Just five incredibly long months ago we didn’t know if we would get a college football season. But we did. It wasn’t the season we’re used to but it definitely had its moments. Hell, we saw a receiver win the Heisman, for the first time since 1991, and absolutely dominate in the National Championship game. But the season has gone and passed and the 2021 season waits for no one.Enjoy this early look at what the 2021 season has in store.
Too Early Top 10
Alabama at No. 1 again? Yep. I know Alabama is losing Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, Doak Walker winner Najee Harris, Outland Trophy winner Alex Leatherwood and probably their starting quarterback Mac Jones too, but just like they always do, Alabama has the guys to repeat. The thing that should terrify everyone is that Alabama is going to replace these veterans with sophomores and juniors. Bryce Young at quarterback is a 2021 Heisman favorite already and Trey Sanders and Jase McClellan will be splitting carries in a loaded backfield. Junior receiver has waited two years to get his turn and 2021 will be his coming out party for those who don’t already know his name. On the defensive side of the ball Alabama could potentially return 11 starters but realistically nine. Corner Patrick Surtain and linebacker Dylan Moses are almost certain to declare for the draft but Bama still returns Will Anderson and Malachi Moore coming off amazing freshman seasons and also has veterans littered throughout the rest of the depth chart.
Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne are going to be very difficult to replace. On one hand you have a generational talent at quarterback and one of the best running backs in school history. But you also have D.J. Uiagalelei who, stay with me here, could be a better COLLEGE quarterback than Trevor Lawrence. At 6’5” 245 lbs Uiagalelei is big and athletic and will create much more with his legs than Lawrence ever did. Clemson will have its hands full breaking in newcomers at receiver and running back but they do have talent with game experience in both spots and will return most of their offensive line. The Clemson defense struggled at times in 2020 but they were also very young. Freshmen Bryce Bresee and Myles Murphy were two of the best freshmen in 2020 and will enter 2021 ready to take over the defense.
Coach Lincoln Riley’s offense has been tops in the country since he took over for Bob Stoops and will continue to be in 2021. Spencer Rattler is the Vegas favorite to win the Heisman in 2021 and will be electric with the talent OU has at receiver, tight end and offensive line. The defense has been and will probably continue to be a weakness for the Sooners. Getting linebacker Nik Bonitto to return in 2021 would be a great starting place on how to fix this defense.
It took a minute but Georgia finally found their quarterback in JT Daniels, and Daniels will return in 2021. Big surprise here but Georgia also has multiple options at running back returning in 2021. James Cook already stated he would return and if fellow running back, and the thunder to Cook’s lightning, Zamir White also returns then Georgia will have the best running back duo in the nation. Georgia also has the uber talented and under utilized George Pickens at receiver as well as Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton. The offensive line is in limbo right now with many players weighing their option but Georgia has recruited the line well and should be fine either way. Coach Kirby Smart has built one of the most talented defenses in the SEC for at least three years now and I trust he will again in 2021. Defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt have already announced their return but the Dawgs are still waiting for members of their secondary to do the same. If either Tyson Campbell or Erik Stokes return at corner Georgia will once again be lights out on defense.
Cincinnati was a true Cinderella story in 2020 with the College Football Playoff Committee playing the role of the evil stepmother. But all is not lost for the Bearcats. In fact, in 2021 the princes will return the glass slipper. Quarterback Desmond Ridder leads a talented group of players returning in 2021 and they have the talent to compete with the top team. Seniors Coby Bryant, Joel Dublanko and Darrian Beavers will return to school, thanks to the new NCAA eligibility rule, and rejoin Ahmad Garnder and Myjai Sanders on one of the nation’s top defenses.
6. Ohio State
Replacing Justin Fields is not going to be easy (no duh) but the Buckeyes have options. CJ Stroud and Jack Miller will have themselves a Dwayne Haskin/Joe Burrow type competition in the Spring and whoever wins the job should thrive in the Ohio State offense. Losing Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Thayer Munford from the offensive line will be the biggest worry. Luckily, top ranked freshman Paris Johnson should slide in a left tackle after playing multiple positions in 2020 and tight end Jeremy Ruckert blocks like a tackle. On the other side of the ball , the Ohio State defense is likely losing the majority of their defense. The Buckeyes will have a complete new set of linebackers in 2021. But at least they’ll still beat Michigan.
7. Iowa State
Iowa State made a nice little run in the Big 12 last year and they’ll be looking to build off that in 2021. Running back Breece Hall returns his 1,572 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns and I bet he has an even bigger 2021. Coach Matt Campbell returning to Ames has been contagious as quarterback Brock Purdy and tight end Charlie Kolar have also decided to return. Seven might seem high for Iowa State but they really aren’t losing any key pieces from 2020 and more upperclassmen, like Chase Allen, Mike Rose and Greg Eisworth, will return as well.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this but USC did not get the attention they deserved in 2020. But that will be corrected in 2021 with the return of quarterback Kedon Slovis and numerous weapons on offense. The receivers, Drake London, Bru McCoy and Gary Bryant, make up one of the deepest position groups in the country and the star trio will have no shortage of passes to share in 2021. USC will have a tough task of rebuilding their defense but they can at least start with Drake Jackson and go from there. Jackson has been a force for the Trojans with 17 career tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in just 17 games.
Coach Mario Cristobal has been on a recruiting terror at Oregon and those recruits will be on full display in 2021. Quarterback Tyler Shough has looked good in limited play and will greatly benefit from an offseason of work. Oregon has brought in the number one recruiting class the past three years and defensive stars like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mykael Wright Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell will anchor a top defense in 2021.
10. North Carolina
The Tar Heels lose a crazy amount of talent so let’s start there. Running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams; Receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown; and linebacker Chazz Surratt. BUT, UNC does have quarterback Sam Howell returning for a Heisman year and all five offensive linemen. That’s a great start for Mack Brown and the defense isn’t so bad either. Corner Duck Storm and Tony Grimes looked very good. Four-star recruits Myles Murphy and Desmond Evans will also see starting roles on the defensive line to go along with incoming five-star Keeshawn Silver.
Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
Get the full breakdown here:
Breakout Players: A small sample of guys ready to be household names.
Paris Johnson Jr, Sophomore, OT, Ohio State
Paris Johnson came to Ohio State as one of the top offensive line recruits in the nation but had to play behind a veteran offensive line in Columbus. 2021 will be his time to shine and take over the starting left tackle spot.
Noah Sewell, Sophomore, LB, Oregon
Yes, this is Penei’s brother and he is thicc too. At 6’3” 250 lbs, Noah is a run stuffing linebacker that is going to make a name for himself after big brother leaves for the NFL draft. In just seven games Sewell was able to record 48 tackles and 2 sacks. As a true freshman.
Aidan Hutchinson, Junior, DE, Michigan
Michigan is on one hell of a streak of sending defensive ends to the NFL with Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and now Kwity Paye. Paye may be the next to the NFL but Aidan Hutchinson is the next man up at Michigan. Hutchinson is a complete defensive end that can get after the quarterback but also play the run.
Jalen Wydermyer, Junior, TE, Texas A&M
The tight end position’s popularity is exploding and Jalen Wydermyer is the next in line. Wydermyer can play both in-line and slot tight end and at 6’5” 265 pounds he is a force in both the passing and running game.
George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
Purdue and Karlaftis played a shortened season but the big defensive end was still able to record two sacks in just two games played. Building on his seven and a half sacks in 2019. 2021 will be a big year for the All-Big Ten defensive end.
Marvin Mims and Jordan Haselwood, WR, Oklahoma
The return of Spencer Rattler is huge for the Sooners but Marvin Mims and Jordan Haselwood are no joke either. Mims broke freshman records in Norman and Haselwood is looking for his own breakout season. This Dynamic Duo will dominate the Big 12 in 2021.
Christian Harris and Will Anderson, LB, Alabama
Harris and Anderson were both asked to step in a play immediately at Alabama as freshman and both did a phenomenal job. The Dynamic Duo returns in 2021 and SEC offenses will feel their presence. Anderson explodes off the edge while Harris cleans up the middle.
Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy, DL, Clemson
The two freshmen came to Clemson with high expectations and they far exceeded those expectations. Bresee and Murphy looked like veterans and leaders on the defensive line and will only grow into those roles in 2021.
Derrick Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks, CB, LSU
Stingley is highly regarded as the top corner in college football and Ricks may be his heir apparent. The freshman, Ricks, reeled in four interceptions in just eight games for the Tigers and took two of them back for touchdowns. In 2021 the SEC is going to have a tough time throwing the ball against LSU.
Top Non-conference Games:
Alabama vs Miami, September 4th, Atlanta, GA
Clemson vs Georgia, September 4th, Charlotte, NC
Ohio State @ Oregon, September 11th
Nebraska @ Oklahoma, September 18th
Notre Dame vs Wisconsin, September 25th, Chicago, IL
Cincinnati @ Notre Dame, October 2nd
Army vs Navy, December 11th, East Rutherford, NJ