2021 Way Too Early College Football Top 25 Rankings
Updated: Jan 12
Even though 2020 isn't over, it's time to look ahead to the new season. Football's a year round thing, and coaches across the country have already looked ahead to 2021 and even further. That's what makes Way Too Early lists so intriguing. The idea of a clean slate is what gives fans hope heading into a season, and it's the reason why they're so passionate about where their team ranks. So, without further ado, here is the Sixth Year Sports 2021 Way Too Early College Football Top 25 Rankings. Enjoy!
*This isn't an indication of where I think these teams will finish, but rather how good they look coming into the 2021 season.
1. Clemson Tigers
Guy to watch: QB DJ Uiagalelei
Biggest loss: QB Trevor Lawrence
Outlook: Last time the Tigers lost a semifinal game, they won the national championship the next year. Are they headed for the same fate in 2021? Without Trevor Lawrence, nearly every program would take a big step back at the quarterback position. Not Clemson. Uiagalelei already showed he's ready for the spotlight with his 439 yard performance against Notre Dame earlier this year, and he'll lead a motivated Tigers team next year. Travis Etienne is another big loss, but Lyn-J Dixon will be a great replacement. If Justyn Ross can return, the passing attack will add another elite option downfield. Clemson returns arguably the best defensive line in the country with K.J. Henry, Tyler Davis, Bryan Bresee, and Myles Murphy back.
2. Georgia Bulldogs
Guy to watch: TE Darnell Washington
Biggest loss: LB Azeez Ojulari
Outlook: A reminder that this isn't a prediction of where they'll finish, but rather how good they look right now. Georgia, even with the losses sustained defensively, looks dangerous in 2021. JT Daniels took the offense to a new level in his limited action, and is back with a plethora of talent around him. The pass catchers give Daniels some of the best options in the country, including tight end Darnell Washington. Washington's a 6'7", 260 pound beast for the Bulldogs, but he's just one of the great options available. Georgia loses a few key pass rushers, but guys like Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith are back. Nakobe Dean is another guy to watch at linebacker, with Lewis Cine returning at safety to lead the secondary.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
Guy to watch: QB Spencer Rattler
Biggest loss: C Creed Humphrey
Outlook: We all knew the Sooners would take a step back this year with Spencer Rattler stepping in to the starting spot. Now he has a year of experience under his belt, and showed why many were so high on him coming into this season. Lincoln Riley's offense should be dynamic once again with Rattler at the helm, and talent like running back Seth McGowan and wide receiver Marvin Mims returning (among many others). Even if the defenses loses a handful of key players, Alex Grinch gets back a number of key contributors. His success with that group determines how high this Sooners team can rise, because we know the offense will do its part.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
Guy to watch: OT Evan Neal
Biggest loss: WR DeVonta Smith
Outlook: All eyes are on the offense with the assumed departures of Mac Jones, Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith. Can John Metchie III take over for Smith? Is Trey Sanders the running back of the future? Will Bryce Young live up to the hype? The answers to those questions are uncertain, but they have the talent to be the next great Crimson Tide players. Evan Neal is the player to watch for the Alabama offense. Neal's 6'7", 360 pounds, but can move as quick as nearly anyone. He moved from guard to tackle this year, and should be the anchor for the offensive line in 2021. This wasn't Nick Saban's best defense in recent years, but there's so much talent to love. Will Anderson and Christian Harris become the leaders of the defense with Dylan Moses and Christian Barmore off to the NFL (again, nothing is 100% certain until after the championship for these departures).
5. USC Trojans
Guy to watch: DE Drake Jackson
Biggest loss: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
Outlook: Clay Helton found a way to relieve some pressure off of his shoulders with a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. It didn't go their way, but the Trojans are back to avenge that loss. Kedon Slovis enters his third season as the starting quarterback for the Trojans, and the offense should be one of the best in college football. Drake London emerges as the go-to guy after producing a number of big plays in 2020, and freshman Bru McCoy is back after a solid year as well. Watch for running back Markese Stepp to take over the starting spot and have a good year if Graham Harrell can get him enough touches. Defensively, the Trojans have a ton of talent, including future NFL prospect Drake Jackson. Jackson is a versatile defensive end who can rush the passer and drop back in coverage.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
Guy to watch: WR Garrett Wilson
Biggest loss: QB Justin Fields
Outlook: With one more game left, Buckeyes fans need to enjoy having Justin Fields for one more game. His performance in the Sugar Bowl was legendary, and it's going to be tough to replace him. The winner of the quarterback battle gets the luxury of throwing to Garrett Wilson, an extremely athletic player with an NFL future, and the other young talent out wide. Master Teague III is back to run the rock with Steele Chambers, giving the Buckeyes the best backfield in terms of names. The defense could be hurting for experience with the number of seniors on roster on top of NFL talent, but there's no reason to believe Ryan Day won't reload.
7. Iowa State Cyclones
Guy to watch: RB Breece Hall
Biggest loss: DE JaQuan Bailey*
Outlook: The return of Brock Purdy puts Iowa State in the Top 10 heading into 2021, and the experience around him make the Cyclones an extremely dangerous team for everyone. Breece Hall, college football's leading rusher, also returns after rushing for 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns. There's also the potential for every one of Purdy's top pass catchers to come back as well. Defensively, guys like linebackers Mike Rose and O'Rien Vance provide stability. Cornerback Anthony Johnson Jr. is one of the best in the Big 12, and the Cyclones unique defense has proven to be difficult to figure out for any opposing offense. Is this the year they win the conference and make a playoff push? They have the right tools to do it.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels
Guy to watch: QB Sam Howell
Biggest loss: RB Javonte Williams
Outlook: All eyes are on Sam Howell for the Tar Heels next year. With Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown off to the NFL, the Tar Heels must replace 4,761 total yards and 47 touchdowns. That puts pressure on Howell to prove that he can still be explosive without his top guys. Khafre Brown, Dyami's brother, averaged 22.5 yards per catch this year and could be Howell's new go-to man downfield. Defensively, even with the loss of Chazz Surratt, North Carolina returns plenty of talent. Cornerback Tony Grimes is a future star, defensive end Tomari Fox (Tomon's brother) can be a menace, and Jeremiah Gemmel looks ready to step into Surratt's shoes.
9. Miami Hurricanes
Guy to watch: QB D'Eriq King
Biggest loss: DE Jaelan Phillips
Outlook: We're putting Miami here with the assumption that a healthy D'Eriq King will be just as dangerous as he was before he tore his ACL in the Cheez-It bowl. If not, the pressure falls on N'Kosi Perry's shoulders. King announced his return after a year in which offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and he revived Miami's offense. Then, he tore his ACL. A healthy King makes Miami dangerous, but any uncertainty in his game pushes them back a bit. The offense was inexperienced this year too, and guys like Dee Wiggins and Mark Pope return after making some big plays downfield for King. Manny Diaz needs to find replacements for Phillips and Quincy Roche at defensive end, but Nesta Jade Silvera should shore up the interior part of the line.
10. Cincinnati Bearcats
Guy to watch: CB Ahmad Gardner
Biggest loss: S James Wiggins
Outlook: Assuming Desmond Ridder returns and the Bearcats can hang on to both head coach Luke Fickell and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, Cincinnati should be just fine. Retaining their AAC championship won't be easy without any of those three, but this is still a solid team without them. Jerome Ford takes over at running back for Gerrid Doaks, with Alec Pierce, Michael Young and Josh Whyle back to catch passes. Defensively, the Bearcats must replace key talent up front, but the secondary gets Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant, and Arquon Bush back. Byran Cook stepped up big in the Peach bowl at safety for the injured Wiggins, so there won't be much of a step back at safety. Fickell's return is the biggest key, as he's brought Cincinnati to new heights and continues to bring in talent that elevates the program even more.
11. Texas A&M Aggies
Guy to watch: RB Isaiah Spiller
Biggest loss: OT Carson Green
Outlook: Quarterback Kellen Mond and linebacker Buddy Johnson have not made their decisions at the time of publishing, so the Aggies are this high with them on roster. If they're gone, they'd fall. The Aggies must replace four offensive linemen in 2021, with Kenyon Green anchoring the line at guard. That's the biggest concern in 2021, but Mond and the three headed monster of Isaiah Spiller, Ainias Smitha and Devon Achane make the Aggies tough to stop. If Johnson returns on defense, Texas A&M is in good hands. In front of him, Bobby Brown III can be a menace, while safeties Leon O'Neal Jr. and Demani Richardson provide support behind him. All they have to do is upset Alabama really. Seems simple enough.
12. Oregon Ducks
Guy to watch: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux
Biggest loss: CB Deommodore Lenoir
Outlook: For once, Oregon's defense might provide the most stability, a new feature for a program known for explosive offenses. Thibodeaux (9.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks) is a future NFL star at defensive end, and is joined by another star in freshman linebacker Noah Sewell (48 tackles, 6.5 for loss). The secondary is without Lenoir, but returns Mykael Wright, Verone McKinley III and Jamal Hill. On the other side, quarterback Tyler Shough needs to show improvement. The sophomore got off to a good start this year, but struggled at times. There's talent at the skill positions, but not enough to mask any deficiencies in Shough's game. Fortunately, it appears that the Ducks have a defense that can keep them in games while the offense finds its chemistry.
13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Guy to watch: S Kyle Hamilton
Biggest loss: QB Ian Book
Outlook: Notre Dame's looking to get back to the College Football Playoff, but they have to do it without a ton of key contributors. Four of the five offensive linemen are gone along with quarterback Ian Book. Not all is lost as running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree return to steady the rushing attack. For the new quarterback, tight ends Tommy Tremble and Michael Mayer should take steps forward as they return as the "veterans" of the passing attack. Kyle Hamilton will be back for one final season before he heads to the NFL where teams will be waiting for a guy with his length (6'4").
14. Indiana Hoosiers
Guy to watch: QB Michael Penix Jr.
Biggest loss: Whop Philyor
Outlook: Penix is already a legend in Indiana football history with his performance against Penn State to start the year. His injury put a damper on an overall great season, but his return provides the Hoosiers with a hope that they can repeat that success in 2021. The Hoosiers defense returns nearly everyone, including cornerback Tiawan Mullen. Mullen broke out as a freshman and had another great year as a sophomore, leaving many to believe that he'll continue that success in Year 3. Tom Allen's done an incredible job with this team, and fans have reason to believe they can be even better next year.
15. Liberty Flames
Guy to watch: QB Malik Willis
Biggest loss: RB Peyton Pickett
Outlook: Hugh Freeze shocked all of us by winning 10 games with Liberty this season, and now there's no reason to believe they won't do it again. Auburn transfer Malik Willis shined in 2020, racking up nearly 3,200 total yards and 34 touchdowns. A Heisman run could be on the table if he can repeated that success (or even improve), and the Flames can find a way to go undefeated. Freeze is a popular name this offseason, though, so hold off on getting too excited in case he finds a bigger job.
16. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Guy to watch: QB Spencer Sanders
Biggest loss: WR Tylan Wallace
Outlook: Oklahoma State had playoff aspirations with the amount of talent returning this past year, but those dreams quickly ended. Now, they're not a guarantee to get in the Big 12 Championship Game. Sanders was explosive at time in 2020, accounting over 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. LD Brown and Dezmon Jackson filled in well when Chuba Hubbard was out, but the Cowboys need to find a replacement for wide receiver Tylan Wallace. The defense appears to be headed for a rebuild, but it will be led by Malcolm Rodriguez, who led the team in tackles this year.
17. Nevada Wolfpack
Guy to watch: QB Carson Strong
Biggest loss: LB Lawson Hall
Outlook: Carson Strong is the quarterback that we aren't talking about enough. The redshirt sophomore threw for 2,858 yards with 27 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His favorite target, wide receiver Romeo Doubs, could still go pro but his return would give the Wolfpack one of the best combinations in college football. Jay Norvell has turned Nevada into a competitor in the Mountain West, and their offense is one of the most explosive through the air thanks to Strong and Doubs.
18. Florida Gators
Guy to watch: CB Kaiir Elam
Biggest loss: QB Kyle Trask
Outlook: It's officially the Emory Jones show. Well, assuming he wins the job in the fall. With Kyle Trask off to the NFL, Jones figures to be next in line to run Dan Mullen's offense. It will be a different look for the Gators as Jones is more of a runner than Trask, but it could provide them with some more balance. With the Gators three top pass catchers gone, Jacob Copelan, Justin Shorter and Xavier Henderson figure to step up to help Jones move the ball through the air. The defense takes a big hit in the secondary, but cornerback Kaiir Elam (11 passes defended) returns.
19. Washington Huskies
Guy to watch: CB Trent McDuffie
Biggest loss: DT Levi Onwuzurike
Outlook: The Huskies couldn't play in the conference championship even though they won the division, but hopefully that won't happen again next year. It's tough to say if Jimmy Lake picked things up where Chris Petersen left off with a 3-1 record, but we're still optimistic. Even without Levi Onwuzurike, the defense proved it can still play at a high level, with a couple new faces winning all conference awards. Trent McDuffie enters a big year as a junior, one that could put him on the map for NFL analysts and scouts. The offense will need to improve if the Huskies want to return to the Pac 12 Championship, though many are high on quarterback Dylan Morris' abilities.
20. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Guy to watch: QB Grayson McCall
Biggest loss: RB CJ Marable
Outlook: What a year for surprises. The Group of 5 provided a number of teams that shocked us, including the Chanticleers. While they lost their final game of the season to Liberty, it was a great year for Jamey Chadwell's program. Grayson McCall led that charge as a freshman, something not many expected. McCall's a confident dual threat who can make some big throws and returns to the offense after accounting for over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns in his first full season of college football. Losing CJ Marable at running back hurts, but Chadwell's system allows for multiple players to succeed.
21. UCF Knights
Guy to watch: DT Cam Goode
Biggest loss: WR Marlon Williams
Outlook: It wasn't the year the Knights fans wanted, but there's still plenty of reason to be excited. Dillon Gabriel is back for Year 3, and he'll need to find a new number one receiver with Marlon Williams gone. He also loses Jacob Harris and Tre Nixon. Fortunately, speedsters Jaylon Robinson and Ryan O'Keefe are back to terrorize defensive backfields all year. Josh Heupel enters a pivotal year in his third season, one that must show improvement. It will start with the defense and coordinator Randy Shannon, and there's talent to make that happen. Cam Goode can be a star if he plays every down, and Josh Celiscar made some huge plays last year up front as well.
22. Arizona State Sun Devils
Guy to watch: QB Jayden Daniels
Biggest loss: WR Frank Darby
Outlook: It feels like we didn't really get to see what the Sun Devils could do in 2020, so we hit the restart button in 2021. Four games just isn't enough to evaluate. Jayden Daniels is a rising star in college football, and a full year will showcase his talent. Up front, guard Dohnovan West has produced two great years and continues to play with a mean streak. Running backs Rachaad White (420 yards, five touchdowns) and Deamonte Trayanum (290, 4) emerged as two explosive options for the Sun Devils. White averaged a whopping 10 yards per carry last year. Co-defensive coordinators Antonio Pierce and Marvin Lewis got a boost when cornerback Jack Jones decided to return, and they should have nearly everyone back. Defensive tackle Jermayne Lole is an underrated player who doesn't get enough attention.
23. Ole Miss Rebels
Guy to watch: RB Jerrion Ealy
Biggest loss: WR Elijah Moore
Outlook: What a fun season for the Rebels. A 5-5 record might not been what fans expected, but the offense certainly made it worth watching. Lane Kiffin brought an explosive offense with him, and it turned Matt Corral into a big time threat as a passer. Corral's partner in the backfield, Jerrion Ealy, is a dynamic player capable of scoring on the ground, through the air, or as a returner. His backup, Snoop Connor, gives the Rebels another tough player to tackle. Losing Moore is tough to replace, but Corral will look for Jonathan Mingo (14.0 yards per catch), Dontario Drummond (16.7) , and Braylon Sanders (26.4!) this season.
24. Stanford Cardinal
Guy to watch: RB Austin Jones
Biggest loss: OT Walker Little
Outlook: I think we can stop doubting David Shaw forever. After a 4-8 season and doubt creeping in after the 2019 season, Shaw and the Cardinal matched their win total in half of their games. Running back Austin Jones appears to be the next great back for Stanford, and he could have an even bigger year with quarterback Davis Mills off to the NFL. The offense essentially worked with a completely new offensive line since Walker Little and Foster Sarell opted out (both will play in the NFL).
25. Iowa Hawkeyes
Guy to watch: RB Tyler Goodson
Biggest loss: DT Daviyon Nixon
Outlook: Surprise, surprise. Iowa, once again, put themselves in the Big Ten title conversation once again when no one thought they'd be there. With Nate Stanley gone, the focus was on the quarterback position, where Spencer Petras stepped in and played well at times. He'll still need to improve in 2021, but at least the Hawkeyes have their guy. He'll be next to Tyler Goodson, one of the more underrated running backs in college football, but he needs to find a deep threat with Ihmir Smith-Marsette off to the NFL. Kirk Ferentz's defense must replace Daviyon Nixon up front, but this is a group that returns plenty of talent for a defense that finished sixth in scoring defense in 2020.