Ten college football programs ready to take the next step

College football does not – and should not – revolve around the College Football Playoff.

Dozens of teams each season have memorable seasons that end elsewhere in a bowl game, whether it is on New Year’s Day or mid-December. Not all programs can contend for a national title, and that’s just fine. Exceeding expectations set in history, on a local level, is what makes college football great. It’s those individual stories of achievement – those historic wins against a rival or a program’s first conference title in 20 years – that enrich the sport. 

The category of “program on the rise” shouldn’t be limited to only those 20 or so programs capable of contending for a spot in the College Football Playoff. There’s much more to applaud, celebrate and recognize, from the Mountain West to the SEC and all points in between.

Parity is not a word one should tie to the current format of the College Football Playoff. Twenty-two of the 28 bids in the first seven years of the four-team field have been rewarded to the same five schools: Alabama (6), Clemson (6), Oklahoma (4), Ohio State (4) and Notre Dame (2). Only four teams have won the national championship during that stretch, with Alabama (3) and Clemson (2) combining for five titles in those seven seasons.

So, toss aside what you think is a program on the rise. We’re here to discuss 10 programs that are in prime position to take the next step within their own limitations and expectations. From national championship contenders to cellar-dwellars ready to become competitive road blocks, these are the 10 programs ready to take the next step in 2021 and beyond.