Moller: College football tiers for 2021 season
Nate Moller | Monday, August 30, 2021
With week one of college football less than a week away, it’s time to look at the different tiers of contenders for the upcoming season.
Tier 1: The contenders
Alabama: The Crimson Tide are going to be in tier 1 of college football every year. The talent that they possess on both sides of the ball is unrivaled by any other team. Although they lost Mac Jones, Devonta Smith, Najee Harris and a plethora of other stars, Bama possesses the talent to reload with ease. If quarterback Bryce Young is as good as he is supposed to be, this could be yet another very special year for Alabama. Bama will have to take care of business against Miami in week one and navigate their typical challenging SEC schedule, but I think they are up for the task.
Clemson: Clemson is one of the few teams that has challenged Alabama over the last several years, and they should have the roster to do so again in 2021. Losing Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne will hurt the Clemson offense significantly, but I suspect that quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei will be in the Heisman race this season based on his performance against Notre Dame last season. The most important game of the season for Clemson is arguably week one against Georgia. If the Tigers take care of business in that one, they’ll have zero remaining ranked teams on their schedule, making it seemingly very easy. A loss to Georgia week one, however, might jeopardize Clemson’s chances of making the playoffs even if they win out.
Oklahoma: I usually think Oklahoma is very overrated, but I think this year they will definitely prove to be one of the best four teams in the country. Spencer Rattler found his groove at quarterback towards the end of last season, and I believe he will be able to lead the Sooners to the playoffs this season. Oklahoma faces two ranked teams this season in Texas and Iowa State. I don’t believe either of those teams match up well with Oklahoma, and their path to the playoffs seems very straightforward.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are very similar to Alabama in the sense that whenever they lose their top players, they seem to have no problem replacing them. C.J. Stroud has big shoes to fill with Justin Fields moving onto the NFL, but his receiving corps is arguably the best in college football, so that should help him significantly. The Buckeyes will have to beat Oregon in week two, but after that, they shouldn’t have a problem against their usual Big Ten foes.
Tier 2: The fringe contenders
Georgia: The Bulldogs seem like they are a play or two away every year from finally breaking through. This year might finally be their year with quarterback J.T. Daniels returning for the Bulldogs. If Kirby Smart can lead his team to victory week one against Clemson, Georgia is going to be in a great place to make the playoffs.
Texas A&M: The Aggies were so close last year to finally putting everything together, but they have to get past Alabama if they are going to have a real chance. Their game against Alabama in October will be the focus of the Aggies’ season, but they will need to be ready every game, as there is no room for error in an SEC schedule.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are arguably the best Group of Five team ever, and they will have a chance to prove themselves this year against Indiana and Notre Dame. Quarterback Desmond Ridder has the playmaking ability to take the Bearcats far this year, and the Bearcats will definitely have a chance against the Hoosiers and the Irish.
Notre Dame: The Irish have made the playoffs twice before, but they have not been able to take the next step yet. The Irish have plenty of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree and Michael Mayer. They will need quarterback Jack Coan to step up and command the offense, though, if the Irish are going to finally win a playoff game.
Oregon: The Ducks face Ohio State week two, and if they lose that game, they could have a hard time playing themselves back into the playoff picture. If the Ducks are going to make the playoffs, they will have to hope the PAC-12 gains some respect this year because Oregon will need to have some legitimate wins if they are going to be considered for a playoff spot.
Tier 3: On the rise
Iowa State: I think the Cyclones are very overrated at No. 7 right now in the preseason AP poll, but there is no denying that they have a chance this year if everything comes together for them. With quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall leading the way for the Cyclones on offense and the defense looking very solid, the Cyclones will have a chance to prove that they can be a contender this year.
North Carolina: Mack Brown has his team in a great spot for the future, and it looks like this team is about ready to take the next step. Quarterback Sam Howell will have to prove this year, however, that he can command the offense after losing two great running backs and a handful of wide receivers to the NFL.
Florida: The Gators can just not seem to get by the Bulldogs in the SEC East on a consistent basis. Although they were able to last year, they ultimately tripped up against LSU and then were overpowered by Alabama in the SEC championship game. Unfortunately for the Gators, they will have to beat Alabama and LSU in their SEC West crossover games.
USC: There are once again high expectations for the Trojans ahead of the 2021 season, and it will be interesting to see if they can finally live up to them. Kedon Slovis seems to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and if he can have a career year, the Trojans will have a chance to take the next step and make the college football playoffs.
LSU, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Miami, Penn State, Texas