The computer tabs USC to plow through a weak south division in the PAC-12, then crush Washington in the championship game as a 10.99-point favorite. A conference championship for the Trojans would be their first since 2017 and just the third since 2008. But the run doesn't stop there as the computer picks USC to win the national championship, as well.
Indiana (Big Ten) champs, Miami (ACC Champs) and LSU (SEC Champs) are expected to round out the playoff field. The semis would see USC eliminate LSU, and Indiana edge Miami. The Trojans are preseason favorites by 5.39 points over the Hoosiers.
It would certainly be a refreshingly different Final Four.
The computer preseason-picked two of the Final Four contestants last year (Alabama, Clemson). Since 1993, the Congrove Computer Rankings are15,938-5,321 (.750) in picking winners and hit 53% against the spread. The preseason rankings have picked 13 of the 28 teams to make the Final Four in the first seven years of that format, and have preseason-picked at least one of the national title game contestants 16 times in 28 seasons.
Other teams that are definitely in the mix are Iowa State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Texas A&M, Washington and North Carolina. Surprisingly, Alabama is considered an outlier with 2 losses expected to spell the Tide's doom. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Ohio State is projected to lose 4 games.
That makes the Chick-fil-A kick-off hugely important for the both the Tide and the 'Canes as the winner would be seen as having an inside path to the Final Four.
Practically everyone has a roster that's enhanced by players who didn't lose a year of eligibility under the "Covid rules". Thus, the 130 FBS schools return an average of 74.8% of last year's starters, and 76.4% of letter winners. Fifty-three teams have welcomed back at least 80% of their starters and seventeen of those are returning upwards of 90%.
Last season's Final Four teams in the FBS playoff don't have that luxury. Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame all rank in the bottom 16 of returning productivity .
Maybe that doesn't swing the door wide open, but it's definitely cracked. And you shouldn't be surprised if the entire Final Four is different than a year ago.