Sporting News released our early Preseason Top 25 for the 2021 college football season, and there are no surprises with the top six spots.
Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia and Notre Dame hold those spots, and they have combined for 23 of 28 possible College Football Playoff appearances since 2014. Why would anyone bet on any other school at this point?
It gives us something else to talk about, right? Oregon, Washington, Florida State, LSU and Michigan State have all made the CFP, too. So which schools have the best shot to crash the Playoff party for the first time in 2021 and inject some new blood into the field. Let's look at the five schools with the best shot:
Hey, we are contractually obligated to hype at least one Texas school each offseason. Jimbo Fisher has been to a College Football Playoff, and the Aggies were close in 2020. Texas A&M has to replace Kellen Mond, but the depth through recruiting has improved. We could have picked Florida here, but the Gators also have to replace a quarterback and have Alabama and LSU as cross-over opponents. Texas A&M plays Missouri and South Carolina. It comes down to the matchup with Alabama at Kyle Field on Oct. 9. Even with a loss, the Aggies could slip in the playoff with an 11-1 record.
The strongest sign that there is faith in coach Matt Campbell's program and this Iowa State team, then it's the fact quarterback Brock Purdy, tight end Charlie Kolar, linebacker Mike Rose and safety Greg Eisworth all bypassed the NFL Draft for one more season in Ames. The Cyclones will have their highest-ever preseason ranking, and the all-in feel is there. Iowa State has proven it can play with Oklahoma consistently over the past four seasons, and they have a 2-3 record in that stretch to show for it. Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma State all visit Jack Trice Stadium this season. The Nov. 20 matchup at Oklahoma should be huge, and there could be a rematch in the Big 12 championship game.
Miami would be the other popular pick out of the ACC, but we remember the 62-26 beatdown the Tar Heels put on the Hurricanes last season. Miami also opens with Alabama as part of a much-more difficult non-conference schedule, But enough about "The U." The Tar Heels continue to trend in the right direction under third-year coach Mack Brown, and they have arguably the top-returning quarterback in the FBS in Sam Howell. The opener at Virginia Tech could be the spring-board to a ACC Coastal Division championship run, and maybe we get that rematch from the 2019 thriller with Clemson.
Oregon has been to the CFP, so they are disqualified from the discussion. The Trojans are still looking for that first appearance, and Clay Helton has done enough in the short term to secure his job status. A top-10 recruiting class in 2021 did not hurt. Quarterback Kedon Slovis should be a first-round pick in 2022, and USC has a negotiable schedule that includes showdowns against independents Notre Dame and BYU. The Pac-12 is looking for its first playoff team since 2016, so this remains a longshot. Still, what other Pac-12 team would you take?
A Group of 5 school? No chances, right. Well, we like Cincinnati's chances better than, say, any Big Ten team not named Ohio State. The Bearcats return an experienced offense around Desmond Ridder, and Luke Fickell has done an excellent job building a defense around strong recruiting classes in Ohio. A pair of non-conference games at Indiana and Notre Dame could bolster that schedule that was such a sticking point last season. Cincinnati has the lowest odds of the five teams listed at 150/1, but they are the best bet among these five teams to go undefeated.