For the first time in a while, last season’s College Football Playoff provided real variety outside of Alabama. Georgia made its second appearance in the four-team field, while Michigan and Cincinnati made their debuts. With the Wolverines and Bearcats potentially falling back to the pack this fall, Rece Davis provided a sleeper pick to crash the CFP during an appearance on ESPN’s First Take: Utah.
“The sleeper team for the College Football Playoff is the reigning Pac-12 champion Utah Utes,” Davis said. “That is a program that’s established, they’re returning their quarterback in Cam Rising, they’ve got Tavion Thomas back. They’re losing two terrific linebackers and they have some holes to fill on defense, but we’ve learned over the years that Kyle Whittingham puts together a strong defense.
“So I think if you want a true definition of a sleeper, which is odd to say about a team that played in the Rose Bowl and won a major conference last year, I would say it’s Utah. And Utah will have an opportunity to make noise early on the road against Florida. Now, Florida is an average-to-below-average SEC team this year in all likelihood in their first year under Billy Napier but if Utah can get that nonconference win on the road early on the opening Saturday of the season, then I think it sets a tone.”
Utah narrowly fell short to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl to end last season and is widely considered one of the two top contenders to win the Pac-12 South Division along with USC. The Pac-12 has not placed a team in the CFP field since Oregon made it in the event’s inaugural season back in the Marcus Mariota days.
One of Utah’s key advantages this fall? The Utes get USC at home in what could be their most important game of the season. Utah did, however, get handed a relatively difficult Pac-12 slate with a road trip to Oregon included.
Robert Griffin III said he agrees with Davis that the Pac-12 could produce a CFP team this season, but he went in another direction with his sleeper pick. The former Heisman Trophy winner picked USC, citing the myriad of highly-rated transfers that coach Lincoln Riley added this offseason as a big part of his reasoning. Griffin indicated that he is not overly concerned about the Trojans’ ability to fit those new players into their system.
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“Honestly, I would still pick USC over Utah in that conference no matter how many different pieces that they have brought in,” Griffin said. “They brought in not just good players — they brought in some of the best players in the country from different teams around the nation.”