8/1, 10:15am: Who is the worst team that can win the CFP Championship?
One exercise I think is really fun: (after doing your painstaking or, in some cases, quite casual research) open up the futures list and scroll down until you think you've hit rock bottom. I don't mean Oregon State. I mean when you hit the LAST team that has a greater-than-zero percent chance of winning the title. It doesn't have to be that much greater than zero, call it .0001. That's still a better chance than about 100 of these teams have. You shouldn't have to go THAT far down to find the last one, since this is about the most top-heavy sport there is. There have been 4 Playoffs, the winners of them have been: Alabama (2x), Clemson, and Ohio State. No need to get cute. Other teams that have made the playoff during that time: Oregon, Florida State, Oklahoma (2x), Michigan State, Georgia, Washington. There isn't a Loyola waiting for their chance in this sport, no matter how many old, awesome nuns they have. Whatever team you're going to be picking needs monster recruits, huge talent, and a competent-to-above-average coach at minimum, but in reality probably one of the sport's elites.
Anyway, since I feel pretty good about my base of knowledge across the board finally (I had set August 1st as the date to at least have a somewhat clear, full picture of the entire country in my head, which will now be tweaked millions of times), I decided to do this, on 5Dimes, which is probably the most fun site to do it on because they have every team and the odds get completely absurd.
At first, I thought I definitely went too far down, because I saw Baylor and Cal at 2,000/1 and sort-of paused, and was like "well...I guess if they got [listed 100 breaks out loud], it would be possible." I really like Matt Rhule and Justin Wilcox, if you couldn't tell, but still only Year 2 for both, and while I really like both teams this year as teams that will succeed, I'm not sure they have a greater-than-zero chance to win the title. But man, it's really close, especially if Charlie Brewer is actually really good for Baylor. The Big 12 is a giant mess of mediocrity after Oklahoma, everyone's got question marks, so if they could get that 2nd spot, and things break right....see, there, I just did it again. I'm going to move up from Baylor and Cal because I just don't think the overall talent is there even if I think the coaches are up to the task.
So I kept going back up the list towards the top, and I stopped again at Boston College 750/1, but I actually think they have a lower ceiling than a lot of teams, even if their floor is much, much higher. Put it this way: they won't be bad this year if healthy. But can they really win the title? I don't know what their A+ game looks like if things break right. That may be the right answer.
So I kept scrolling up. And then I saw the team that was (for now) definitely the right answer, for me: UCLA, 350/1. Right next to Boise, who actually has no chance. They'd need all elite teams to somehow lose 3 times, and with College Football being a zero-sum game, some team would emerge with fewer even if the favorites lost more, and it just never works out the way you want. There's a reason the GO5 teams get a New Year's bid, and it's to placate them since we all know they can't actually make the playoff. I don't care how high UCF got at the end of last year, they had a 0 percent chance when the committee went to deliberate. You weren't putting UCF in over Alabama.
But we got off track. UCLA! Woo! Go Bruins! I mean, believe me, their chances are microscopic. Like bacteria-sized. But I think it may be non-zero. Here's why: they have Chip Kelly, so that checks the "elite coach" box. He went to a title game, and almost beat Cam Newton. There are merely a handful of coaches with that track record. You need to have monster recruits to compete at that level, and the crazy thing is, UCLA HAS THEM. Now, a lot of them haven't realized that potential, and a few more have left the program outright, but if you're looking at recruiting classes and talent on the roster, UCLA is better than a lot of teams. They play in a division that is completely wide-open, more than any major-college division in the country. What if Jim Mora Jr. was just that awful that he couldn't turn high-school studs into college studs? Isn't there at least a non-zero chance of THAT? Wilton Speight isn't even that bad of a quarterback, and here's another what-if: what if Jim Harbaugh just has a really hard time getting the max out of college QB's? There's a non-zero chance of THAT too. Now, before we really go any further, UCLA isn't going to win the title...hardly ever. They have the hardest schedule of any team in the country, they play every good PAC-12 team, they're going to play something like 10 teams that went to a bowl last year, and while their QB is probably Wilton Speight (for now, it could also be freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, aka DTR), there's nothing that is both elite and a known quantity, and their offensive and defensive lines have performed about as poorly recently as anyone in the country.
But I mean...that was kind of a fun exercise, right? Try it out and see what mediocre-so-they're-never-winning-but-mayyyybe-if-they-got-breaks team you come up with. Cheers.