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Which Teams Can Challenge Oklahoma, Alabama for a National Title?

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Let me make one thing clear. I believe that Oklahoma and Alabama are the best teams in the country. The Sooners are equipped on both sides of the ball, and Alabama is, too, although the quarterback situation isn’t as rock-steady as it is at other programs. But there are also plenty of opportunities for somebody to prove me wrong.

The Sooners travel to Tallahassee this weekend to face the Seminoles, and then the rest of the year they have Missouri and Texas A&M at home, and Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State on the road. The Tide just met a big road test in Happy Valley, but soon begins its hellish SEC schedule.

And then there is LSU, who is without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, but who continue to come away with wins despite a less-than-prolific passing game. The Tigers must deal with a non-conference matchup against West Virginia before embarking on their own tough SEC schedule.

Wisconsin is looking fantastic so far this year, but their path to a national title must go through Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State play the same tough Big 12 schedule as the Sooners, while I’d like to see how Florida State plays against Oklahoma before including them in the national title conversation. Besides, the regular season finale in Gainesville presents a big challenge and the Miami game is never a given.

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Contrast those schedules with that of the Stanford Cardinal, who following Oregon’s loss to LSU is the highest ranked team in the Pac-12. They’ll face Arizona this weekend in Tucson and later travel to Los Angeles to meet the Trojans. They then get Oregon and Notre Dame at home in November. It won’t come easy—especially the date with the Ducks—but their path to a national title is much less convoluted for than that of Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Wisconsin and others considered top contenders in the early part of the season.

Then there’s Boise State. Would they hold off Stanford if it came down to one or the other at the end of the year? History tells us they wouldn’t. The Pac-12 isn’t off to the best of starts, although Arizona State’s Friday night win over Missouri was a big one for the conference, but it’s still a BCS automatic qualifier and the Mountain West is not. That prejudice, unfair as it may be, could allow the Cardinal to jump the Broncos in the polls.

Stanford is, of course, led by quarterback Andrew Luck who requires no introduction to anybody who’s followed the college game the past few years. But the talent level on the depth chart goes beyond the star passer. Stepfan Taylor brings a presence in the backfield, while Luck has no shortage of targets in the passing game. Chris Owusu is a top-flight receiver, while tight ends Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz form as good a duo as you’ll find. The line of scrimmage is solid as well, led by guard David DeCastro and tackle Jonathan Martin. Linebacker Shayne Skov, meanwhile, leads a talented defense capable of hanging with anybody.

As they stand now, Stanford has about as clear a path to playing in the national championship game as any team in the country. That being said, of course, the last five national champions came from the SEC and two of them got through the schedule unscathed. Nothing’s ever a given in college football and there’s always the chance that this year’s eventual national champion hasn’t even cracked the top 15 (Auburn was ranked 16th in the AP Poll after the second week), but despite it all, watch out for the Cardinal.

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Danny Hobrock is our College Football Editor. Danny's writing on College Pigskin has garnered national attention and has been critically acclaimed. You may email Danny directly @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DannyHobrock