Talkin’ season is right here.
The 2021 school football season is coming, and Sporting News likes to embrace the interval between Memorial Day via July 4 the place all we wish to do is discuss football.
SN launched our Way Too Early Top 25 in January, and we have made some changes to account for the NFL Draft and switch portal. Our top 4 didn’t change. Most preseason publications can have some mixture of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma on the top.
SN will replace our record another time when talkin’ season is over, and we’ll have extra preseason content material on the way in which, together with top gamers, preseason All-Americans and bowl projections.
In the meantime, let’s discuss our top 25 for the 2021 school football season:
- College football rankings 2021
College football rankings 2021
Alabama had six first-round picks within the 2021 NFL Draft, however “The Process” continues with Nick Saban. Bryce Young takes over at quarterback, and it’s up to new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to make the pieces fit around him with running backs Trey Sanders and Jase McClellan, receivers John Metchie and Slade Bolden and tight end Jahleel Billingsley. Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams can contribute at receiver, too. The defense should improve, as well, especially at linebacker: Tennessee transfer Henry To’oto’o joins what could be the best linebacker corps in the nation alongside Will Anderson Jr., Christopher Allen and Christian Harris, who combined for 31.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks in 2020. The season opener against Miami in Atlanta should be fun, and there are road tests at Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn. Like we say every year, the season does not start until Alabama loses.
The Tigers are 39-3 the last three seasons, but consecutive blowout losses in the Playoff against LSU and Ohio State offered a dose of humility to Dabo Swinney’s program. Trevor Lawrence is gone, but D.J. Uiagalelei offered an encouraging glimpse of the future in 2020. Lyn-J Dixon steps into a starting role at tailback. Justyn Ross’ return boosts a receiving corps that features E.J. Williams and Joseph Ngata. A young defense should be better, too, and that revolves around sophomores Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy and Trenton Simpson. Linebacker James Skalski also returned. The Tigers won’t have to wait long for a test — not with the season-opening matchup against Georgia in Charlotte. The Tigers remain a strong bet to win a seventh straight ACC championship.
3. Ohio State
Ryan Day enters his third season as coach of the Buckeyes, who are again the favorite to win a fifth straight Big Ten championship. Justin Fields is gone, and C.J. Stroud is the favorite to emerge as the starting quarterback in a battle with Jack Miller III and Kyle McCord. Ohio State has what LSU and Alabama had the last two seasons, with the most depth at receiver in the FBS. That starts with future first-round picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Defensive end Zach Harrison and cornerback Sevyn Banks are All-American candidates on the defense, and freshman Jack Sawyer — who had four sacks in the spring game — should be an immediate contributor. The Buckeyes get Oregon and Penn State at home, too.
Is this the year the Sooners break through for their first national championship since 2000? Oklahoma closed 2020 as one of the hottest teams in the FBS, and Heisman Trophy favorite Spencer Rattler will improve with another year with Lincoln Riley. The running back rotation is loaded with Kennedy Brooks, Marcus Major and Tennessee transfer Eric Gray. Marvin Mims and Theo Wease and Jadon Haselwood form an elite receiving trio. The defense is always a question, but defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey and Nik Bonitto return. The Sooners will be ranked No. 1 by some publications, and a fifth CFP appearance is within reach. Oklahoma still needs to prove it in the CFP.
Kirby Smart is 52-14 the last five seasons, and the Bulldogs have finished no lower than second in the SEC East in that stretch. The expectations, however, are to bring the program its first national championship since 1980. After all, Mark Richt was 52-13 after his first five seasons, too. Smart has recruited at an elite level, and quarterback JT Daniels steadied the offense when he took over last season. Zamir White returns at running back, but the offense took a hit when receiver George Pickens suffered a torn ACL in spring practice. The defense is loaded with top two tacklers Nakobe Dean and Lewis Cine. The season opener against Clemson in Charlotte is the latest chance to prove it on the big stage.
6. Notre Dame
The Irish — who return to unbiased standing in 2021 — face heavy losses on either side of the ball, together with quarterback Ian Book. Wisconsin switch Jack Coan has expertise, however Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner may push for the job. With Brian Kelly, you by no means know. Running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree return with tight finish Michael Mayer. The offensive line and entrance seven will must be rebuilt, however Kelly efficiently retooled either side of the ball every of the final three seasons. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea is gone, however Kelly managed to tug Marcus Freeman from Cincinnati. The matchup in opposition to Wisconsin at Soldier Field is an attention-grabbing take a look at to see how the inside will maintain up on either side. Cincinnati, USC and North Carolina are also on the schedule.
7. Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher put this system within the Playoff dialog for the primary time in 2020. Now, the problem is to maintain it there. The Aggies lose a loaded senior class, and both Zach Calzada or Haynes King taking up for veteran quarterback Kellen Mond. The excellent news is main rusher Isaiah Spiller, top receiver Ainias Smith and All-American guard Kenyon Green return. The protection allowed simply 21.7 factors per sport in 2019. The crossover schedule is pleasant with Missouri and South Carolina, and Auburn and Alabama have to go to College Station. Can the Aggies take that subsequent step?
The Gators flopped in a Sugar Bowl beatdown vs. Oklahoma, and key elements of that potent passing assault — quarterback Kyle Trask, tight finish Kyle Pitts and receiver Kadarious Toney — are headed to the NFL. That stated, Dan Mullen has led three consecutive runs to New Year’s Day 6 bowls, and the offense will change with Emory Jones beneath heart. The different problem is rebuilding the offensive line. The excellent news is the protection is loaded with Zachary Carter, Brenton Cox, Ventrell Miller and Kaiir Elam. This season will take a look at whether or not Florida can reload and constantly compete for an SEC championship.
9. Iowa State
The Cyclones seemingly will open the season with their highest preseason rating in program historical past (the earlier excessive was twentieth in 1978, a yr wherein they completed unranked after an 8-4 season). Coach Matt Campbell has established a particular tradition in Ames, and quarterback Brock Purdy is among the many senior leaders who opted to return, together with tight finish Chase Allen, offensive lineman Sean Foster, tight finish Charlie Kolar and linebacker Mike Rose. Add All-American operating again Breece Hall, and you’ve got the makings of the “it” crew for 2021. The Sept. 11 matchup in opposition to in-state rival Iowa is big. Despite its current success, Iowa State continues to be 0-4 in that sport beneath Campbell.
The Bearcats confirmed they may compete in a New Year’s Day bowl loss to Georgia. The return of quarterback Desmond Ridder ensures the Bearcats shall be proper again within the combine for one more American Athletic Conference championship. Jerome Ford would be the lead again in that run-heavy assault, and Luke Fickell continues to construct with Ohio-centric recruiting lessons. Cornerback Ahmad Gardner is a star of a protection that must rebuild the entrance seven. The Bearcats have highway video games at Indiana and Notre Dame, so the schedule shouldn’t be a query mark on the Bearcats’ 2021 College Football Playoff resume.
LSU bottomed out after a nationwide championship season in 2019, and Ed Orgeron responded by including Daronte Jones as the brand new defensive coordinator. Max Johnson seems to be the favourite to begin at quarterback, and main receiver Kayshon Boutte (735 yards) returns. The late-season victory in opposition to Florida confirmed that expertise, and Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks are tasked with rebuilding that protection. The Tigers are a bounce-back candidate, however the regular hurdles throughout the SEC will not be simple.
The Trojans received the Pac-12 South final season, and that took some warmth off coach Clay Helton. Kedon Slovis, who has totaled 47 touchdowns to 16 interceptions the final two seasons, returns at quarterback. Drake London and Bru McCoy shall be dependable targets within the passing sport. Defensive finish Korey Foreman, the top recruit within the class of 2021, ought to make an early influence, too. The normal stays a Pac-12 championship, which has eluded this system since 2017.
The Steve Sarkisian period in Austin begins. The Longhorns’ offense averaged 42.7 factors per sport final season, however Sam Ehlinger is gone. Casey Thompson and Hudson Card are battling for the beginning job, and that ought to lengthen into fall camp. Running again Bijan Robinson and a gifted group of receivers return, however as regular the questions are on the defensive aspect. What can Sarkisian do to enhance that aspect of the ball? Texas misplaced three video games by a complete of 13 factors final season. That’s the distinction within the Big 12 race, which shall be tight with Oklahoma and Iowa State.
14. North Carolina
Mack Brown led the Tar Heels to a New Year’s Day 6 Bowl in his second season — a testomony to his near-instant rebuild in Chapel Hill. Junior Sam Howell could possibly be the primary quarterback taken within the 2022 NFL Draft, and that is begin for an offense that should rebuild the operating sport with out Javonte Williams and Michael Carter and their mixed 2,557 yards and 33 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2020. Senior British Brooks shall be counted on early within the season. The secondary ought to be a energy too, although North Carolina nonetheless must be extra constant on a week-to-week foundation. The Friday evening opener at Virginia Tech is a tone-setter, however 5 of the following six are at dwelling. A run to the ACC championship sport is feasible, the place one other shot at Clemson could be value watching.
The Hoosiers have been the feel-good story of 2020, and Tom Allen has constructed a Big Ten contender in Bloomington. How will this system deal with that success? Michael Penix Jr.’s return from a season-ending harm is the place to begin for that return. Whop Philyor is gone, however Ty Fryfogle is again. The offense additionally added USC operating again Stephen Carr. Junior linebacker Micah McFadden returns to a troublesome protection that allowed simply 20.2 factors per sport. The Hoosiers play Iowa, Cincinnati and Penn State within the first 5 weeks. If Indiana can get via that undefeated, then the Oct. 23 matchup in opposition to Ohio State ought to determine the Big Ten East.
Oregon has received back-to-back Pac-12 championships beneath Mario Cristobal, however final season was a missed alternative after a pair of convention losses to Oregon State and Cal. Anthony Brown is up at quarterback after Tyler Shough opted to switch to Texas Tech. CJ Verdell and Travis Dye are again at tailback, and the offense ought to be extra fluid beneath second-year coordinator Joe Moorhead. Kayvon Thibodeaux, a possible No. 1 choose within the 2022 NFL Draft, leads a protection that additionally options Noah Sewell and Isaac Slade-Matautia. The Ducks will get an opportunity to indicate what they’re fabricated from on Sept. 11 at Ohio State.
17. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys stay a strong Big 12 crew, and the offense ought to proceed to supply round junior quarterback Spencer Sanders. Brennan Presley is one of the best guess amongst a younger group of receivers, and offensive lineman Josh Sills returns. The Cowboys have at all times been capable of rating with Mike Gundy, and the protection improved from 26.8 factors per sport in 2019 to 23.5 ppg in 2020. Trace Ford and Tyler Lacy mixed for 8.5 sacks in 2020. Can the Cowboys hold tempo with Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State within the Big 12? That would definitely take some warmth off Gundy: He is 14-13 in convention play the final three seasons.
The Hawkeyes are our early favourite to win the Big Ten’s West division. Spencer Petras and Tyler Goodson return at quarterback and operating again, respectively, and the offensive line is led by Rimington Trophy finalist Tyler Linderbaum, who bypassed the NFL Draft. Zach VanValkenburg’s return is also a lift for the line of defense. Crossover opponents Indiana and Penn State go to Kinnick Stadium. Kirk Ferentz has a crew that resembles his 2015 and 2019 squads. They may get a shot at Ohio State in Indianapolis.
D’Eriq King stays on the comeback path after struggling a knee harm within the Cheez-It Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. If he returns, then the Hurricanes can construct off an encouraging second season with Manny Diaz — however do not low cost freshman Jake Garcia, who accomplished 19 of 25 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns within the Hurricanes’ spring sport. Miami additionally must reestablish a cross rush after dropping Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche to the NFL Draft, and that begins with Bradley Jennings. Bubba Bolden brings All-American potential to the secondary. The final measuring stick comes within the opener in opposition to Alabama in Atlanta.
COVID-19 wrecked Wisconsin’s season after a promising opener in 2020, and the Badgers had hassle scoring. Graham Mertz returns at quarterback, and Jalen Berger should fill the lead-back place after averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Logan Bruss leads an offensive line that options three seniors. It will not take lengthy to determine the Badgers. Penn State visits Camp Randall Stadium within the opener, and Wisconsin faces Notre Dame and Michigan in two of the following three video games. The Badgers are at all times a protected guess to win the Big Ten West division, but it surely will not be simple in 2021.
21. Ole Miss
Behold the chaos groups of 2021. Lane Kiffin led Ole Miss to a 5-5 bowl victory in 2020 with an offense that averaged 39.2 factors per sport. Quarterback Matt Corral and operating again Jerrion Early return to that high-powered offense. Ole Miss can rating on anyone, however the protection ranked 118th amongst FBS groups after permitting 38.3 factors per sport. The Rebels will play in high-scoring thrillers, together with the Labor Day opener in opposition to Louisville in Atlanta. October highway journeys at Alabama (Oct. 2), Tennessee (Oct. 16) and Auburn (Oct. 30) ought to generate loads of response, however will Ole Miss win greater than a kind of video games?
Auburn is the fifth SEC West faculty in our rankings, a nod to the unbelievable depth throughout the hardest division within the FBS. Coach Bryan Harsin takes over after seven seasons at Boise State. His problem is to construct a constant, bodily operating sport across the three-year starter Bo Nix. Sophomore operating again Tank Bigsby averaged 6.0 yards per carry final season and may assist with that. The schedule is tough, with a visit to Penn State on Sept. 18 and a convention slate that features highway dates at LSU and Texas A&M. Then, Harsin will get his first crack on the Iron Bowl. The Tigers received not less than eight video games in every of the final 4 seasons with Gus Malzahn. Can Harsin hit that mark?
23. Coastal Carolina
Jamey Chadwell received SN Coach of the Year honors in 2020 after a breakthrough season within the Sun Belt. It will not be simple to keep up that standing in opposition to convention contenders Louisiana and Appalachian State, which the Chanticleers beat by a mixed 14 factors final season. Coastal Carolina additionally visits the Mountaineers on a Wednesday evening sport on Oct. 20 that ought to be entertaining. Quarterback Grayson McCall returns after a unbelievable freshman season wherein he handed for 26 touchdowns to simply three interceptions. Encores are by no means simple, however Coastal Carolina appears constructed to final with Chadwell.
Jeff Monken’s title continues to pop up within the teaching carousel, however a Power 5 program hasn’t been prepared to chew but. That’s excellent news for the Black Knights, who return their top 5 rushers from an offense that averaged 273.0 dashing yards per sport. Monken has introduced consistency to West Point. Army’s schedule is ready up for a quick begin, and October matchups in opposition to Wisconsin and Wake Forest will get consideration. The Nov. 27 matchup at Liberty, one other unbiased that could possibly be ranked by then, can have attention-grabbing bowl implications.
25. Penn State
Penn State hit the reset button after a disastrous 2020, however James Franklin has greater than sufficient expertise on the roster to make a run on the Big Ten’s East division. Mike Yurcich takes over at offensive coordinator after spending the final two seasons at Ohio State and Texas, respectively. He’ll take over an offense with Sean Clifford returning at quarterback and Devyn Ford and Keyvone Lee forming an attention-grabbing 1-2 punch at operating again. Jahan Dotston is likely one of the finest receivers within the Big Ten. But the offensive line wants to enhance, as does the protection. which allowed 27.7 factors per sport in 2020. There is so much to show, and the hole with Ohio State continues to widen.