The end of August is here, and to many people that means one thing and ONE thing only… FOOTBALL IS BACK!!!
In many places all around the United States, Football returns in full capacity for the 2021 season, and that means a lot after last season was played in front of cardboard cutout fans with fake crowd noise ejected into the stadiums sound system. For as great as the NFL is, it cant compete with the atmosphere of a packed college stadium with the schools band blasting amazing tunes next to its own wild crazy student section. That energy has been missed all around the sports world, especially on a college football Saturday.
No need to worry, this year we are in for an amazing season with plenty of elite talent all over the country, even tucked away at those small non power 5 schools. Today, i give you my Top 10 for the 2021 season, well also giving you 10 names you need to know now as you will see them staring on Saturdays, and soon enough Sundays!!
- Oklahoma– The best team led by the best player in the nation, Spencer Rattler and the Sooners are finally ready to take that next step and leave the Big 12 with a nice parting gift. A National Championship!
We know Lincoln Rileys offense is elite, that has been proven and shown yearly, and rightfully so when you keep pumping out NFL QBs like Baker, Kyler, and most recently Jalen Hurts. But Rattler is SPECIAL, and has the highest ceiling out of all in my opinion. With a mix of a strong lively arm, athleticism, and swagger, the projected number 1 pick AND Heisman front runner is ready to explode. Tossed into the fire early last year and given the starting role after Hurts departure, he had growing pains as does every young Qb, but wow he lit the world on fire in the 2nd half of the year. 6 out of their last 7 games were won by two scores, including a blowout over Florida where they won by 35. Returning Marvin Mims, Jadon Haselwood, and Theo Wease on the outside and tossing Tennessee transfer Eric Gray in the backfield with Rattler, expect records to be broken on the offensive side.
Rattler proved himself immensely during the 2nd half, but during that time he had a huge lift from his Defense. Hired in only 2017, Riley’s best moves during his short time of coaching was making the move to hire Alex Grinch as his DC in 2019, and that defense and that hire is the reason why they finally take that next step. Making the change to a 3-4 and making an effort to recruit more to that side of the ball, Grinch has changed the defense from a laughing stock into a defense capable of slowing down the likes of elite offenses, and that’s all they have ever needed. Expect EDGE Nik Bonitto to give tackles headaches rushing the passer and contending for conference DPOY. Young corners Jaden Davis, DJ Graham, and Woodi Washington will be tasked with shutting down Big 12 offenses. When that happens, Boomer Sooner will be the last one standing this year!
2. Alabama– SIX. What is that number you ask? Oh nothing, that’s just Nick Saban’s National Championship Count after last year’s durbing of Ohio State. Does it matter he lost his starting QB, RB, WR1 and WR2 all to the 1st round of the Draft? No. As long as Nick Saban is in Tuscaloosa, the Tide are a top 3 preseason lock every year.
Replacing Mac Jones, is just 2020s top Dual threat QB Bryce Young from powerhouse Mater Dei. Brian Robinson Jr came back for one more year after backing up Najee Harris. John Metchie slides into Devonta Smith’s role, which should be an effortless transition as he showed his talent and skills playing for the injured Jaylen Waddle last year. Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams will show his worth for the Tide after being the odd one out in the receiving room in Columbus. Jaheel Billingsley is a versatile and athletic tight end that will also be a star for Young in the passing game. With all that 5 star talent, new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is going to have a hay day.
For Alabama standards, they had a down year on defense last year. If we know anything about Nick Saban, that is not acceptable and I’m sure it was an off-season emphasis. The man in the middle that makes the defense go is star Christian Harris, who is coming off 71 tackles and looking for more. The SEC is still the SEC, it is still a step above the competition, and you can still look forward to seeing Alabama at the top.
3. Clemson– 2021 is the start of a new era in Death Valley for the Tigers, as they have to replace one of College Football’s top backfield duos EVER in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Eitenne, let’s just say that’s not an easy task. But if I trust anyone in college football, it’s Dabo Swinney.
As good and as generational as Lawrence was, they might have found the next biggest thing. And Big doesn’t even begin to describe Big Cinco, DJ Uiagalelei. 6’5 250 with a missile as a arm (won long ball contests with throws of 80+), DJ proved himself last year when Lawerence came down with Covid and was caused to miss the Notre Dame game. He threw for the most yards ever that night vs the Irish with 439 yards, but they just came up short. However, he showed he can fill those shoes as the Tigers QB. Replacing Eitenne on the other hand, that one is a bit more challenging, as would replacing any 2 time Conference POY. Lyn Dixon and Kobe Pace will try to fill the void, and well that may not be possible, the Tigers do fill the void of Star power with 2019 National Championship game hero Justyn Ross returning at WR after a medical redshirt year due to a neck injury. The 6’4 big play dynamo was thought to never play football, but he is back and better than ever looking to make the most of a 2nd chance. When he went down last year, big name recruits Frank Ladson, EJ Williams, and Joseph Ngata all stepped up and showed their worth. The rushing attack may have its questions, but expect plenty of fireworks from that group of Receivers!
Back for yet another year is possibly the best coordinator in America in Brent Venables to lead a nasty hard nosed defense. Led up front by sophomores 5 stars Bryan Breese and Myles Murphy pass rush, it allows plenty of opportunities for James Skalski, Baylon Spector, and Nolan Turner to make plays in Venables attacking D. This a veteran group who has been hampered by injuries but is ready for a big season in the ACC. The Tigers will be at the top of those standings come December.
4. Ohio State– Another familiar name in the playoff picture, this team has something to prove after last year’s National Title loss. Plenty of players thought that too as they returned for another run to the title. With that veteran presence backed up by plenty of young hungry 5 star recruits, the Bucks are ready to roll if they can answer 1 question…
Can you replace Justin Fields? The question is that simple. How good is CJ Stroud? Or most recently, how long can you keep super recruit Quinn Ewers off the field? No disrespect to Jack Miller and Kyle McCord, but they aren’t in the same realm to replace Fields as the first two. Stroud has been named Week 1 starter and has shown flashes, we just haven’t seen it in game action as we have with 2 teams above. Ewers is a long shot for this season, as he just arrived on campus a month ago after reclassifying, but by all reports he is the next coming of Mr. Manhomes and that will be hard to keep on the sidelines. Given the weapons they have surrounding them, they should have an easy job.
Master Teague has shown he’s a hard physical bruiser back that will get you extra yards. #1 RB recruit TreVeyon Henderson is going to provide his 4.4 speed and athleticism in relief. Chris Olave shocked everyone when he returned for his Senior season even though most viewed him as a 1st round pick. When he returned he got his sidekick back in Garrett Wilson, who is also a 1st round pick and might possibly be picked before Olave. Joining those two are 5 star sophomores Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming, and freshman Emeka Eqbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. to provide a bright future for the program. Rounding out the weapons is Senior Tight End Jeremry Ruckert, who also shocked everyone when he came back for 1 more season. With that talent, they are ready to light up the scoreboard.
The defense isn’t as star powered as it has been in the past, but it will still be a solid group. Big man Haskell Garrett will be anchoring the defensive line with Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith providing pressure off the edges. Sevyn Banks and Josh Proctor will be making the big plays on the back end locking up the other teams receivers. If either QB can live up to expectations, this spot is admittedly too low for the Buckeyes.
5. Georgia– Ever since Kirby Smart’s departure from Nick Saban and the Tide, he has turned the Bulldogs into a perennial National power while continuing to give the rest of the SEC fits with his defense. This year is no different with a veteran squad ready to make some noise and a push into the top 4.
After transferring from USC well recovering from a torn ACL, JT Daniels was expecting to start right away at QB. Well still regaining his form from injury, he won the 3rd string job before finally being named the starter with 4 games left. In those games, the Bulldogs took off and he threw for 1200 yards. Having a solid QB to go along with their 3 headed backfield of Zamir White, who shockingly returned to school, James Cook, who is the brother of Dalvin, and 4 star sophomore Kendall Milton is a solid recipe for success on Offense. I believe the O lost its Elite potential with the injury to star receiver and 1st round pick George Pickens, but filling in for him will impact LSU Transfer Erik Gilbert. A former Tight End who transitioned to receiver is being compared to Kyle Pitts and has similar size and measurables is a dangerous weapon that you will see on Sundays soon enough.
Under Smarts supervision, the defense again will be one of the best in the nation. Nose Tackle Jordan Davis returns up front which will be great against the run. They revamped their secondary with Clemson CB transfer Derion Kendrick and West Virginia Safety Tykee Smith to help slow down teams like Alabama and Texas A+M. If it all comes together for the Bulldogs, it will be a good bet to see them face Alabama in the SEC title.
6. Cincinnati– In the short time the College Football Playoff has been around, if there was ever a chance for a non 5 power team to make it, you are looking right at it. Luke Fickell in his time at Ohio State developed traits that have translated down the road to Cincinnati and have made him an excellent coach, and he has quickly turned the Bearcats into a desirable spot to play college football.
Fickell is a popular name for Cincy, but not as popular as QB Desmond Ridder. The 4 year starter has groomed himself into one of the nations best QBs and a desirable pro prospect with his 6’4 size and athleticism, on top of a rocket arm, he is a real Heisman sleeper candidate if the Bearcats are in the playoff race. Efficiency is their game on this side of the ball. They love controlling the clock and wearing you out over the course of 4 quarters. Leading rusher Gerrid Doaks is gone, in is former Alabama transfer Jerome Ford who will provide that true home run speed. The returning pass catcher returns in Josh Whyle as does Michael Young, expect them to be Ridder’s guys again.
Fickells forte last year was the defensive side of the ball, and that expects to be the same yet again. Running a 3-3-5, they have speed and athleticism all over the field to make plays, allowing them to have the 13th ranked scoring defense in the nation last year. Led by the CB duo of Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant coming up with 7 picks last season, it should allow for Arquon Bush and JaVon Hicks to roam the field and make plenty of tackles. 2nd leading tackler Darrian Beavers is another name to remember as he returns for his last year. The Defense will have to be as nasty as it was last year as it travels to Indiana and also travels to Notre Dame. If the Bearcats can come out on top in those games early, they will have the respect of the CFP committee and will be on a path to the playoffs!
7. Iowa State– Matt Campbell was easily the hottest name on the coaching market this summer, College and NFL, and much credit to him for staying put in Ames and signing a extension through 2028. Though i don’t think he will finish that contract, that is beyond the point as he is obviously back and with his best squad yet. Not only is it his best, it is the most experienced team in all of America returning all 11 offensive starters, and 19 out of 20 top tacklers on defense. If that’s not impressive then I don’t know what is.
Actually, I do know what’s more impressive, and his name is Breece Hall. The nation’s leading rusher last year, he returns as the best RB in America this year and is quite honestly in a tier of his own. His mixture of size, long strides, patience, and vision, he truly is a 3 down workhorse. The 1,572 yards and 20 TDs he racked up last year will be hard to top, but if he does you can surely count on him being in New York for the Heisman presentation. Joining Hall in the backfield is QB Brock Purdy, who is more than capable of getting the job done and the ball distributed to players like TE Charlie Kolar, who very well might be tops at his position like Hall.
If the Cyclones have any desire of making the playoffs, they are going to have to be able to slow the best offensives in the Big 12 like Oklahoma. Manning the middle of the defense looking to stuff the run once again will be the top 3 tacklers in Mike Rose, Jake Hummel, and O’Rien Vance. With 17.5 sacks coming back in the duo of Will Mcdonald and JaQuan Bailey along with Isheem Young and Greg Eisworth in the secondary making plays, this defense is ready to roll and fight for Big 12 crown and possibly more.
8. Texas A+M– It took Jimbo Fisher some time to transition to the SEC, but it seems as if he is on the right track now with the program and it’s ready to take off. Just missing out on the playoffs last year finishing at 5, the Aggies are looking for more this year
Just like the team above, this offense is led by the rushing attack and a top 3 RB in Isaiah Spiller, while backup Devon Achane showed flashes and skills as a freshman. Spiller stands at a bullish 6’1 225 pounds and his one cut ability proves to be perfect for the Aggies Pro Style attack. He sees an opening and attacks it, routinely bouncing off defenders with his strong lower body and elite contact balance. He may not be a burner, but has plenty of breakaway speed with quick acceleration and burst. If the Aggies use his receiving skillset more this year and show off his versatility, he will be pushing Hall for RB1 status come draft time. The success of this team will all fall on the shoulders of redshirt freshman Haynes King, as he will have to replace multi-year starter Kellen Mond. King is known for his legs, as he was a 400 meter track star. He should be able to show off that ability right away and might have to as the offensive line has some questions. He’s going to have to show he’s more than just his excellent legs though, but that should be fine as he has a very lively arm with excellent touch and accuracy on the run. If he is able to deliver the ball to weapons like TE Jalen Wydermyer, H back Ainias Smith, and WR Chase Lane, the Aggies will cause people fits on offense.
Returning 9 starters on one of the best defenses in the country, expect the Aggies to continue that success over into this year. The SECs top defense is led by future top 10 pick Demarvin Leal up front. Also stuffing the run inside is DT McKinnely Jackson and LB Aaron Hansford, who was 2nd on the team in tackles. Helping the big boys up front on the outside are two long ball hawking corners in 6’2 Jaylon Jones and 6’4 Myles Jones, and rangy safety Leon O’Neal. If everything can click and King can lead the team as a freshman, look for this to be Jimbo’s best team yet in College Station.
9. North Carolina– When he returned to coaching after his retirement from Texas, many questioned the great Mack Browns decision. I’d say going into only year 3, those questions have been silenced as Mack led the school to its 1st ever New Year’s Six Bowl game last year, while also having his 3rd straight top 15 recruiting class. Safe to say the future is bright in Chapel Hill, but let’s worry about this year.
The last two seasons that Mack had a QB enter the season on the preseason Heisman watch list, that QB ended up piloting the team to the national championship game. That may be a steep hill to climb after losing its top 2 rushers and receivers, but 3rd year Tar Heel QB Sam Howell is definitely capable of putting up enough points to beat anyone in the country. A presumptive top 3 pick in the upcoming draft, Howell is right up there with Rattler as the top QBs and top overall talents in college football. Howell posses underrated athleticism for a prototypical pocket passer. He can make plays with his legs if needed, but he really excels on deep throws with tremendous touch and accuracy. He throws a similar ball to that of Russell Wilson with the trajectory being so steep and descending it drops right into receivers hands, but also has the arm strength to drive the ball to all parts of the field. Howell’s top 2 rushers and receivers may be gone, but that shouldn’t be an issue. Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler will be leading the rushing attack, along with senior British Brooks. Expect to hear a lot about the speedy Josh Downs, the 4 star sophomore has all the potential to be Howells partner in crime on those deep throws. Kharfe Brown and senior Beau Corrales will provide some veteran targets that Howell should be familiar with. A lot of shoes to fill on this side surely, but with a QB as special as Howell and his familiarity with the system, you shouldn’t be worried.
Returning 10 starters on this side of the ball, the Heels have plenty to be excited about. Jeremiah Gemmel and Eugene Asante provide an excellent LB duo that needs to improve upon defending the run. 3-4 hybrid pass rusher Tomon Fox and his brother Tomari Fox will put the pressure on the opposing QB from the edges and Raymond Vohasek providing pressure from the middle. But the real strength is in the secondary, with 5 star 19 year old sophomore CB Tony Grimes. Grimes reclassified after being the top corner in his class, and by the end of the year showed real flashes of an elite NFL corner. Storm Duck and Kyler McMicheal will help him in coverage, with Trey Morrison and Don Chapman being solid tacklers roaming the middle of the field. Even though they suffered a OT loss to Clemson in their last meeting, they have shown the ability to compete with the best in the country. Be on the lookout for the Tar Heels, they are coming.
10. Florida- The 4th SEC team to round out my top 10, it truly shows how good the conference is yet again. Dan Mullen and the Gators lost a lot from last year’s squad that passed its way to the SEC championship game, but expect a true mixture of run and pass on offense this year. If the defense can play like it did at the start of the season, expect the Gators to be fighting for a playoff spot.
Teams will go as far as their QB takes them, no different down in Gainesville. Out is pocket passer Kyle Trask, in steps dual threat dynamo Emory Jones. He has patiently waited his turn to get the reins to the offense, and Mullens finally completely handed them to him. Jones was sprinkled in formations and plays the last 2 years for his rushing, and now as he returns as the 4th leading rusher during that limited time, Mullen can let him roam free and unlock parts of the offense he hasn’t been able to use since his time at Mississippi State with Dak Prescott. I expect to see a lot of similarities in play styles as Jones does have solid traits as a passer. He possesses effortless velocity on throws which makes it easy to let it rip to all parts of the field. That is going to leave plenty of running lanes for his 4.4 speed, and even though we haven’t seen a lot from him, what we have seen is special. But he can’t do it all on his own, as he needs Justin Shorter to finally live up to his billing as his classes top wide out. Shorter has all the talent and tools and has given us flashes of brilliance, as has former 4 star Jacob Copeland. They will need to step up to replace the production lost from Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, and most importantly Kyle Pitts. You can expect Dameon Pierce to be a factor once again as he looks to be the teams leading rusher for the 2nd straight year. Nay’Quan Wright will back him up and get important carries again, but a X-Factor could be Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman. Bowman, a former top 5 star and top 3 RB recruit looks to settle in his home state for his home team.
As stated before, the defense can have some improvements after last year. When facing the top offenses they became a shell of themselves, and playing top competition weekly in the SEC that can’t happen again. Florida has always been a DB factory, and that’s no different this year as the latest project is Kaiir Elam is a projected top 10 pick. The 6’2 corner has amazing burst and short area quickness to break on any pass and make a game changing play. Jaydon Hill will be opposite of him holding things down after starting a handful of games last year. LB’s Ventrell Miller, Mohamoud Diabate and Amari Burney combined for 206 tackles – finishing 1st, 2nd, and 4th on the team last year. Expect the same this year as the trio looks to be a force, as does returning sack man Brenton Cox on the defensive line. A few questions to be answered for sure just like any team in this area of the rankings, but I trust the Gators to figure them out and be a threat this season.
10 more Impact Players
CB- Derek Stingley, LSU
Ever since Stingley has stepped on a college field for his hometown school as a freshman, he has eliminated a receiver from your game plan. 6’1 with speed and fluidity, he has the athleticism to mirror any route on the field. That should be no different this year. Expect another exceptional season to solidify his top 5 pick status.
DE- Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Coming in as the top recruit in his class, Thibs was a physical freak who has only gotten scarier. 6’5 255 pounds and will most likely run in the 4.5s, he has a blend of speed and power to blow by any Tackle in his way. Under rated against the run, he has the talent and production to push QBs down the draft board and be the #1 pick just as Myles Garrett did.
S- Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
When Isaiah Simmons declared a few years ago, draft experts raved and loved his size, speed, and versatility. And he didn’t even have a position. Well, Kyle Hamilton does, he is a ball hawking safety who towers at 6’4 221 and blazes a 4.3 40 time and 1.66 10 yard split. He can play down in the box or roam back deep, regardless he will be near the ball, likely making the play for the Irish, and likely making a play for the top 10 picks.
QB- Malik Willis, Liberty
PLAYMAKER. That’s usually a term for receivers or backs, but it comes into play here with Willis. An explosive athlete with a quick burst, he will get out of the pocket and be gone instantly. If you manage to catch him, he isn’t afraid to go right through you. He has all the arm strength in the world, and if he can tweak his mechanics just a little like Josh Allen did, he can fix some of those accuracy issues and soar up draft boards even higher.
QB- Carson Strong, Nevada
It seems each year a QB comes out of nowhere, lights the college football world up, and proceeds to be a top pick in the draft, peep Zach Wilson as the latest example. If it were to happen this year, Strong is a very strong candidate to be the man. Good footwork and pocket presence on top of the strongest arm in the class, he can throw it a mile yet also speed it into tight windows if needed. Accuracy will be a knock and weakness, but it’s not terrible as 68% is still a good percentage. Another year like last year and Strong will have teams salivating over his skills and ceiling near the top of the draft.
QB- D’Eriq King, Miami
The Houston Cougar transfer made noise for The Hurricanes last year in his first season at the helm, and he looks to improve upon that this year. Another elite athlete that is a true Dual threat, King’s legs have never been questioned. On the other hand, he has to prove a lot of doubters wrong with his passing game this year to have the NFL come calling. Regardless of the NFL or not, King will go down as one of the most exciting college QBs in recent memory.
RB- Bijan Robinson, Texas
The highest rated RB recruit in the 2020 class, Robinson is the next stud RB of college football. His freshman season started slow, but wow he really came on late and became a workhorse. Your typical 3 down back with patience and burst, Robinson is ready to roll with new coach Steve Sarkisian. Expect to see him in the 1st round in 2023.
RB- Tank Bigsby, Auburn
Another 2023 RB classmate, Bigsby really is a Tank with the ball in his hands. Auburn gave him the lead job early last season and watched him steamroll through the competition. At 6’ 200 pounds, he prefers to go through you rather than around, reminding you of another back in Marshawn Lynch. If he can live up to his name and his freshman season, the SEC is gonna have some issues the next 2 years.
WR- Treylon Burks, Arkansas
A BIG body at 6’3 230 pounds, I feel sorry for any opposing CB that lines up across from Burks 1v1. His massive 5 XL hands allow him to high point balls and make contested catches look easy. The 4.4 speed he has to go along with that size gives him the ability to be a YAC monster similar to AJ Brown. For a man this big, he is also active in the return game. He needs to improve on his route running and sharpen his tree for sure, but if he does, my favorite comparison skill wise for Burks is truly Josh Gordon. If he isn’t the top receiver off the board come draft night, he won’t be far behind Wilson or Olave.
WR- David Bell, Purdue
The most underrated player in the nation, David Bell needs more respect for what he does so he is the last name mentioned here. Bell isn’t the speedest receiver, but with his release off the line and his long 6’2 strides, he has the type of long speed you need to be able to take the top off a defense. His body control is phenomenal and he’s not afraid to use his physicality, as you can see with numerous highlight worthy catches on film. Smooth route running along with an effortless ability to cut and change directions, you are looking at the most complete receiver prospect in this class. 2022 draft Sleeper.
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