Eight college football hot takes for the 2021 season
Aidan Thomas | Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Preseason rankings are always a joy to behold. Between a mix of incredible-to-behold bias towards blue blood programs and the stanch of recency bias, preseason rankings nearly boast some kind of controversy, and the release of the preseason AP Poll for the 2021 season was no exception. So rather than release some cobbled-together preseason rankings of my own, I’ve decided to just put it all out there. College Football Hot Takes: 2021 season edition. These takes range from lukewarm to boiling hot, and they are sure to anger more than a few. But what are my sports authorities for, if not to cause a little friendly debate? So, here goes.
Penn State, LSU bounce back
Penn State was surprisingly abysmal in 2020, but voters seem to believe they may bounce back in 2021, slotting the Nittany Lions 19th in the preseason poll. I’ll go a step further — I see Penn State being a fringe top-10 team this season, going 11-1 and being a road upset of Ohio State away from making the playoffs. Penn State has among the most returning offensive production in the Big 10, and that’ll be a huge factor. An early-season non-conference test awaits against Auburn, but expect the electric white-out atmosphere to cover Penn State there. Three top-20 teams litter the first half of Penn State’s schedule, but this hot take is declaring that the Nittany Lions top all challengers but the Buckeyes, starting with a statement win at Wisconsin to start things off on Sept. 4.
Furthermore, I like LSU to be much more competitive this season, also winning 10-11 games in 2021. The Tigers have a bona fide quarterback battle, but both have experience, unlike last season. The defense should be much improved, and LSU looked to be back on the upswing with a big upset of Florida towards the end of last season. The Tigers should be back near the top of the SEC West and potentially inside the top 10.
SEC Championship features a battle of the unbeaten
Defending national champion Alabama looks to be incredible again in 2021, with five-star quarterback Bryce Young under center. They have to navigate a tough SEC West once more, but I anticipate the Tide will do so en route to another undefeated season. Meanwhile, my theory about Georgia running the table will be immediately put to the test when they play Clemson, but the Bulldogs looked fantastic with J.T. Daniels under center, and they should continue to play very well. Clemson did endure some big losses to the draft, and Georgia should be favored in this Week 1 top-5 clash. After that, it’s a very manageable slate for the Bulldogs, who could get to Atlanta unscathed.
West Virginia wins 10 games, finishes inside the top 20
The Mountaineers were at the very bottom of the ‘receiving votes’ section of the AP Poll, having acquired just three votes. This grossly underrated what I believe to be the third-best team in the Big 12. The Mountaineers face uphill battles against Iowa State and Oklahoma, but other than that, I think they are on cruise control in conference play. Texas is going to struggle a little bit in the post-Sam Ehlinger era, and Oklahoma State simply looked way too bad down the stretch for me to have any faith in them. West Virginia has a grind-it-out defensive mentality that should keep them in many games, and I believe the offense is going to be far better than projected. A winnable non-conference schedule makes a 10-2 record a very real possibility. I’ve slated the Mountaineers to finish around 17th in my predictions.
UNC finishes the season unranked
I will die on this mountain — unless the Tar Heels prove me wrong. Sam Howell is a great quarterback, but I believe the Tar Heels are grossly overrated at No. 10 in the preseason polls. They lost their top two receivers and top two running backs, along with arguably their most important defensive player. And that’s coming off an 8-4 season with two unranked losses. Their top-10 ranking absolutely confounds me. Yes, the defense returns ten starters. But the defense wasn’t good last season. And the offense, in one of the biggest games of the season, scored 17 against Notre Dame. I’m calling a 7-5 season from UNC, with the Tar Heels dropping outside the top 25.
Rutgers goes bowling
Rutgers has been the laughingstock of the Big 10 for a very long time, but this year they finally break their string of awful seasons. Although they were somewhat respectable last season, the Scarlet Knights went just 3-6 in their Big 10-only schedule. I’m predicting that Greg Schiano’s squad continues their upward trend, winning five Big 10 games and cruising through an exceptionally winnable non-conference schedule to win 7-9 games and go bowling for the first time since 2014.
Oregon challenges for a Playoff spot
I do believe Oregon will lose, and potentially by a lot, to Ohio State early in the season. But after that, I don’t see a team on the regular-season schedule capable of taking down the Ducks, meaning Oregon could enter the Pac-12 championship as a 1-loss team. There, I anticipate that Oregon will rematch with USC for the crown, and the Ducks have been the more talented teams in recent years, even winning with a very young roster last season. If Oregon goes 12-1 with a Pac-12 championship, they could be back in the Playoff, depending on some other factors.
The ACC has 6 teams ranked in the final AP Poll
The ACC has frequently been among the worst Power-5 conferences, and only Clemson, Miami and UNC populate the preseason poll. I predict that number to double, with Virginia Tech, Pitt and NC State being among my sleepers that I believe will finish inside the rankings. There are other teams I’m cautiously optimistic about — including Wake Forest and Virginia — given how much those two squads return, or UNC could maybe slip inside the backdoor. Either way, with the SEC dominating the college football world, and soon adding Texas and Oklahoma, the ACC will make a big statement with an overall bounce-back year.
Coastal Carolina disappoints
It’s OK. I also hate myself for this prediction. But I have to say it. I loved watching the Chanticleers almost play their way into the top 10 last season, but I believe the season may have been a COVID-fluke. I think the Chanticleers are an above-average Group of 5 team that will win 5-6 games in the Sun Belt, and they’ll be in a bowl game. But beyond that, I don’t anticipate Jamey Chadwell and co. being back in the New Year’s 6 conversation, and I truly don’t see them being anywhere near the Top 25 at the end of the season.