It's a bit harder to project the NCAA football season than the NFL season, for several reasons.
First, there are a lot more teams - 119, rather than 32. While most of those teams are no threat whatsoever, there are still a lot more contenders to foul things up. Any one of fifteen teams could win the championship; any one of fifty could eliminate one of those fifteen.
Second, the season is a lot less structured than that of the NFL. It's shorter, for one thing - twelve games, rather than sixteen, which means that one loss has a much greater impact. It also lacks the playoff system of the NFL - so a deserving team can be denied a chance at the championship.
But, despite the large number of teams and the occasionably inequitable postseason structure, it is possible to, before the season begins, identify a number of teams who have serious shots at making it to the national championship game.
This is the team that everyone is talking about; Jim Harbaugh infamously dubbed them the "best team ever". While they're not that good, they are really, really talented.
Les Miles, the Tigers' head coach, sniped at USC's schedule, drawing criticism of LSU's own scheduling practices. While the Tigers play cupcakes, they also play in the SEC. No easy ride here.
3. West Virginia
Good offense. We know that. But did you know their defense could be quite good this year? Last year, their inexperienced and ultimately 109th-ranked pass defense was the team's fatal flaw; this year, the secondary is a year older, and adds former Michigan starter (and veteran of three Rose Bowls) Ryan Mundy.
4. Virginia Tech
A sentimental favorite for the entire country after the horrific events of last April, but they can play football, too. Frank Beamer's teams always have stifling defenses, and this one should be no exception.
SLEEPER: South Florida
Don't laugh. The Bulls went 9-4 last year with a true-freshman quarterback. This year, they return 16 starters from a team that defeated West Virginia and won the PapaJohns.com Bowl. If they can get by Auburn on Sept. 8, their toughest remaining games will be at home.