Spring practice has ended and campuses around the country have wrapped up spring semesters. It’s the time that most college football players head home for several weeks of rest and relaxation, and programs are mostly dormant, save recruiting. Players usually trickle back in early June to start summer workouts, and take some classes to keep their course load lighter during the fall. Fall practices, with significant changes this season, start in August.
Other than the occasional blurb coming from the transfer portal or a high school player verbal, there won’t be much of any football to talk about the next couple months, or so we hope….usually if there’s a big college football news story in the summer, it isn’t of the good variety. So to stick with the positives, let’s look at the 2021 season (and yes, it should be an actual season, like we used to know). There’s no time better than the present to talk about who’s-who among the top teams in the nation, so I’ll go ahead and share my Top 25 Post-Spring. It’s reverse order, 25-11 below, 10-1 in the next installment.
You can discuss the 2021 College Football season here.
Honorable Mention: Appalachian State, Boise State, Liberty, SMU, TCU, UCF, Washington, West Virginia
25. Northwestern (Last Season: 7-2, Big Ten West Champ) – QB Peyton Ramsey forgoing his final season of eligibility was a blow, but Pat Fitzgerald’s teams are built on defense, and the 2021 version should be stingy as always.
24. Ole Miss (Last season: 5-5) – Matt Corral returns to QB one of the nation’s more explosive offenses. If the Rebels can get halfway decent production on the defensive side, they could be sneaky good.
23. Coastal Carolina (Last season: 11-1, Sun Belt Champ) – The Chanticleers are one of the teams that greatly benefits from the NCAA COVID rule that granted players an extra year of eligibility, as a dozen players took advantage and will return to a team that finished #14 in the AP and Coaches Polls in 2020.
22. Texas (Last season: 6-3) – Year 1 of the Steve Sarkisian era begins the same as those of his recent predecessors; high expectations and a decent amount of inherited talent. But a clear-cut replacement for QB Sam Ehlinger did not emerge in the spring, and that could keep the ‘Horns in the 6-8 win range that continues to frustrate an impatient fanbase.
21. Louisiana (Last season: 10-1) – After two straight 10-win seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns managed to hang on to HC Billy Napier, but their success was likely behind a big chunk of his staff being hollowed out. But 20 returning starters should keep them in the rankings and the primary challenger to Coastal Carolina for Sun Belt supremacy.
20. Penn State (Last season: 4-5) – That the Nittany Lions finished 4-0 after starting 0-5 could be considered James Franklin’s best coaching job at PSU. Between seven returning starters and transfer portal additions, their defense should be talented and deep. But they need to do better at protecting QB Sean Clifford, as there is no experienced depth at all behind him.
19. Iowa (Last season: 6-2) – Like PSU, the Hawkeyes got off to a rough start in 2020 (0-2) before rattling off 6 straight wins. They have significant replacements to make on both lines, but Kirk Ferentz knows how to recruit and develop talent in the trenches.
18. USC (Last season: 5-1, Pac 12 South Champ) – A 7-point loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game was their only blemish last season. Kedon Slovis returns for his third season as a starter and is among those in the preseason Heisman discussion. But if the Trojans’ OL can’t do a better job of protecting him (15 sacks allowed in 6 games in 2020), it might not matter.
17. Miami (Last season: 8-3) – Another Heisman candidate, QB D’Eriq King appears to still be on track to return at the start of the season after tearing an ACL in the Hurricanes’ bowl game last year. If King can make it back, the ‘Canes could have the offensive talent for a special season. If he can’t, they’ll have to rely more on a defense that will feature a lot of new faces.
16. Arizona State (Last season: 2-2) – Herm Edwards loses only one starter from last season’s team. Among the returnees is QB Jayden Daniels, who will enter the season as the starter for the third time. The Sun Devils haven’t played in a Rose Bowl since Jake Plummer was their QB (1999). This season might be their best shot at ending that streak in some time.
15. Florida (Last season: 8-4, SEC East Champ) – The Gators finally broke through against Georgia last season to claim the division, and nearly upset Alabama in the conference title game. It will be tough to repeat that with the overhaul they have to do on offense (Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney all gone to the NFL). The defense will need to improve from last season to do it (#100 in FBS). The talent is there to simply reload though.
14. Indiana (Last season: 6-2) – I should probably have them higher; they return almost all of last season’s very talented roster, especially on defense. What holds them back for me is the uncertain status of QB Michael Penix Jr., who tore an ACL late in the season. Jack Tuttle, who returns as the backup, did a capable job; but the Hoosiers are a better team with Penix
13. LSU (Last season: 5-5) – 2020 was a season to forget. On top of shameful revelations within both the program and university, they barely avoided being the first defending champion to finish with a losing record since I-can’t-remember-when. With a large number of returnees and QB Max Johnson back after a decent season as a freshman starter, the Tigers have the look of a bounce-back team.
12. Wisconsin (Last season: 4-3) – The Badgers are another squad who should bounce back after a disappointing season. As a redshirt freshman, QB Graham Mertz had his share of ups and downs (including COVID). He should be able to develop more consistency this season, especially working more with HC Paul Chryst, who will double as the play-caller and QB coach.
11. North Carolina (Last season: 8-4) – Before he potentially becomes the #1 overall NFL Draft pick, QB Sam Howell returns for one more season in Chapel Hill. In news that’s almost as good….all five OL starters from last season are back too. So is Howell’s top receiver (Josh Downs). If they can generate more pass rush on defense, the Tar Heels might have a team that could finally challenge Clemson’s ACC supremacy.
College Football Analyst
Mike is a Baltimore native living in Portland, OR since 2007. He currently runs his own business specializing in video production and online marketing. Prior to that he was a legal technology consultant, worked for 9 years at Johns Hopkins University and served 6 years in the Air Force. He also enjoys travel, food, beer, and is a volunteer at the Oregon Humane Society.