Five dark-horse playoff contenders

Horns, Aggies among teams outside top 25 countdown that could make playoff

Updated: July 3, 2014, 12:47 PM ET
By Brian Fremeau | ESPN Insider

Charlie StrongAP Photo/Michael ThomasCan Charlie Strong and his Texas Longhorns make a playoff run in 2014?
The expert college football Insider team has just wrapped up counting down the top 25 teams most likely to make the inaugural College Football Playoff this fall. By our projections, only a handful of teams are in a particularly strong position to make a run to the final four. But there are a number of potential playoff contenders lurking just off the radar.

Here are five playoff long shots that just missed our top 25 countdown to keep an eye on this fall.

Texas Longhorns

Projected finish: 7-5 (5-4 Big 12)
Chance to make playoff: 1 percent
Chance to win Big 12: 4 percent
Toughest games: Oct. 11 versus Oklahoma (22 percent chance of winning), Oct. 25 at Kansas State (30 percent), Sept. 13 versus UCLA (40 percent)

Expectations are high for new head coach Charlie Strong to make an impact in Austin, but no one is predicting the Longhorns to be in serious contention for the playoff in Year 1. There are five opponents on Texas' schedule that project to be significant roadblocks for the Longhorns. In conference, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State each have the program momentum to be a Big 12 contender, and Texas also faces Pac-12 contender UCLA in nonconference play. Our projections give Texas only a 4 percent chance of winning at least four of those five.

But new head coaches at power programs have sometimes made unexpectedly immediate turnarounds, and Texas certainly has a solid profile to build from (No. 22 in five-year efficiency, No. 4 in five-year weighted recruiting). Strong's teams at Louisville were very strong defensively, and he has a good foundation on that front, as well.

Brian Fremeau

ESPN Insider
• Has been a contributor to ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine since 2009
• Creator of the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a measure of college football team efficiency
• Contributor to Football Outsiders and his own site, bcftoys.com