The Cardinal are flying under the radar not only nationally but in the Pac-12, with Oregon favored to win the North Division and overall conference championship. Stanford, meanwhile, has won two in a row against the Ducks. With perhaps 11 senior starters on defense, the Cardinal will remain one of the nation's most impressive teams.
After another round of offseason losses to the NFL, the Tigers will look to reload behind a changed cast of characters. All LSU does is reload, however, and rarely misses a beat in the chase for the national championship. Though Alabama, South Carolina and Auburn are the early favorites in the Southeastern Conference, LSU is very much in the conversation.
It's not just about the schedule: Marshall is a strong team on its own merits, with the best collection of personnel in Conference USA and, in quarterback Rakeem Cato, one of the nation's most overlooked talents. Yet an easy, contender-free schedule could allow the Thundering Herd to go undefeated yet remain out of the playoff picture.
4. KANSAS STATE
Oklahoma and Baylor earn preseason headlines, but Kansas State's combination of speed, experience and coaching make it a very sneaky contender for the Big 12 Conference championship. That both the Sooners and Bears come on the road hurts matters, but the Wildcats could make noise in September by beating Auburn.
A difficult schedule is Clemson's greatest negative and biggest asset in the quest for the playoff. Though the Tigers draw Georgia and Florida State on the road and rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale, an 11-1 record could justify a top-four spot in January.