As we saw Alabama cruise to the title last season, there seems to be a changing of the guard this upcoming season. With the amount of key losses from teams like Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and other powerhouse programs, we might see some unlikely teams competing within the top 10. I am here to give you my top 10 teams entering the season this fall.
10. Oregon Ducks (2020: 4-3)
Oregon went through a rebuilding phase after Justin Herbert left them last year, and they still managed to win the PAC 12 championship. While 4-3 isn’t the greatest record, including a beatdown to the hands of Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl, there were flashes of promise with the Ducks. Lots of young stars are on the defense, including All-American Kayvon Thibodeaux, who could definitely be the first pick in next year’s NFL draft. Linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe create an elite tandem for the front seven. Oregon did lose some talent in the secondary to the NFL draft, but their recent recruiting classes have been good enough where they can put first year guys in and it shouldn’t cause too much of a problem. On offense, they have a solid O-line with one of the most underrated running backs in the country with CJ Verdell. It looks as if transfer Anthony Brown is going to be the starting QB this year, and if he can take another step up from his play at Boston College, he should fit nicely in Oregon’s system. Mario Cristobal is a very good coach, and Oregon should be competing with with either USC or Arizona State in the PAC 12 championship in December.
9. Iowa State Cyclones (2020: 9-3)
The award for most overrated team in the country going into the 2021 season goes to the Iowa State Cyclones! Don’t get me wrong, they are a solid team for sure. Matt Campbell is a great young coach and they have probably the best running back in the country in Breece Hall, but I’m not sold on the rest of the team. Brock Purdy had lots of expectations the past few years and has just been average. They have a good defense that should help them win a decent amount of games in the Big 12. Look, I can see this team finishing in a New Year’s Six spot, but people think this team can actually win the conference, which is crazy. With how good Oklahoma has gotten, people should be more realistic with their expectations for the Cyclones this year.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels (2020: 8-4)
North Carolina built a very good team in the ACC last year. Their losses came at the hands of Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia and Texas A&M. While Florida State and Virginia aren’t good losses at all, they were one score games away from home. Notre Dame was elite last year, and Texas A&M pulled away late in the Orange Bowl to give them their fourth loss. Mack Brown has done a great job with that program, and with Heisman candidate QB Sam Howell running the offense, this team should put up some points. They had an above average defense last year, and with some young talent that they have gotten recently they should improve on that side of the ball. Why I rank the Tar Heels so high though is because of their schedule. The only real test in my eyes is at Notre Dame, however the Irish are bringing in an entirely new team besides their running back, and I would assume North Carolina would be favored in that matchup. At Georgia Tech is also a tricky matchup, but I also expect them to win that game. With this offense and that schedule, I fully expect North Carolina to walk into the ACC championship game with one loss.
7. Texas A&M Aggies (2020: 9-1)
Texas A&M ended last year on a high note, winning every game after their loss at Alabama and going into the year as challengers to the Crimson Tide in the SEC West. The Aggies had a top 10 defense in the country last year, and that part of their team will only get better, with few significant losses on that side of the ball. Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting classes have been great, and that talent should start to be on display this season. While they have to replace Kellen Mond at QB and four offensive line starters, they have Isaiah Spiller at running back along with Swiss-army knife Ainias Smith being the stars of that offense. Fisher has brought the Aggies back to prominence after the departure of Johnny Manziel almost ten years ago, and they should continue to be a great team in 2021.
6. Cincinnati Bearcats (2020: 9-1)
The Cincinnati Bearcats were the most recent Group of Five team that had a legit shot for the playoff, finishing 6th in the rankings when the bracket was released. They had an elite defense, ranking 13th nationally in total defense. Along with an elite defense, they have one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the country in Desmond Ridder. This team put up a ton of points last year in the AAC, and I don’t expect that to change in 2021. They have back to back road games against Indiana and Notre Dame, and if they split the two the games it should be considered a win in their books. Luke Fickell is building a legitimate playoff contender at Cincinnati, and if they get wins in both Bloomington and South Bend, they have a serious chance to run the table and battle for the four seed in December.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes (2020: 7-1)
The Ohio State Buckeyes are looking at a change in Quarterback, as Justin Fields went to the NFL, but with these receivers, no Quarterback should have trouble fitting into this offense. Ryan Day is in his third season as the head coach, and he has reached the semifinals and finals of the college football playoff. While this seems like a promising trend, the Buckeyes might take a step back in 2021. The defense is middle of the road, without an elite pass rusher and losing their best corner in Shaun Wade. Their linebackers all left for the draft. A young defense and a new QB could cause Ohio State to lose a trap game on the road. While I can see them easily winning the Big Ten since there is no other legitimate competition, this team could easily still miss out on the playoff if the four teams above them stay in tact. This scenario would further prove that Ohio State’s schedule is no better than the Dual County League in eastern Massachusetts. Good thing the Rose Bowl isn’t a semifinal this year, it has the Buckeyes written all over it.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide (2020: 13-0)
It seems shocking to have Alabama all the way at number 4 in the rankings. They are number one or two every single year, and will probably start the season at #1, but I think they will end up with the four seed in the playoff, which is why they are here. It is a Nick Saban team, so they will still have elite talent everywhere. Devonta Smith left, but they still have John Metchie. Mac Jones left, and they have former #1 overall recruit Bryce Young to take his place. This is an elite team, but I don’t think they are as good as the three teams above them. Look, they can easily run the table in the SEC West if they beat Texas A&M. It’s just a matter of if they can beat Georgia in the SEC championship, and I think Georgia has the edge in the QB department, which will ultimately be the decider in that matchup. Bama will be the four seed with one loss, and it won’t surprise me one bit. Hey, maybe they will still end up winning it all, that also wouldn’t surprise me at all.
3. Clemson Tigers (2020: 10-2)
Clemson took a step back last season, which still ended with an ACC championship and a semifinal berth. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne are both gone, which was basically their entire offense last season. However, DJ Uiagalelei has shown he is just as capable as Lawrence to lead the Tigers to the promised land. However, the reason why they are above Alabama is because their entire defense is coming back. Even though Ohio State and Justin Fields violated them on New Years Day, this will be an experienced group with the best defensive coordinator in the country in Brent Venables. Even though North Carolina will be good, they are no match for this Clemson team. Look for the Tigers to roll through the ACC again this season.
2. Georgia Bulldogs (2020: 8-2)
This could be the best Georgia team we have seen under Kirby Smart. JT Daniels showed that he can performa at an elite level least season, and he is back at QB for the Bulldogs. With great running backs and a solid o line, this offense should put up some points even in the SEC. Georgia’s defense was top 10 last season, and they will most likely be elite again in 2021. With Florida in a transition year after losing their entire offense, the SEC East is Georgia’s to lose. The Bulldogs will most likely have a date with Alabama in the conference championship, and they are due to beat them eventually. With this team, I think they will. While they aren’t my #1 team this year, they are pretty damn close to the top, and have a serious shot at the title.
Oklahoma Sooners (2020: 9-2)
To round out the top 10, the Oklahoma Sooners take the top spot in this year’s rankings. Oklahoma actually had a good defense last season, which paired nicely with their elite offense and Heisman caliber QB Spencer Rattler. They have an elite receiving group, and they brought in a solid transfer running back in Eric Gray. The defense has most of the starters back, and should be able to compete with other elite offenses that the Sooners will see down the road. Oklahoma will steam roll through the Big 12, I don’t think any game will be within 14 points, and head for the playoff. With their improved defense and top five offense, I can see Lincoln Riley’s squad making real noise in January, and they might finally get over the hump and win the national championship.