular consensus picks depending on what publication or media outlet you’re privy to. The challenge is identifying those teams thought to be proverbial long shots, and risking a little bit of money on them for your early college football picks. I have two such teams in mind at this juncture, so let’s get right to them.

UCLA (30-1): It all starts with sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen. The 19-year-old lived up to his billing as a true frosh a season ago, throwing for 3669 yards, and tossing 23 touchdown passes. Rosen will be asked to shoulder more of a load on an offense that returns just four other starters.

The Bruins should be one of the top defensive units in the PAC 12 this season.

They’ll be especially strong at linebacker and in the defensive secondary. Although their depth on the side of the ball is a bit murky, their nine returning starters bodes well for the upcoming 2016 campaign.

Head coach Jim Mora has done a sensational job since arriving at UCLA. His first four years in charge produced a solid 37-16 record, and bowl appearances in each season. His team will have a stern test in their season opener at Texas A&M. They’ll also have a tough non-conference road test at BYU. They get Stanford, Utah, and USC all at home. They won’t have PAC 12 title contenders Washington and Oregon on their regular season slate.

A lot will depend on the play of an inexperienced offensive line and wide receiver group. The talent is certainly there for UCLA to be a surprise national title possibility, and they’ll be worth a small wager for me at these longs odds for one of my college football picks.

North Carolina (50-1): I really like teams like the Tar Heels who aren’t garnering a lot of national attention. Head coach Larry Fedora has this Tar Heels football program on a rapid rise toward elite status. They’ll return 13 starters from last year’s 11-3 team. As a matter of fact, after losing their season opener to South Carolina, the Tar Heels won a school record 11 games in a row.

The offense will have to replace starting quarterback Marquise Williams who had a terrific career. However, junior Mitch Tribusky is a former 4-star recruit from Ohio, and his cameo appearances in a backup role have been nothing short of sensational. For instance, last year he went 40-47 (85.1%) for 585 yards and 6 touchdowns in limited duty. He’ll be surrounded by an experienced group of wide receivers led by seniors Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard. Switzer is also a dynamic kick returner as well. The rushing attack will also be in great shape with junior Elijah Hood back for another year. Hood ran for a lofty 1463 yards and 17 touchdowns a season ago.

Last year’s new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik made a world of difference. Under the former head coach at Auburn and Iowa State, the Tar Heels defense allowed 14.5 points less per game compared to 2014, in addition to permitting 62 total yards fewer per contest. They’ll need to continue that upward climb if North Carolina is going to enter the national title conversation.

North Carolina will have an enormous task in their season opener when they take on Georgia in Atlanta. That game will be played at the Georgia Dome, and will be technically considered a neutral site. Nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, it will be a Georgia home game considering how well Bulldogs fans travel, in addition to the close proximity from Athens. Yet, that talented opponent will be playing under a brand new coaching staff. Former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart takes over as head coach, and it wouldn’t shock me for the transition to affect his team a bit in September. Make no mistake, we’ll found out if North Carolina is the real deal in this premier non-conference clash.

The Tar Heels won’t have ACC favorite Clemson on their 2016 regular season schedule. Yet, they’ll encounter extremely tough road games at Florida State (10/1) and Miami Fla. (10/15). However, this team will be more than talented and capable enough to shock the college football world in 2016. I would be remiss to not include them as one of my futures college football picks.

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