Sleeper national title contenders for 2014 

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
10:30
AM ET
Unless you are a fan of Auburn or Notre Dame, and maybe even if you are, chances are you did not correctly predict the participants in the past two BCS title games.

So there has been room for surprise title contenders in recent years, and that trend should only grow now that there’s a new system and room for two more in college football's final four.

Who are potential sleeper teams that could try on the Cinderella slipper in the initial playoff?

A hint: Two of the five are set to play in Week 1 on a neutral field.


ACC: Clemson Tigers

A perception exists that the Tigers will slip after losing several key offensive pieces, including likely top-five pick Sammy Watkins. Clemson's coaches are not buying it, and neither am I.

The simple fact is, in a departure from the past couple of years, the defense is talented enough to carry the offense if it needs to do so for stretches.

In fact, offensive coordinator Chad Morris told me that he approached new defensive boss Brent Venables two springs ago and told him, essentially, "we've got this" until the defense could catch up. And the defense picked up its play in the second half of 2012 and, very respectably, finished 23rd in yards per play and 24th in scoring in 2013.

A line that features six seniors, including tackle Grady Jarrett and end Vic Beasley, is the headliner, but head coach Dabo Swinney told me this week that it’s the most complete defense he has had, from front to back.

"A year ago, we were nobodies," Swinney said. "Now everyone knows their names."

As for the offense, there’s a lot of confidence that whoever wins the quarterback job will be capable of leading the unit.