For the most part, the teams that are expected to contend for a national title each season usually do. But there's generally at least a couple of unexpected teams that make some big noise. Here are three candidates and their college football odds.
Washington Huskies (+375 in NCAAF betting to win Pac-12)
Can I even call the Huskies a potential shock team at this point? They are getting a ton of love around the country and clearly from oddsmakers at BetOnline as UW is the second-favorite behind Pac-12 North foe Stanford to win the conference title. It might be puzzling on the surface as Washington hasn't won double-digit games since 2000 and has had six losses each of the past two seasons under Coach Chris Petersen. But Petersen was a very good recruiter at Boise State and his guys are now in the program. The Huskies showed major signs last year. They easily could a have won 10 games, falling to No. 23 Boise State by just three, to a pretty good Cal team by six and Oregon by six.
The Huskies also won at No. 17 USC, which would prove to be the final game as head coach of the Trojans for Steve Sarkisian, the guy who left Washington for USC. UW closed the season with three straight blowout wins, including a 45-10 wipeout of No. 20 Washington State in the Apple Cup. UW brings back 15 starters, including quarterback Jake Browning (2,955 yards, 16 TDs) and running back Myles Gaskin (1,302 yards, 14 TDs), who both learned on the job as freshmen in 2015. They could be the best QB/RB duo in the Pac-12 this year. UW's defense was the best in the Pac-12 last year and returns three of its top players in tackle Elijah Qualls, linebacker Azeem Victor and safety Budda Baker. Washington has a very easy non-conference schedule. In the Pac-12, it gets Stanford at home but visits Oregon, which UW hasn't beaten in forever. This could be the year.
Miami Hurricanes (+900 on college football picks to win ACC)
If you have one of the nation's top quarterbacks, then you have a shot to win your conference. And that's the case with the Hurricanes and junior Brad Kaaya, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Kaaya has done plenty with questionable coaching the past two seasons under Al Golden. But now he has a quarterback whisperer in new head coach Mark Richt. The Hurricanes also are very deep at running back, tight end and on the offensive line.
The defense looks solid in the front seven. The weaknesses on paper would be a thin group of receivers and in the secondary. UM also has a pretty favorable schedule to play in its first ACC Championship Game. It avoids Clemson and Louisville from the Atlantic Division and gets to host both Florida State and North Carolina. In fact, UM's season will come down to a brutal five-game slate: Oct. 1 at Georgia Tech, Oct. 8 vs. FSU, Nov. 15 vs. UNC, Oct. 20 at Virginia Tech and Oct. 29 at Notre Dame. Get through that with just one loss (not counting the Irish, who are non conference) and the Canes should win the Coastal Division. Win them all and they can start thinking College Football Playoff.
Michigan State Spartans (+850 on college football odds to win Big Ten)
OK, you are asking how Sparty can be a shocking team in 2016. Coach Mark Dantonio's club is the defending Big Ten champion and reached the College Football Playoff in 2015. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in each of the past three years and won two major bowl games in that stretch. But everyone in Big Ten country is overlooking MSU because it lost three-year starting QB Connor Cook, who holds pretty much every major school record, as well as arguably the Big Ten's best receiver in Aaron Burbridge as well as some significant players on defense. Just nine starters are back overall.
A lot of people think MSU will have a step-back season like it did in 2012 when it slipped to 7-6 after Kirk Cousins graduated. But overlook a Dantonio team at your peril. The Spartans will ground-and-pound teams this season with a deep stable of running backs. The defense will, as usual, be among the Big Ten's best. Michigan State also gets the two Big Ten darlings, Michigan and Ohio State, in East Lansing. Another Big Ten East title is very doable, although I doubt another return to the College Football Playoff is.