Alabama likely loses massive amounts across the board and their offense will need to find new pieces to rely upon, specifically without Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith. Their defense could return most of it’s starters, which is terrifying to SEC foes. It’s Alabama’s show to lose.
Welcome to the Spencer Rattler show! Oklahoma will show up in the fall of 2021 with maybe the country’s top individual talent running their team and a new face on the block ready to crash the College Football Playoff picture. Navigating the Big 12 will be the sole focus of Lincoln Riley.
“Big Cinco” or better known as DJ Uiagalelei fills the shoes of Trevor Lawrence at QB, which he showed in a brief time that he might be able to do just fine. Obviously, the shape of the team will change in many ways - Travis Etienne’s loss is huge also - but Clemson keeps on ticking.
Since taking over for legendary head coach Urban Meyer, Ryan Day has posted a 22-0 regular season record at Ohio State and a 1-2 mark in playoff battles. Like most groups at the top, the Buckeyes have to retool and reorganize a bit, but I can’t see them falling that far, that fast.
Will it be weird that the Bulldogs head into 2021 with the offense as the focal point of their team? Possibly. But make no mistake about it, Kirby Smart is not going to allow this group to go by the wayside without a fight. The Bulldogs are the type to take being viewed as second-fiddle behind Alabama personally. They’re ready to crash the Crimson Tide’s party with the best overall balance they’ve had since 2018, when they fell three points short of a National Championship to who else but Alabama.
One of the strangest things I’ve ever written is putting North Carolina at #6 in a preseason football poll, but the Tar Heels have really moved on from being just a basketball school. If Mack Brown brings back QB Sam Howell, one of the Heisman favorites will be suiting up on Chapel Hill.
Jimbo Fisher should have a program listed as a potential College Football Playoff darkhorse, but some crucial pieces like QB Kellen Mond aren’t planning on sticking around campus. The SEC can chew you up and spit you out. Texas A&M will need to manage the toll of a full season.
If Indiana and Notre Dame are both the top-fifteen squads that they’re projected to be, Cincinnati should have it’s chance to score signature victories on the road outside of American Athletic Conference play. The Bearcats are now one of the teams to be watched every year.
The Badgers’ 2020 was as funky as it could’ve gone, yet that’s no reason to dampen their future outlook. Wisconsin brings back a boat load of talent and if QB Graham Mertz regains control of the offense, the defense can carry this group through some of the Big Ten’s tougher stretches.
The Big 12 was stunned by the arrival of Iowa State in 2020, who might return 18 starters between the two sides of the ball in 2021. QB Brock Purdy and RB Breece Hall could be one of the best returning backfield combos in the country and the Cyclones defense will likely top the conference across the board. Road trips to Oklahoma and West Virginia won’t be fun, but hosting rival Iowa, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU definitely makes things a tad bit easier.
11. USC Trojans
I’m going to assume that USC gets hit a bit by the NFL Draft bug, since a few pieces on Clay Helton’s depth chart could make the leap to the next level. However, it was hard to see too much from the Trojans through only six games. The Pac-12’s general parity helps that equation.
12. Indiana Hoosiers
Ah, America’s Team. The Indiana Hoosiers. They splashed into the hearts of college football fans in 2020 as Tom Allen’s group played with tons of heart and passion for their program. They’ll try to make another run of it in the fall, with most of the crew still in tow and expectations rising.
13. Iowa Hawkeyes
Some of Iowa’s preseason love comes from a lack of other teams really “wowing” during the 2020 season and the thought that the steadiness of a program like Iowa’s may be their driving force. Kirk Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes to a 25-9 mark over the past three seasons in Iowa City.
14. LSU Tigers
The mighty fell hard in 2020 after their 2019 title season and now the Tigers are fighting just to own the Bayou State. LSU limped to a 5-5 mark last year, yet if the NFL Draft doesn’t loot them fully, they could return a boatload of talent. Ed Orgeron needs to just press the right buttons.
15. Ole Miss Rebels
Few football teams have as much fun as Ole Miss does. Under Lane Kiffin, you know the Rebels will always be wild offensively with schemes and formations, while at the same time, using players in different ways than almost any other coach would dream to. But on the defensive side of things, it wasn’t hard to believe that Kiffin was sneaking in offensive players in 2020 with their sheer incapability to stop anyone at all consistently. The SEC is not an easy mountain to climb. Ole Miss has to lock in more.
16. Oregon Ducks
Oregon has a long task list this off-season. The Ducks need to decide if Tyler Shough really has what it takes to be their QB. They need to figure out what their offensive line actually looks like. And they need to hire a defensive coordinator for what could be one of the country’s top units.
Finishing 8-3 in 2020 without anything close to the campaign that they expected from RB Chuba Hubbard, there’s tons of belief that there’s still more to come in Stillwater, so long as QB Spencer Sanders has the reigns of the offense. Like every year, the defense will have to be serviceable.
Somehow, I doubt Coastal Carolina will be picked last in the Sun Belt this season. The Chanticleers breakthrough campaign hinged greatly on the play of QB Grayson McCall and the vision of head coach Jamey Chadwell that his program can contend with any team in the land.
In Herm We Trust. The preseason Top 25’s usually look decent including some Pac-12 teams that read well on paper, but the Sun Devils might make 2021 the season that 2020 should’ve been for them. A September 18th battle at BYU will teach us all a lot about this Arizona State squad.
20. Texas Longhorns
New head coach Steve Sarkisian has massive expectations for his first year at Texas, after his offense at Alabama carved up Ohio State’s defense in the National Championship game. Longhorns fans aren’t known for their patience in general and Sark’s past stints at Washington and USC weren’t without their fair share of criticisms and controversy. There’s pieces to work with still remaining on campus from 2020’s 7-3 campaign. He’ll just want to hit the ground running down in Austin to keep the detractors away.
Whatever part of the college football universe didn’t buy stock in head coach Billy Napier and this Louisiana team in 2020, you better get ready to do it in 2021. QB Levi Lewis is set to return for a Ragin’ Cajuns group that - with Coastal Carolina - is putting the Sun Belt on the map.
22. Florida Gators
Florida’s season ended somewhat on a sour note after the Gators threw a shoe (and their College Football Playoff hopes) away, were throttled by Alabama in the SEC Championship and then all but opted-out of their bowl game. Some soul-searching is desperately needed in Gainesville.
Brian Kelly has led Notre Dame to a 43-8 over the past four campaigns, which has included two stops in the College Football Playoff. To think all of that goes out the window due to some roster changes, is probably quite juvenille. Can Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan fill QB Ian Book’s shoes?
24. Liberty Flames
There’s no reason not to believe that the magic of Hugh Freeze can’t rub off on Liberty for another go-round, especially if QB Malik Willis opts to hang around campus. The Flames will have some roster turnover, yet who won’t in the national picture. November 6th at Ole Miss will be huge.
It’s time to give some credit where credit is due to San Jose State, who under the guidance of head coach Brent Brennan have gone from conference doormats to contenders in the Mountain West. Last year’s 7-1 record, which won the program it’s first conference title in 29 years, will likely prove itself as no fluke. QB Nick Starkel has already said he’ll be back, which is so crucial to keeping the league out of Boise State’s hands. The follow-up act is always the hardest and a road trip to USC will put this team’s talent and moxie on full display early.
Ten More To Watch: Army, Boise State, Miami-FL, Minnesota, Penn State, TCU, UAB, Utah, Washington, West Virginia