Instant Debate: Which team could be surprise playoff contender?

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CFB 24/7's panel of experts has already unveiled predictions for the teams that will make the College Football Playoff this season. What about sleepers for the playoff? We asked our panel to select a team with the best chance of being a surprise playoff contender in 2015. Here are their answers.

  • Gil Brandt NFL.com
  • ASU a promising darkhorse

Arizona State is my pick to be a College Football Playoff surprise contender. The Sun Devils return 16 starters from last season; seven on offense and nine on defense. They possess the 18th-toughest schedule in FBS, which isn't bad. ASU plays USC and Oregon at home, and doesn't have to play Stanford. In Mike Bercovici, the Sun Devils have probably the most underrated quarterback prospect in college football. In nine seasons as a head coach at three different schools, Todd Graham -- who is an underrated coach -- has compiled 77 wins, with 28 of those over three seasons at Arizona State including a 10-3 finish last season.

  • Charles Davis NFL.com
  • Don't sleep on the Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech. That's right, I said it -- Georgia Tech. For anyone that notes preseason lists, or some of my writings in recent years, you'll find that in successive years I declared the "Ramblin' Wreck" as the "most overrated" program in the nation. I ate my "crow pie" at the end of last season after Tech had decisively thumped Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, and this team has the look of a strong contender in the ACC in 2015. The team's offense is one that defensive coordinators lose a week's sleep over -- a run-heavy triple option, led by the perfect player to run the system in preseason All-ACC quarterback Justin Thomas. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof is one of the best in the nation. This team has a schedule (at Notre Dame, at Duke, at Clemson, vs. Florida State, vs. Virginia Tech, vs. Georgia) that, if traversed, can land it an ACC title (likely facing Clemson or Florida State in the title game), respect from the Playoff Committee, and perhaps, a spot in the Playoff Four.

  • Lance Zierlein NFL.com
  • Hokies could surprise

I'm going with Virginia Tech as the sleeper. Florida State and Clemson are dealing with massive turnover at key positions and the Hokies lost to Georgia Tech last season by just three points. Quarterback Michael Brewer had 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions over his first six games, but improved those numbers to 8 TDs and 4 INTs over the final 7 contests. With eight starters returning for Bud Foster's sturdy defense, those close losses last season might turn into wins this time around.

It's easy enough to dismiss Georgia Tech as a national-championship contender because the Yellow Jackets haven't been in that conversation since 1990. But with quarterback Justin Thomas returning to confound the ACC with the triple-option offense, this could be a special year for the Ramblin' Wreck. Georgia Tech's schedule includes home games against FSU and Georgia, two of its three toughest opponents. The defense will need to be significantly improved, but after reaching the ACC title game last year, Georgia Tech isn't that far off.

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