How 20 college football teams become legit national title contenders

Alabama has very few question marks, as usual, but it will be relying on big, instant impacts from skill position transfers like Jahmyr Gibbs. AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

There are two ways to look at college football's on-field power structure heading into the 2022 season:

1. Three familiar teams lord far over the rest of the pack. Right now, Caesars Sportsbook is taking bets on an "Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia vs. the field" national title prop, and the betting odds for that trio are currently at -345, equivalent to a 78% chance. That certainly doesn't serve to get the larger college football public excited about the coming fall.

2. Literally almost anyone could be No. 4! At least three power conference title races are entirely uncertain at the moment, and even if all three of the favorites live up to expectations (not a given), anyone from a long list of teams has a semi-realistic path to the College Football Playoff.

Who might that fourth team be? What might trip up the power three? We can learn a lot about a contender by laying out just how many major questions it has to address.

This is my annual "Ifs List" piece -- an attempt to see how many "ifs" it takes me to turn a team into a genuine national title contender. The favorites don't require many; a few others might have more than you think.

Below are the 20 teams with national title odds better than +10000 per Caesars, sorted by the number of "ifs" required.

(As always, we're not going to worry about obstacles like injuries to stars, which could strike any team at any time. Those concerns are obvious and universal.)

2 Ifs

Alabama (+180)

If ... key transfers come up big in the skill corps. The Alabama quarterback of choice is always surrounded by former blue-chippers and potential stars. Defending Heisman winner Bryce Young will have, by my count, 20 former blue-chippers awaiting a chance in the Bama skill corps. But the leading returnees among this group gained just 314 rushing yards (Trey Sanders) and 410 receiving yards (tight end Cameron Latu) last season.

Nick Saban will be leaning on a trio of explosive transfers -- running back Jahmyr Gibbs (Georgia Tech) and receivers Tyler Harrell (Louisville) and Jermaine Burton (Georgia) -- to avoid a serious youth movement and provide the big plays and easy points required to maintain elite status. Odds are good that they will come through, but it's far from guaranteed.