2021 College Football Pre-Season Rankings

Top 25

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Projected Record: 13-0

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The 2020 National Champions return with quite a few pieces to replace on offense including Devonta Smith, Najee Harris, and Mac Jones. However, don’t expect too much of a drop off with QB Bryce Young taking over and young talent at the skill positions . This year the defense should be much improved with a loaded defensive line, great linebackers and edge rushers, and a secondary that returns everyone except Patrick Surtain II. Alabama is loaded again and should be National Champion favorites.

2. Georgia Bulldogs

Projected Record: 12-1

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The offense is absolutely loaded with QB JT Daniels, RBs Zamir White and James Cook, and receivers Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson. When you also add in one of the best Tight End combinations in the country with Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert this offense has a chance to be special. This doesn’t even include if George Pickens returns near the end of the year from a torn ACL. As for the offensive line, don’t worry. It will also be strong after returning three starters and high rated recruits waiting to take over.

The defense is also loaded. The defensive line has Jordan Davis and Travon Walker clogging the middle with Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith rushing on the edge. Quay Walker and Nakobe Dean are really solid linebackers as well. Secondary is the one area of concern as they replace a few key starters. Transfers Derrion Kendrick (Clemson) and Tykee Smith (West Virginia) should calm down the concern. Overall, this is one of the most talented teams in the country and a lock to win the SEC East.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Projected Record: 13-0

The Buckeyes are ridiculously loaded on offense with a great offensive line, two talented running backs, and an embarrassing amount of receiving talent featuring two of the best receivers in the nation (Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson). Freshman QB C.J. Stroud is the most likely to take over the starting role. Defense is a different issue. The top four linebackers are all gone and the secondary finished last in the Big Ten in passing yards given up last year. Their defensive line is solid, but they will need an improvement in the back end if they want to be true National Championship contenders.

4. Oklahoma Sooners

Projected Record: 13-0

The offense is going to be one of the top offenses in the nation as it checks nearly all the boxes: countless playmaker receivers (Marvin Mims, Theo Wease, Jaden Haselwood, Mike Woods), great 1-2 punch at running back (Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray), do-it-all FB/TE (Jeremiah Hall), big body TE (Austin Stogner), and a gunslinging QB (Spencer Rattler). The only real question is the offensive line has to replace two starters.

Every year the biggest question is Oklahoma’s defense… this year the defense should be solid. Edge rusher Nik Bonitto is one of the best players in the nation. Combine that with experience at defensive line and linebacker and they look set to run through the Big 12. A main question worth monitoring are the cornerbacks with two new starters. Overall, Big 12 championship should be the minimum expectation. Playing in the national championship should be the goal.

5. Clemson Tigers

Projected Record: 11-2

DJ Uiagalelei takes over for Trevor Lawrence with a very talented Clemson team. However, a few key questions surround this Tiger team, particularly on the offensive line and secondary after last year’s blowout loss to Ohio State. On offense WR Justyn Ross returns from injury and there is a boatload of young receivers surrounding him. The question will be who steps up (EJ Williams? Joseph Ngata? Ajou Ajou?). The defensive front seven is stacked with almost everyone returning. The issues are in the secondary as it is yet to be seen if a corner opposite of Andrew Booth Jr. can emerge. Overall, Clemson has a huge home opener against Georgia… and then it is smooth sailing for the rest of the regular season. If the issues aren’t fixed on the offensive line and secondary, then this team will again not be able to compete with the elites.

6. Texas A&M Aggies

Projected Record: 10-2

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The Aggies are absolutely loaded with impact players. On offense RB Isaiah Spiller, TE Jalen Wydermyer, WR Ainias Smith, and OT Kenyon Green are all future NFL players. The main concern will be who takes over for QB Kellen Mond (Haynes King or Zach Calzada) and replacing four offensive line starters. The quarterback and offensive line are keys to a good offense and shouldn’t be ignored.

Defensively, this is a top ten defense that returns nine starters. So, expect the Aggies to be  one of the best defenses in the nation. The defense is led by Demarvin Leal who should be a first round pick. Overall, the Aggies are talented… but the unknown at quarterback and offensive line makes me hesitant.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels

Projected Record: 10-2

Mack Brown keeps on building up North Carolina. After an 8-4 season, expectations are high. Offensively they lose some really talented guys including RB Michael Carter, RB, Javonte Williams, WR Dyami Brown, and WR Dazz Newsome. Everyone else on the offense returns though and they added Tennessee transfer RB Ty Chandler. The bowl game against Texas A&M gave a little sneak peek that quarterback Sam Howell has some players to work with including WR Josh Downs. On defense there are plenty of young playmakers looking to step up. They are extremely deep at defensive line and the trio of corners Storm Duck, Tony Grimes, and Kyler McMichael should take a step forward. Overall, this is a really talented team that will be the favorite in the ACC Coastal.

8. Oregon Ducks

Projected Record: 11-2

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Oregon had a rocky season, but still won the Pac-12 Championship despite not winning the Pac-12 North. The offense was decent last year and brings almost everyone back. A key will be who wins the QB competition between Anthony Brown and freshman Jay Butterfield. The defense is led by DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, a definite top ten 2021 NFL Draft pick. Mario Cristobal has done an excellent job recruiting and there is a serious talent on the roster… they just aren’t there yet as an elite team. But expect them to be Pac-12 champions when the season is over.

9. Wisconsin Badgers

Projected Record: 10-2

By far my favorite to win the Big Ten West… this is your classic Wisconsin team. They are fantastic along the offensive line and will only get better with back-to-back five star recruits in the last two years. The question is can QB Graham Mertz perform like he did in the season opener last year against Illinois where he threw five touchdowns. TE Jake Ferguson will also be a key contributor. Defensively, they are going to be fantastic with eight returning starters to a defense that finished fifth in the country. Look for the Badgers to have double digit wins and face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

10. Iowa State Cyclones

Projected Record: 9-3

19 RETURNING STARTERS!!! Iowa State made the Big 12 championship game and returns all of their major pieces. But what is their ceiling? Brock Purdy will need to take another step if they want to knock of Oklahoma as Big 12 champions. Regardless, the offense will continue to rely on 1500 yard rusher Breece Hall.

Defensively, expect the Cyclones defense to be solid again. The defense will be led by LB Mike Rose and there aren’t really any glaring holes. Expect a very good Cyclones team to be at the top of the Big 12 along with Oklahoma, but a playoff spot doesn’t seem realistic.

11. Miami Hurricanes

Projected Record: 10-2

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Quarterback D’Eriq King led Miami to a great 8-3 comeback season. Now King will have to make his own comeback returning from a torn ACL prior to the 2021 season (reports from Miami have him ahead of schedule). The offense was explosive with King and this offense returns almost everyone and added WR Charleston Rambo (Oklahoma transfer). The offensive line is strong and the running back room has two outstanding players with Cam’Ron Harris and Don Chaney Jr. Defensively, the Hurricanes will have to replace DE Jaelen Phillips and have a linebacker issue after allowing 175 rushing yards per game last year. The secondary may be the strength with S Bubba Bolden and corners DJ Ivey, Al Blades Jr., and Tyrique Stevenson (Georgia transfer). Overall, this could be a top ten team… but don’t expect them to beat Alabama.

12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Projected Record: 9-3

The offense lost four offensive linemen, their quarterback, and two starting wide receivers. Luckily they have 1100 yard rusher Kyren Williams returning and one of the best tight ends in football with Michael Myer. Look for Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan to most likely take over at quarterback who will provide similar production to Ian Book. Expect the Irish to be led by their defense in 2021, particularly no doubt first round pick safety Kyle Hamilton. I wouldn’t expect the 2021 team to be as good as 2020, but still think they put together a really nice season.

13. LSU Tigers

Projected Record: 9-3

After Myles Brennan’s injury, Max Johnson will be the starter for LSU at quarterback. As for the rest of the offense, look for WR Kayshon Boutte to follow up a breakout freshman season. One area that needs to improve is the running game after LSU finished 109thin rushing yards behind Tyrion Davis-Prince and John Emery Jr. 

Defensively, this is a talented bunch. It starts on the defensive line where Ali Gaye and Andre Anthony lead at edge rusher. Mike Jones Jr. was a big transfer pickup from Clemson who will play a roaming linebacker role. The strength is at corner where Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks  make up a fantastic duo. Expect a major improvement after finishing 124th in total defense last year.

Overall, it’s this is an experienced, talented team with a lot of upside. But, questions remain whether Coach Orgeron can get that talent to translate onto the field.

14. Cincinnati Bearcats

Projected Record: 12-1

The schedule sets up well for the Bearcats to potentially make a run as the first Group of Five team in the Playoff with non-conference matchups against Indiana and Notre Dame. This Cincinnati team has the talent to compete as well with QB Desmond Ridder coming back for a final season. However, the offensive line still remains a question mark. A unit that absolutely is not a question mark is the Bearcat defense, led by DE Myjai Sanders and corners Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant. Overall, expect the Bearcats to win the American and make a New Years six bowl.

15. Washington Huskies

Projected Record: 10-2

The Huskies finished 3-1 in 2020 despite average QB play. This year, QB Dylan Morris will have a five star freshman right behind him with Sam Huard. This team is built to run the ball after returning their entire offensive line, including potential first round pick Jaxson Kirkland, and two good running backs (Sean McGrew and Richard Newton). At receiver, there is a bunch of questions on who will step up. Maybe it will be Texas Tech transfer Ja’Lynn Polk? Washington does have one of the best tight ends in America with Cade Otton though. Defensively, expect this team to be one of the best in the Pac-12 under Jimmy Lake as they added to the group with nickel back Brendan Radley-Hiles (Oklahoma transfer) and DE Jeremiah Martin (Texas A&M transfer). This team has the talent to compete with Oregon for the Pac-12 North.

16. Ole Miss Rebels

Projected Record: 9-3

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Lane Kiffin had an explosive offense in his first year in Oxford. Year two’s offense will be even better and could be special. Losing wide receiver Elijah Moore hurts, but the offense has many other weapons including RB Jerrion Ealy. Also, the offense is led by one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, Matt Corral.   

Decent defense is going to be the key to a successful season. The linebackers are experienced with Lakia Henry, JacQuez Jones, and MoMo Sanogo. Sam Williams also provides the Rebels with a solid edge rusher. However, the question remains whether they are good enough on the defensive line and in the secondary. The Rebels need some improvement after finishing 126th in total defense last year. The Rebels top ten offense can only take them so far… for the Rebels to make the next step in the SEC West there has to be defensive improvement. Expect a solid team and a solid year for Ole Miss.

17. USC Trojans

Projected Record: 10-3

There is some serious talent on this USC team coming off a 5-1 season. QB Kedon Slovis is one of the best in the Pac-12 and the receivers are crazy talented (Drake London, KD Nixon, Jake Smith and Bru McCoy). A key for the offense will be to improve the offensive line play. The defense also brings back six starters to a top 40 defense. One of those starters is LB Drake Jackson who is highly disruptive. The secondary is experienced and the defensive line includes five-star freshman Korey Foreman… this will be a very good football team in 2021. Overall, expect USC to finish at the top of the Pac-12 South.

18. Florida Gators

Projected Record: 9-3

Dan Mullen finally has what he wants for the offense… a mobile quarterback. Expect Mullen to utilize Emery Jones in the RPO game now that Kyle Trask graduated. An issue also arises when you consider the Florida offense lost their top weapons (Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, and Trevon Grimes). Add in an inconsistent offensive line and this offense will take a step back.

There are also questions on the defensive side of the ball. The best players on the defense are CB Kaiir Elam and edge rushers Zachary Carter and Brenton Cox. Outside of those players there are concerns. Expect the defense to still be OK and finish in the top half of the conference. The team as a whole will take a small step back after a fantastic 2020 season.

19. Texas Longhorns

Projected Record: 9-3

Steve Sarkisian takes over a pretty talented Texas team. Honestly, although Sam Ehlinger was a solid college quarterback, Casey Thompson or Hudson Card may give this team more upside. Combine that with a solid offensive line, one of the best running backs in the nation (Bijan Robinson), and a deep wide receiving group… this offense has potential.

Defensively, Texas is led by DT Alfred Collins and LB DeMarvion Overshown. There is a hole at linebacker next to Overshown and there isn’t a clear viable option. The secondary will also need an improvement after finishing 108th in passing defense. Overall, the Longhorns have the talent for Coach Sarkisian to compete for a Big 12 championship spot right away.

20. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

Projected Record: 12-1

There is a reason head coach Billy Napier wanted to comeback to this team. The Ragin Cajuns are extremely experienced evidenced by their 20 returning starters off a 10-1 season. They will be tested right away with a season opener at Texas. Overall, this is a talented team who should win the Sun Belt and compete for a spot in a New Years six bowl.

21. Penn State Nittany Lions

Projected Record: 9-3

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The Nittany Lions 2020 season can be thrown to the side after starting 0-5 and finishing with four straight wins. The offense was decent last year, but lacked explosive plays. It isn’t like they don’t have weapons with wide receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington returning, but can QB Sean Clifford take the next step? Penn State also returns RB Noah Cain after he missed last year with an injury. Defensively, Penn State was solid last year, but return only one starting defensive lineman. Instead the strength of this team will be in the secondary and at linebacker as they return just about everyone. Look for a bounce back year for Penn State.

22. Arizona State Sun Devils

Projected Record: 9-3

It is unknown if the Sun Devils will even be eligible for post season play following the school’s disregard to recruiting rules during COVID. However, this is a talented team that should be the favorite to win the Pac-12 South. It starts with talented QB Jayden Daniels entering his third season. Combine that with RB Rachaad White who averaged 10 yards per carry and an experienced offensive line… they are going to be good. The development of the wide receivers will be critical on their potential. On defense last year they gave up the least amount of points, but a whole lot of yards. Expect an improvement especially with corners Jack Jones and Chase Lucas.

23. NC State Wolfpack

Projected Record: 8-4

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This is an intriguing Wolfpack team coming off a 8-4 season. They have weapons with RB Bam Knight, WR Emeka Emezie, and WR Thayer Thomas. Add in a very good offensive line and QB Devin Leary coming back from injury… the offense should be pretty good. Defensively, LB Payton Wilson is one of the best players in the country and LB Isaiah Moore is a pretty dang good player himself. With the defense returning most of their starters from last year, expect an improved defense. Overall, this should be the favorite to finish second to Clemson in the Atlantic.

24. TCU Horned Frogs

Projected Record: 8-4

The main question for this offense is whether QB Max Duggan can take the next step. The offense finished in the middle of the conference last year, but the talent across the board is intriguing. WR Quentin Johnson is ready for a breakout year and there are plenty of complementary pieces including Taye Barber, Derius Davis, JD Spielman, and Shadrach Banks (Texas A&M transfer). Also, look for former five star recruit RB Zach Evans to have a majority of the carries and be an instrumental part of the offense. The offensive line is also solid including OT Obinna Eze (Memphis transfer).

The defense finished top 30 last year and will be one of the best in the Big 12 this year. Sure they lose some key pieces including LB Garret Wallow and safeties Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington, but this defense still has solid pieces. At cornerback, Noah Daniels and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson are both studs. The defensive line is also experienced and led by DE Ochaun Mathis (9 sacks in 2020).

Overall, this team is intriguing and a trip to the Big 12 championship game isn’t out of the question. How Max Duggan develops will have a major impact on the team’s success.

25. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Projected Record: 11-2

The Chanticleers bring 19 starters back after finishing 11-1 last year and they should finish in the top 25 again. Especially with QB Grayson McCall coming off an impressive freshman season. The defense is also impressive after finishing top 30 nationally last year. Overall, expect this solid Coastal Carolina team to face of with Louisiana to see who will be the Sun Belt champions.

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