#15 USC Trojans
USC just barely cracks the top 15 here, and rightfully so. They have high expectations this year and they are favorites in the Pac-12 South. Their quarterback, Kedon Slovis, has Heisman hype and the pieces necessary for success. Their head coach, though, is sweating as his seat is HOT. Clay Helton is entering his 6th season as head coach, and although his record is above .500, his team's production has been nothing but mediocre. Their expectations are always high from a fan perspective, as this is another College Football ´blue blood´. The key to this team's success is their defense, and it needs to be better. Key transfer DT Ishmael Sopsher coming in from Alabama can help them. This team has an easy schedule so I have high hopes.
#14 Miami Hurricanes
Our first ACC team on the poll is Miami, coming in at 14. They are coming off a pretty solid season for the program, and they’ve got their QB1 back. D´Eriq King returns from a torn ACL, and in case you didn't know, he is one of the best quarterbacks in CFB. He brings Heisman hype to the program and is the true leader of the team. Manny Diaz enters his 3rd year as head coach, and his seat is pretty hot within the fan-base -- with the biggest issue being not being able to win the Big Game, such as games against Clemson and North Carolina. The Canes have a pretty important game in their opener, against the reigning national champion in the Crimson Tide. The Tide have lost some key production on both sides of the ball, including Tight End Brevin Jordan and Defensive End Jaelen Phillips. The question gets asked every season: ¨Is Miami back?¨ I think this is the year we truly find out. After a tough opener against Bama, this team has no reason not to go at LEAST 9-3. Anything else is a disappointment.
#13 Florida Gators
The runner-up in the SEC last year, the Gators enter this year ranked 13th. The Gators are led by Dan Mullen, who is a fantastic coach, and this year he gets his wish: the swamp will be packed. Coming off a great year, Florida lost quite a bit of notable talent. Heisman contenders Kyle Pitts and Kyle Trask are off to the NFL, and wide receiver Kedarius Toney is also gone. Their new quarterback, Emory Jones has had a few years to master the playbook but his play-style is similar to Lamar Jackson, which may not fit the offensive scheme. This team has to get through the SEC gauntlet, including the yearly game against Georgia, and huge games against Alabama and LSU. If the Gators could take two out of those three, they will be set up in a good position for the College Football(CFB) Playoffs. I don't mind the Gators playing their way into the top 15, but after losing significant talent, I didn't expect them to be this high.
#12 Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin checks in here at 12. There is a lot of reason for hope for this squad, starting with second-year quarterback Graham Mertz. After throwing 4 touchdowns in the first half in his first college start, his production has slowed down some. There is still optimism, however, as he possesses a lot of talent. The Wisconsin defense is always the bright spot under head coach Paul Chryst. They are led by Nick Herbig and Jack Sanborn, who also have high expectations this season. One key to this team's success will be running the ball and controlling time of possession, which they struggled to do last year after the departure of Johnathan Taylor. Hopefully the running game can bounce back, Mertz can throw for as much as he needs to, and this team can contend in the Big 10. They open up against Penn State and have other key games against Notre Dame, Iowa, and Northwestern.
#11 Oregon Ducks
The back-to-back Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks come in at 11. The Ducks are the highest ranking Pac-12 team, by no surprise. After a successful year post-Justin Herbert, the Ducks look to replicate that same success. Coming into the start of the season, head coach Mario Cristobal has to perform, because his seat is, unsurprisingly,hot. He has struggled to lead Oregon to the Playoffs, and with the amount of talent on the team it shouldn't be that difficult, especially in a weak conference like the Pac-12. The biggest question mark surrounding the team is the quarterback position. Senior Anthony Brown probably has the job locked down, but freshman Ty Thompson is not far behind. Brown is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience and he is an amazing runner. I do expect Thompson to play at some point this season because he possesses great athleticism and a good down-field arm. Oregon is the favorite in the Pac-12 and they have a pretty easy schedule with the exception of games against Washington, Utah, and Ohio State. I am excited to see this team play this season because I believe with good quarterback play, this team has a chance at the Playoff.
#10 UNC Tar Heels
At 10 we have the Tar Heels, who are possibly the only team in the ACC that can contend with Clemson. The Tar Heels have been average at best the past few years but new interest is growing with the team as they are led by another quarterback with Heisman potential, Sam Howell. They are led by the always entertaining Mack Brown, who is entering his third year in his second stint at UNC. They are another team who lost a bunch of starters, including leading receiver Dyami Brown, leading tackler Chazz Surratt, and some of the nations-best running backs in both Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. The offense is king at UNC, and transfer Ty Chandler can help bolster the running game. They have a sneaky big opener against V-Tech, and cannot afford to drop this game. They also have big games against Miami, which may decide the ACC Coastal and games against Florida State, Notre Dame, and Wake Forest. They have a pretty tough schedule but if UNC can make the ACC Championship, watch out Clemson.
#9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The only independent team on the poll is the Fighting Irish. They are coming off a great season in the ACC, where they beat Clemson and made the CFB Playoff. They open against FSU, which is a tougher game than many expect. They have one of the more difficult schedules in CFB. They play Cincinnati, USC, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. They lost key production including quarterback Ian Book, but have Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams returning to the lineup. Transfer QB Jack Coan leads this team into battle, and he is not a bad quarterback by any means. They are led by Brian Kelly and I expect this team to contend again this year.
#8 Cincinnati Bearcats
Our only AAC team on the poll is Cincinnati, and they crack the top ten at 8. They are coming off a historic year for the program, making a NY6 bowl and losing narrowly to Georgia 24-21 in the Peach Bowl. They have another quarterback with Heisman hope in Desmond Ridder, and led by one of the best coaches in CFB, Luke Fickell. They are in an easy conference, but they have huge games against Notre Dame and Indiana, which could decide their season. They unfortunately can’t make the playoffs because they are not a power-5 school. So with that being said, this team is super talented but in a weak conference. They should be able to have another successful season and maybe go to another NY6 game.
#7 Iowa State Cyclones
The reigning Fiesta Bowl champ Cyclones come in at 7. This team is good. They are led by 2020 coach of the year, Matt Campbell. This team returns a lot of production, including starting QB Brock Purdy and 2020 CFB leading rusher, Breece Hall. As previously mentioned, they won the Fiesta Bowl last year over 11th ranked Oregon, only after losing the Big-12 championship to Oklahoma.This team will have to go through Oklahoma and Texas again in the regular season. There is no reason for this team not to matchup against Oklahoma on championship weekend.
#6 Texas A&M Aggies
Coming in at 6 are the Aggies. Texas A&M had one of the program's best years in recent memory last year. They finished the year ranked 5, barely missing the CFB Playoff, and beating North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. They are led by the legendary Jimbo Fisher, and this team will play with a chip on its shoulder. As mentioned, last year they barely missed the CFB Playoff, believing they earned the fourth spot and were snubbed. Coming into this season their leader, Kellan Mond, is off to the NFL. Their starter week one will be redshirt freshman Haynes King, who got a little action last year during blowout games. Their leading rusher Isiah Spiller returns, and will be a key component to their offense. They have a fairly easy schedule, with the exception of LSU in death valley and Alabama at home. Alabama at home is a key game because this team has some of the most passionate fans in the sport. If Haynes King can live up to the hype this team can replicate their performance from last year and make a run at the Playoff once again.
#5 Georgia Bulldogs
The 2020 Peach bowl champs, the Georgia Bulldogs, kick off our top 5. The Dawgs enter another season with high hopes. They won a NY6 bowl last year, but their sights are set on something bigger: a championship. Kirby Smart was supposed to be the savior of the program, but as he enters his sixth season, he has only been to the CFB playoff once, and they lost in the classic 2017 national championship. If there is ever a time for him and this team to succeed, it is this year. They enter with a top 5 quarterback in J.T. Daniels who carries Heisman hype. The team should have no problem getting through and winning the SEC east, but it's the bigger picture they need to be worried about. Georgia opens up against number 3 ranked Clemson, and they will need to go through Alabama in the SEC championship if they want to win the south. But for right now, they need to have their sights set on Clemson. Besides that game, their schedule should be pretty smooth -- save for a tougher game against Florida. As much as I can't stand Kirby Smart, this team is pretty entertaining and I expect them to contend for the title this year.
#4 Ohio State Buckeyes
The highest ranking Big-10 team by no surprise, is Ohio State at number 4. The runner-ups last season, arguably would have won the championship if Alabama didn't exist. This team was so good on paper and the field last year, it's no surprise they cracked the top 4. They lost their most valuable player in Justin Fields, but coach Ryan Day has named QB CJ Stroud starter for week one. Stroud has the talent around him to succeed, as this team has one of the best receiving duos in CFB with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. This squad does have a tougher schedule this year, as they have to play Oregon in week two, Indiana, Penn State, and ´The Game´ against Michigan. They might have some competition in the Big-10, between Penn State, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Honestly, this team may fall back down to earth with the new faces, and unless the quarterback play is as good as it was last year with Fields, I don't see this team replicating their success.
#3 Clemson Tigers
One of the greatest teams in college football the past few years, the Clemson Tigers begin this year at number 3. Last season this team again made it to the Playoff, but fell to Ohio State. They rolled past the ACC once again, with the exception of the double-overtime loss to Notre Dame, who they do not play this season. Led by Dabo Swinney, the program lost the best quarterback in CFB,Trevor Lawrence, who led this team to a record of 34-2. They have another good quarterback to start this year in Sophomore DJ Uiagalelei, who showed his ability in a few games last year. They also lost Travis Eitenne and leading receiver Amari Rodgers, but the good news is WR Justyn Ross should be back this season which can provide a spark for this offense. This team has another easy schedule, since they don't currently play a ranked opponent besides for week one versus #5 Georgia. Clemson should be able to win that game, and even if they don't they are basically a lock to win the ACC Atlantic. This team can definitely handle the ACC, but with all their starters gone, can they still contend on a national level?
#2 Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma basically runs the Big-12, and it is really no surprise this team comes in at number 2. They have won the Big-12 the last 4 years, and they should win it again this year. The real quest they are on is the national championship, and I believe this is their year to do it. They are one of the most talented teams on both sides of the ball, and they have arguably the best quarterback in CFB, Spencer Rattler. Rattler is entering his second year as starter, and as a Heisman favorite, he should only go up from here. This team is again led by offensive genius, Lincoln Riley. The defense needs to just be a little stronger this year in order to succeed, though the offense will be good as always, as they return leading receiver Marvin Mims. Oklahoma only got better as the season went on last year, and they will continue getting better this year as the team gains more game experience. The defense should be able to keep up, and if the offense can operate the same as last year (averaged 43 points a game!) then this team will be very, very good. If Alabama doesn’t win the championship, this team will. I think it is warranted that this team is #2, and if the reigning champions were not number 1, then this team would be.
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Is this really surprising? Finishing off our first poll, is the reigning national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide. They are led by all-time legend, Nick Saban who is fresh off his 6th national championship with the team. The downside this year is the lost production. They lost starting quarterback Mac Jones, who was a Heisman finalist, RB Najee Harris, and Heisman winner Devonta Smith. They return one of the best receivers in the nation in John Metchie, Trey Sanders should be able to carry the workload as he is finally at full health. Finally, former 5 star recruit Bryce Young is scheduled to start for this team, although he has never started a College game, he had a little experience last year going 13-22 for 156 yards and a TD in various appearances. He has shown promise in camp, and if he can play at a high level this team might be unstoppable once again. They open up against Miami and have some other key games against Texas A&M, LSU, and Auburn. I expect this team to win the SEC and contend for a championship once again.
Well, that wraps up our 2021 preseason AP poll. A few teams I believe got left off this list are: Oklahoma State, Northwestern, Boston College, and Ole Miss. This season is truly going to be a wild one, so many great games, so many question marks, and so many great inter-conference battles. As a college football fan, I can barely contain my excitement for the upcoming season, and I just want to remind everyone: It is just around the corner.