The beautiful thing about the preseason is that it's full of possibility - all records are unblemished, all upsets are still possible. No matter how dire the expert predictions, you can believe that, with a little luck, this is the year your team runs the table and makes it to Pasadena.
Unfortunately, that's not actually true. In the interest of managing expectations, we present one team from each automatic qualifier conference that likely won't be playing for a national title, even if they finish the regular season without a loss.
There are a couple of interesting options here - Wake Forest has an out of conference slate that includes Presbyterian, ULM, and Army - but only the Blue Devils have that special combination of a terrible set of nonconference opponents AND avoiding anyone competitive cross-divisionally. For the former, Duke hosts North Carolina Central, Troy and Navy and travels to play Memphis. For the latter, they'll avoid Florida State and Clemson in favor of...NC State and Wake Forest.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR UNDEFEATED DUKE TO MAKE THE TITLE GAME: Every other team has to have two losses. It probably helps if some of those teams also get quarantined by the CDC. We told you to stop buying exotic pets from a church parking lot, Les Miles.
ARE WE ROOTING FOR AN UNDEFEATED DUKE: Yes, because there will be some sportswriters who insist they've earned a spot in the championship, and then Duke will promptly lose the Orange Bowl by twenty.
We picked the Scarlet Knights here because beating Arkansas this year won't have the same cachet it did in 2012 and because they close with a stretch that a) no one will watch and b) no one will want to talk about: at UCF, at UConn, and home against USF. A Rutgers team that wins those three games to complete an undefeated season will be like a man who eats an entire Costco jar of Russian dressing in one sitting - impressive and not welcome in your house.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR UNDEFEATED RUTGERS TO MAKE THE TITLE GAME: No fewer than two one-loss teams from the Pac-12, Big 12, SEC, and B1G. And that's being optimistic.
ARE WE ROOTING FOR AN UNDEFEATED RUTGERS: No, because then we'll have to blame Bret Bielema in part for the ensuing arguments, and you don't want to see Bret Bielema in a defensive position. (His boner does some weird, weird stuff.)
BIG 10: Minnesota
UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, San Jose State. That's a college tour trip for an extremely underachieving student, or, if you're Minnesota, it's your nonconference schedule. And your first four games. The Gophers can go 4-0 here and win every game 70-0 and they still might not crack the top twenty. Beating Michigan and Michigan State on the road will look good, but it's not really the best year to be playing with bumpers in the Big Ten.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR UNDEFEATED MINNESOTA TO MAKE THE TITLE GAME: No undefeated ACC or Big 12 teams, and not more than one Pac-12 or SEC champion with one loss or better. And Multi-state secession.
ARE WE ROOTING FOR AN UNDEFEATED MINNESOTA: Hell yes. JERRY KILL TO SOUTHERN CAL, YO.
BIG 12: Baylor
We're wading into more challenging territory here, but Baylor only plays four teams that had a winning record last year before November, and one of those is Louisiana-Monroe. The Bears do close with Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas; unfortunately, that also means they're relying on those teams to not drop in the rankings by beating up on each other before Baylor gets a shot. Of course, we can't forget the main reason an undefeated Baylor would be left out: boring assholes complaining that they can't play defense so just let Alabama scrimmage in the national title game roll tide.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR UNDEFEATED BAYLOR TO MAKE THE TITLE GAME: Oklahoma beating Notre Dame, Oklahoma State beating Mississippi State, TCU beating LSU, and Texas being undefeated until December. This is a parlay you should bet on, not because it is a smart bet, but because saving for retirement isn't getting you any closer to your own private fleet of jet skis.
ARE WE ROOTING FOR AN UNDEFEATED BAYLOR: Yes and no. Yes if you're an Art Briles fan, no if you're one of the rappers he defeats in freestyle battles after every Baylor victory.
There's a good argument that this slot should go to Colorado, but there are dick moves and then there are diiiiiiiick moves. Arizona opens the season by hosting Northern Arizona, going to UNLV, and then coming back home for Texas-San Antonio. From the North, they draw Cal, Washington, Washington State, and Oregon. And even if they do make it through the entire schedule without a loss, Arizona will have to deal with seven hundred "Ka'Deem Carey Doesn't Respect The Game" articles.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR UNDEFEATED ARIZONA TO MAKE THE TITLE GAME: A lot of Arizona's conference opponents have to be unexpectedly good this year, and there probably can't be two other undefeated teams from an automatic qualifier conference.
ARE WE ROOTING FOR AN UNDEFEATED ARIZONA: No. Angry Michigan fans and angry West Virginia fans are fun separately, but combine the two and shit goes Gozer.
You're thinking there's no way any SEC team could go undefeated and not make the championship game, but consider the following:
1. There's a large segment of the country, media and plebiscite alike, eager to end the SEC's title streak however possible.
2. There's a large segment of the SEC, media and plebiscite alike, still hesitant to embrace Mizzou as a card-carrying member.
3. At least 1/3 of the poll voters will forget that Missouri's no longer a Big 12 team.
Now consider the first four games the Tigers play: Murray State, Toledo, Indiana, Arkansas State. "But shortly after that, Missouri plays Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina in consecutive weeks!" you counter. "Surely that would be an impressive streak of wins." Ah, you beautiful, stupid optimist. Should Mizzou successfully emerge from that stretch, the narrative will be SEC EAST SUX, not PINKEL IZ BRILLSVILLE.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR UNDEFEATED MISSOURI TO MAKE THE TITLE GAME: The Tigers hammer - and I mean absolutely hammer - Alabama in the SEC Championship, and there aren't any sexier undefeated options from another AQ conference. (No, you are not sexy, Oklahoma.)
ARE WE ROOTING FOR AN UNDEFEATED MISSOURI: Yes, because these Rosé Bowl jokes are yearning to be free.