1. Clemson – Led by a fierce defensive line, the Tigers eye a seventh straight ACC title and playoff berth. There’s a mega-showdown to open the season, as Clemson battles the Georgia Bulldogs in Charlotte on Saturday night.
2. Oklahoma – The Sooners were smoking hot down the stretch last season and dreaming big in 2021. Spencer Rattler is a terrific quarterback and the trigger man of Lincoln Riley’s offense. The defense is getting better every year.
3. Alabama – Nick Saban has reloaded and the Crimson Tide are the favorites in the SEC. Bryce Young takes his turn at quarterback. Expectations are always high. The schedule will be tough, as the SEC West is especially tough this season.
4. Georgia – The Bulldogs battle Clemson in a Titanic season opener in Charlotte. The injury bug has bitten Georgia particularly hard in preseason camp, so the Dogs won’t be at full strength. Kirby Smart’s team is the heavy favorite in the SEC East.
5. Ohio State – The Buckeyes have lapped the field in the Big 10 in every way, and despite heavy personnel losses, they are the team to beat. Ohio State has won four straight conference titles and has dominated the league in recruiting.
6. Southern Cal – Kedon Slovis is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and he is a big reason that the Trojans could take a big step forward this season. Clay Helton may have USC back on top of the PAC-12.
7. Auburn – New coach Bryan Harsin, despite it being year one, has great expectations. A big reason is his backfield. Quarterback Bo Nix and running back Tank Bigsby give the Tigers juice and experience. The linebacking corps is fleet.
8. North Carolina – Sam Howell is the trigger man, one of the top quarterbacks in college football. Mack Brown is recruiting well, and the Tar Heels are the favorites to emerge and meet Clemson in Charlotte for the ACC title.
9. LSU -The Tigers are especially dangerous when they are being overlooked. There was so much to replace – plus a hangover – from 2019. But this roster is chock-full of experience and, of course, talent.
10. Florida – The Gators host Alabama and Tennessee in September, and that will set the tone. Yes, there is a lot to replace, but this is Florida, and the Gators always have players. Dan Mullen has guided Florida to three New Year’s Six Bowls in three years.
11. Cincinnati – It was a dream season for the Bearcats, undefeated, champions of the American, and playing in a major bowl. They lost a heartbreaker in Atlanta to Georgia, but return 16 starters, including quarterback Desmond Ridder.
12. Iowa State – This will be a twist for Iowa State. As underdog unknowns, the Cyclones have rolled up some impressive victories over Oklahoma and Texas. But with 19 starters back from a 9-3 Fiesta Bowl winning team, they won’t sneak up on anyone.
13. Oregon – The Ducks fell to Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl after (with a record of 3-2) upsetting USC to win the PAC-12 last season. Oregon will host Fresno State Saturday and then head to the Horseshoe to take on the Buckeyes.
14. Texas A&M – It was a great season in ’20 for the Aggies, who lost only to Alabama, beat some SEC blue-bloods and then topped North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. Kellen Mond is gone, but a lot is back for this contender in the rugged SEC West.
15. Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish had a perfect regular season, and then got handled by both Clemson and Alabama. Brian Kelly has turned up the recruiting and the Irish have big expectations again in 2021.