It’s a long week ahead for Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Crimson Tide football fans. The Crimson Tide takes on the Kent State Golden Flashes in the Tide’s annual Labor Day opener in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Saban will be back in Tuscaloosa to watch his team face Kent State, which has played in Tuscaloosa the past two years. Saban is 59-7 with the Crimson Tide since he took over the program in 2007.
It is time to rank the top contenders for the College Football Playoffs in 2018. The Crimson Tide has been there since the day Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, and that’s exactly why they start the season unranked. As many know, the SEC Champion isn’t always the best team in the country, but the Tide is well above average anyway.
With preseason college football underway, it’s time for our annual power rankings!. Read more about college football rankings 2020-2021 and let us know what you think.
7:45 p.m. Eastern Time
In 2021, the college football season will be very different. What exactly are the college football power rankings? Not quite as much. Despite the addition of new quarterbacks at Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State, the three perennial powers remain in the top five. Oklahoma and Georgia, who both return quarterbacks with the hopes of capturing their first postseason titles, are also in the mix.
And then there are teams like Texas A&M, North Carolina and Iowa State, which make the top 10 and are looking to earn a CFP bid for the first time. From the Group of 5, Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina and Louisiana all check in.
What is the position of your favorite team?
Methodology: This consensus ranking was compiled after thirty-three ESPN college football analysts submitted their personal top 25 lists.
2021 preseason FPI: 13-0, national champions 2020 record: 13-0, national champions Key Games in September: 4 p.m. against. Miami; 18 p.m. vs. Florida
Another year, another title, and yet another reconstruction. On offense, replacing DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, and Mac Jones will be difficult. It will also be difficult to duplicate Steve Sarkisian’s brilliance as a play caller. Nick Saban, on the other hand, hired Bill O’Brien, a former college and pro coach, as offensive coordinator. Receiver John Metchie is back, as is veteran running back Brian Robinson. However, all eyes will be on Bryce Young, the team’s anticipated starting quarterback. Last season, the explosive former five-star prospect served as Jones’ understudy and has all of the skills to be an all-conference performer. How he handles the huge college football learning curve will have a big impact on whether Alabama reloads and contends for another national title. Alex Scarborough’s remark
2021 preseason FPI: 3; 2020 record: 9-2; Big 12 champions Key The Huskers play Nebraska on September 18th.
Season outlook: The Sooners pumped up the hype this offseason by announcing their intention to join the SEC in the future, but they have a legitimate shot at a national championship this season. TCU and Iowa State, both of which can challenge the Sooners, will be in Norman this year, as will Nebraska for its Game of the Century centennial celebration. The Texas game will be a crucial test, but the Sooners have a 68 percent probability of winning the league, according to FPI. Dave Wilson is an author.
10-2 in 2020, ACC champions in 2021, preseason FPI: 2 Georgia on September 4th is a key game.
Trevor Lawrence is no longer with the team. Travis Etienne is no longer with us. That would need a major reset of expectations for most programs. Clemson, on the other hand, seems to be unconcerned. Last year, QB D.J. Uiagalelei got his foot in the door by filling in for Lawrence for two games, and he looked like a potential star. Will Shipley, a five-star prospect, has already made an impression during summer practices, and Clemson’s backfield looks to be loaded with potential. Add in a healthy Justyn Ross, a strong defensive front, and a seasoned secondary with a chip on its shoulder, and the Tigers are the clear favorites to win the ACC once again. The larger issue for Clemson supporters, however, may be how big their dreams should be. The story around Clemson will be less about its dominance of the league and more about how fast the Tigers can once again hoist a national championship trophy after two consecutive seasons ended with blowout defeats in the playoff. — Hale, David M.
7-2 record in 2020 Preseason FPI for 2021: 5 Key The Tigers play Clemson on September 4th.
Season outlook: The Bulldogs are one of the favorites to make the College Football Playoff and win a national championship. Georgia’s offense looked like it was finally reaching its potential toward the end of 2020 with JT Daniels at quarterback, and will be returning eight starters in 2021. Defensively, the Dawgs will have to reload some, but the addition of Tykee Smith and Georgia’s general ability to reload year in and year out could have them back in the playoff for the first time since 2017. And from a scheduling standpoint, the Bulldogs avoid Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU. — Harry Lyles Jr.
7-1 record in 2020 Preseason FPI for 2021: 4 Key The matchup against Oregon is on September 11th.
After starter Justin Fields departed for the NFL, the Buckeyes are breaking in a new quarterback. While fighting with Jack Miller and Kyle McCord for the starting job, all indications lead to C.J. Stroud receiving the nod. The good news for the offense is that receivers Chris Olave, one of the best receivers in the nation, and Garrett Wilson, as well as tight end Jeremy Ruckert, both led the team in receiving touchdowns last season. With running back TreVeyon Henderson and receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., the coaches are bringing in some outstanding freshmen on offense as well. On defense, the Buckeyes’ secondary, which ranks 122nd among all FBS schools in pass yards allowed per game, must improve. This is still a squad that will be in the College Football Playoff conversation, but if the Buckeyes want to win it all, they’ll need some fresh faces to stand up. Tom VanHaaren (Tom VanHaaren)
Record for 2020: 8-1 Preseason FPI for 2021: 6 Key The game against Colorado is on September 11th.
Season outlook: The Aggies are coming off a season in which they appeared built for sustained success, particularly on defense. They’ll have to rebuild up front with four new starters on the offensive line and break in a new QB, but Jimbo Fisher feels good about those positions. ESPN’s FPI gives A&M a greater than 80% chance to win in each of its first five games before Alabama — which handed the Aggies their only loss last season — visits College Station on Nov. 9. — Wilson
Record for 2020: 9-3 Preseason FPI for 2021: 9 Key September game: against. Iowa on September 11th.
Season outlook: Iowa State’s ability to produce its greatest year in school history amid a pandemic was one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the 2020 collegiate football season. Matt Campbell will be bringing back a lot of the same team in 2021. While 2019 will be Iowa State’s most anticipated season, the greatest obstacle to a Big 12 championship and a playoff spot will most likely be the same one that halted the club in 2020: the Big 12. The Sooners’ Spencer Rattler. The Cyclones, on the other hand, split games with the Sooners, and with Brock Purdy and Breece Hall leading the way, Ames residents can’t help but be hopeful, since the Cyclones are genuine postseason candidates. Lyles –
Pac-12 champion with a 4-3 record in 2020. Preseason FPI for 2021: 12 September’s key matchup is against Ohio State on September 11th.
Season outlook: After a great rookie season and a shortened sophomore campaign, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux enters his junior season as one of college football’s top players. That’s right, he’s that good. The Ducks, on the other hand, are much more than that. Under Mario Cristobal, Oregon has been a recruiting powerhouse in recent years, amassing a deep, talented roster that rivals some of the finest in college football. After Tyler Shough moved to Texas Tech, there would be a new starting quarterback, although Anthony Brown looked to be a lock to win the position after gaining playing time at the conclusion of last season. As the squad enters its second year under coordinator Joe Moorhead, he is expected to improve. Kyle Bonagura (Kyle Bonagura)
Record for 2020: 10-2 Preseason FPI for 2021: 8 September matchups to watch include Florida State on September 5 and Wisconsin on September 25.
Season outlook: The Irish defeated Clemson in the regular season and advanced to the College Football Playoff last season, but they must replace a lot of production from that squad. Quarterback Ian Book is no longer with the team, the offensive line will be overhauled, and head coach Brian Kelly will have a new defensive coordinator in Marcus Freeman. The coaches brought in Wisconsin quarterback transfer Jack Coan, who will compete with Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner for the starting job at Notre Dame this season. Although having tight end Michael Mayer as a huge target would assist whomever wins that fight, there are still major gaps to address. On defense, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has left, but standout safety Kyle Hamilton has returned. The narrative of what this Notre Dame squad looks like this season will be how the new faces step into important positions and assist early on. VanHaaren (VanHaaren)
Record for 2020: 8-4 Preseason FPI for 2021: 14 Key The game is on September 3rd against Virginia Tech.
Seasonal forecast: For the last five years, the ACC’s landscape has been set in stone: it’s Clemson vs. everyone else. However, 2021 may be the year when a real challenger for the crown emerges from the “everyone else” group, and no one seems to be in a better position to do so than North Carolina. On offense, UNC returns all five starters on the offensive line, including perhaps the finest quarterback in the nation in Sam Howell. On defense, a team that was in dire need of talent two years ago now has genuine blue-chip players ready to contribute, including five-star corner Tony Grimes and five-star end Keeshawn Silver. Even the talent that has gone seems to have ready-made successors, with Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler looking to fill the void left by 1,000-yard running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, and slot receiver Josh Downs looking to be the next Tar Heels superstar. Of again, UNC also suffered humiliating defeats to Florida State and Virginia last season, so rather than focusing on catching up to Clemson, the Heels’ next major step may just be establishing some consistency. -Hales
2020 preseason FPI: 9-1, AAC champions 2021 preseason FPI: 9-1, AAC champions 22 Key The Indiana game is on September 18th.
The resignation of defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman was the biggest topic from Cincinnati’s offseason. The Bearcats won the American Athletic Conference with the assistance of Freeman’s defense. Coach Luke Fickell will be hoping that veteran Michigan State assistant Mike Tressel can maintain the Bearcats’ defense performing at the same level that helped the club win a spot in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl versus Georgia. Desmond Ridder is back as quarterback with a new offensive line, but the Bearcats could be in for another great season if the defense plays at the same level as it did in 2020. Lyles –
2020 stats: 8-2 Preseason FPI for 2021: 11 Key The matchup against Alabama is on September 18th.
Seasonal forecast: As the Gators begin a new season, they must answer two key questions: How will Emory Jones perform as the expected starter as quarterback, and how much better will the defense be after a year of harsh criticism? Let’s start with Jones, who has been waiting three years to get started. Jones is a different player than Kyle Trask — Mullen said Jones had a powerful arm and was a “dynamic playmaker” with his feet during SEC media days — thus the offense would be different. What about the defense, though? The Gators have the ingredients in place to put together a much more consistent performance with veterans like Zachary Carter, Brent Cox Jr., and Kaiir Elam returning. Andrea Adelson’s remark
5-1 record in 2020 Preseason FPI for 2021: 21 Key September’s game is against Stanford on September 11th.
Season outlook: Despite not always looking the part last season, the Trojans remained unbeaten during the pandemic-shortened regular season before falling to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. Expectations are as high as they’ve been since Clay Helton took charge, thanks to a more conventional offseason. Of course, it doesn’t mean much, but the general consensus in Los Angeles is that if this isn’t Helton’s season to break through and become nationally important, it won’t happen. Kedon Slovis, the quarterback, has star potential, but receiver Drake London, a possible All-American, is the guy to watch heading into the season. Bonagura’s
Record for 2020: 5-5 Preseason FPI for 2021: 18 Key UCLA hosts a game on September 4th.
Season outlook: Last year was a colossal disappointment. Early on, the wheels fell off, and it took a late comeback and a strange penalty for a tossed shoe to get back to.500. Ed Orgeron then got to work, nearly completely overhauling his coaching staff, bringing in Daronte Jones as the defensive coordinator and Jake Peetz as the offensive coordinator. The latter was clearly aimed at recapturing the magic of Joe Brady’s explosive 2019 offense. The good news is that Peetz has two viable quarterback options: Myles Brennan, who passed for 11 touchdowns in three games before missing the rest of the season due to injury, or Max Johnson, the rookie who guided LSU to back-to-back victories to save an otherwise lost season. Scarborough, North Yorkshire
2020 stats: 8-3 Preseason FPI for 2021: 10 Key The matchup against Alabama is on September 4th.
Season outlook: Quarterback D’Eriq King has fared better than anybody expected after suffering another knee injury in the bowl game, and his comeback has raised hopes for a team still establishing its feet under Manny Diaz. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, open the season against Alabama, a difficult first test that may define the season. Aside from King’s return, there’s hope that the defense will fare better now that nine starters have returned, and Diaz is calling the plays again after making defensive staff changes this summer. — Sheldon Adelson
2020 stats: 4-3 Preseason FPI for 2021: 17 Key September games: Penn State on September 4; Notre Dame on September 25.
Season outlook: The Badgers’ 2020 season was unusually disrupted by COVID-19. The team’s first game of the season was against Illinois on Oct. 31, but the team’s next two games were canceled, and the squad didn’t play again until Nov. 14 against Michigan. That didn’t help quarterback Graham Mertz break in, as he began the season by completing 20 of 21 throws for 248 yards and five touchdowns against the Illini, but ended with four touchdowns and five interceptions in the remaining six games. For Mertz and the offense, regaining some sort of normality and consistency will be crucial. It will be critical for him to move into a leadership position, and the Badgers must start the season in the same manner as they did in 2020, with Penn State on the schedule first in 2021. VanHaaren (VanHaaren)
2020 stats: 6-2 Preseason FPI for 2021: 27 Key Games in September: Sept. 4 at Iowa; Sept. 18 at Cincinnati
Season outlook: Indiana is known for being a basketball school in America’s most proud basketball state, but no one could overlook the football Hoosiers last year. In what was a tough 2020 college football season, Tom Allen’s squad had one of the greatest tales. The Hoosiers finished the regular season with a 6-1 record, with their lone setback coming against Ohio State at Columbus, where they were defeated 42-35. The Hoosiers would have been in the Big Ten championship game if not for a regulation modification. With 18 of 22 starters returning in 2021, the Hoosiers will be trying to show that their success in 2020 wasn’t a fluke. This is the season in which Indiana attempts to surpass any and all expectations for its football program. Lyles –
2020 stats: 6-2 Preseason FPI for 2021: 23 Key September games: Indiana on September 4 and Iowa State on September 11.
Season outlook: Iowa returns two important offensive players in running back Tyler Goodson and quarterback Spencer Petras to offer some stability this season. The Hawkeyes began the season with two defeats, but then went on to win six games in a row to end the season. With four touchdowns and five interceptions in the first five games, Petras didn’t have the best start to the season. He has five touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two games, so the club will need him to continue that trend. Fortunately, he will be able to depend on Goodson, who rushed for 762 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games. Goodson is expected to be one of the greatest running backs in the Big Ten, and he’ll be backed up by Tyler Linderbaum, one of the finest offensive lineman in the league. However, someone else will have to come up in that running back room to help bear the burden, as Iowa opens the season with games against Indiana and Iowa State. VanHaaren (VanHaaren)
3-1 record in 2020 Preseason FPI for 2021: 25 Key The game in September is at Michigan on September 11th.
Season outlook: Few teams had their seasons disrupted to the extent that Washington did last year due to the epidemic. The Huskies never left Seattle, won the Pac-12 North, and then missed the conference championship game. Jaxson Kirkland, a left tackle, and Cade Otton, a tight end, were left wanting more, and both decided to put their NFL aspirations on wait in order to conclude their collegiate years with something more memorable. Keep a watch on cornerback Trent McDuffie, who has moved into a significant position as a true freshman and has looked like a potential NFL player. Bonagura’s
Record for 2020: 4-5 Preseason FPI for 2021: 13 September matchups to watch include Wisconsin on September 4 and Auburn on September 18.
Season outlook: Penn State’s running back depth was pared down by injuries and poor luck throughout the season. Noah Cain and Devyn Ford are healthy this season, and the staff has recruited Baylor’s John Lovett to join Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes. That group should be a strength for the offense and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich if everyone stays healthy. For quarterback Sean Clifford, who has had an up-and-down collegiate career, the running backs and wide receiver Jahan Dotson will have to chip in as much as possible. The Nittany Lions will be without linebackers Micah Parsons, Odafe Oweh, and Shaka Toney, who are all headed to the NFL. Two of the most important issues going into fall camp will be who takes their position as a leader and in terms of productivity. VanHaaren (VanHaaren)
7-3 record in 2020 Preseason FPI for 2021: 7 Key The game against Louisiana is on September 4th.
Steve Sarkisian, don’t put any pressure on yourself this season. The Horns recruited Sark from Alabama to bring a taste of SEC football to Austin, then said they’d be back in a few years. Meanwhile, the Longhorns must deal with a powerful Sooners squad, angry Big 12 supporters at every visit, difficult road trips to TCU (7-2 versus Texas since entering the league) and Iowa State, as well as a vengeful old foe in Arkansas. Oh, and that Louisiana squad in Week 1 has the most returning production of any team in the nation — and won the season opener against Iowa State in Ames last year. Wilson’s words
Record for 2020: 11-1 Preseason FPI for 2021: 60 Key September’s game is on September 18th at Buffalo.
Season outlook: The Chanticleers were perhaps the most entertaining team in college football last season. They had it all, from the teal field to the fast-paced attack, including the greatest game of the year when they defeated BYU. Every starter is returning, with the exception of defensive end Emmanuel Johnson and running back CJ Marable. That includes quarterback Grayson McCall, who scored 33 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions in his debut year as a starter as a sophomore. With an easy slate (the lone Power 5 opponent in Week 2 is Kansas), don’t be shocked if Coastal is the buzz of college football once again. Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Record for 2020: 10-1 Preseason FPI for 2021: 59 Key September’s game is on September 4th in Texas.
Season outlook: While the rest of the world wonders what keeps Billy Napier at Lafayette, he continues to develop one of the best Group of 5 teams in college football, winning 10 games in consecutive seasons. The Ragin’ Cajuns would have finished last season unbeaten if it hadn’t been for a setback to Coastal Carolina. And, astonishingly, 20 players are returning, including fifth-year quarterback Levi Lewis, who passed for 2,274 yards last season. But keep an eye on this squad, particularly early on, as it features a number of new faces on the coaching staff, including three new defensive coaches. Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Record for 2020: 5-5 Preseason FPI for 2021: 20 Key The matchup against Louisville is on September 6th.
Lane Kiffin’s second season in Oxford could be an improvement on the Rebels’ performance in 2020. Despite a 5-5 record, they finished the season with an Outback Bowl victory against No. 7 Indiana. They’ll return eight starters on offense in 2021, including quarterback Matt Corral, and have acquired Western Kentucky transfer wide out Jahcour Pearson, who Kiffin hopes will compensate for the loss of Elijah Moore. The SEC West will be difficult as usual, but the Rebels have the weapons to contend in every game. Lyles –
Record for 2020: 5-5 Preseason FPI for 2021: 29 Key The matchup against BYU is on September 18th.
Season outlook: The Sun Devils return 21 starters from a squad that was expected to be strong last year but never got out of first gear, owing in part to a COVID-19 outbreak. Coach Herm Edwards and quarterback Jayden Daniels said at Pac-12 media day that the current NCAA investigation into the coaching staff’s behavior related to breaches of COVID-19 procedures and recruiting regulations would have no impact on the team’s performance on the field. Daniels has a potential to be exceptional and one of the conference’s faces as he enters his junior year. Bonagura’s
Alabama is still the best team in the country. It was a shock to see LSU land a top-10 preseason ranking after it was thrashed by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but the Tigers have a lot of talent and should be ranked this high. Other teams in the top 10 — Florida State and Ohio State — will be playing a much tougher schedule, so they’ll be susceptible to a major slip-up. Oregon, Michigan State and Clemson should all be in the top 15. But I don’t see any teams pushing the Crimson Tide out of its position in the top spot.. Read more about 2021 college football rankings projections and let us know what you think.
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