21 for 2021 key college football offseason topics: Which five college football teams have the potential to surprise?


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This is always fun.

Unlike the Power 5 Sleeper Teams call, this is more about the teams that should have decent years even though no one is expecting from them.

Missouri in last year’s version was one. The 5-5 record might not have been special, but finishing third in the East was a positive.

Not all of the surprise calls work – Syracuse finishing 1-10 was a disaster, Illinois went 2-6 and Texas Tech only got to 4-6 – but Stanford was 4-2 and second in the Pac-12 North.

The goal is to get at least three right out of the five conferences, and here they are.

No, these five Power Five programs aren’t going to win a conference title, but they could and should be nice surprises.

2021 Power Five Possible Surprises
Big Ten | Big 12Pac-12 | SEC

ACC: Pitt Panthers

Two games: at Tennessee, at Virginia Tech. Lose those two, and the Panthers can still have a winning season and bowl appearance. Split, and they should beat their published preseason win total of seven.

Beat the Vols and Hokies on the road, and there’s a real shot at the program’s first season with nine wins or more since 2009.

Start with a veteran quarterback in Kenny Pickett who might not be DJ Uiagalelei or Sam Howell, but he’ll get a long look by the NFL when he’s finally done.

As always, the Panther defense will come up with one of the nation’s best pass rushes – even with a few changes this year up front. The linebacking corps is fantastic, there are plenty of weapons for Pickett to work with, and the schedule isn’t all that awful.

It’s a bad break to get Clemson, but the Panthers get Coastal favorites North Carolina and Miami at home.

CFN 2021 Pitt Preview

UMass, Western Michigan, New Hampshire – that has to be a 3-0 start. There are enough manageable road games to expect at least a few wins out of trips to Georgia Tech, Duke and South Carolina, and Virginia at Heinz Field will help.

No one will pick the Panthers to win the division, but it’s a schedule built to win at least six games like last year, throw in a big upset, and then it’s down to Tennessee and Virginia Tech to make 2021 something great.

To be honest, the ACC’s pick here was going to be Syracuse for a third straight year, but that was too much of a lift. However …

2021 Power Five Possible Surprises
Big Ten | Big 12Pac-12 | SEC

21 for 2021 Preview Topics (so far)  
21. Thoughts, Wishes, Hopes for 2021
20. Best Teams To Not Make CFP
19: Teams That Will Rebound Big
18. Teams That Will Fall Back
17: Every Power 5 Team’s Letdown Game
16. Expectations For New Head Coaches
15. Expectations For 2nd Year Head Coaches
14. Power 5 Hot Seat Coach Rankings
13. 21 Key Transfers You Need To Know
12. Group of 5 over Power 5 Upset Alerts
11. 5 of College Football’s New Superstars
10. Group of 5 Teams In New Year’s Six Hunt
9. Power 5 Sleeper Teams
8. Ranking The Power 5 Quarterback Battles
7. 5 Teams That Might Disappoint

CFN 2021 Preview: All 130 Team Previews

NEXT: Big Ten Potential Surprise