The 2021 college football season is approaching faster than Parris Campbell against the Michigan defense, and preseason award watch lists and polls are flying around like Malik Hooker in the backfield.
On Tuesday, we got our first official rankings of the season with the release of the coaches’ poll, which saw Alabama as the overwhelming No. 1 team followed by Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia to round out the top five. It is no surprise to see the Crimson Tide atop the list after winning the national title in 2020, but as we all know the coaches poll doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as the AP Top 25, with that preseason ranking set to drop on Monday.
While the top five teams in the AP preseason poll will likely look somewhat similar to what the 65 coaches across the country think the order should be, I don't think that order is correct by any means. AP Poll voters are notoriously not the greatest, and so I don't think they will get things entirely right, but what should the correct order be when the rankings come out in a few short days?
No. 5: Clemson Tigers
Coaches Poll: No. 3
Clemson loses its two biggest names on offense in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, but gets back wide receiver Justyn Ross who missed all of last season with a spinal issue. D.J. Uiagalelei takes over at quarterback for Lawrence, and we’ve seen glimpses of what the former five-star prospect is capable of after his 400-plus yard performance against Notre Dame in 2020. The Tigers’ defense is expected to be very good, returning 10 starters in 2021, but that very same defense gave up 49 points and over 600 yards of offense to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Clemson still has tons of talent and great coaching under Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables, but there are questions.
No. 4: Ohio State Buckeyes
Coaches Poll: No. 5
Speaking of questions, Ohio State has a few. The quarterback competition is ongoing, but whichever former five-star prospect wins the job will have the pleasure of throwing to the best wide receiver core in the country and will be held up by one of the strongest offensive line units in college football. The offense should have zero issues putting up points, but they will have to get better in the secondary than they were in 2020. The change to a 4-2-5 scheme should help, and an infusion of youth across the defense will make matters easier as well. The pass rush should be much better than a year ago — especially with the addition of a pair of five-star defensive ends — which will only help an inexperienced but talented group of defensive backs.
No. 3: Alabama Crimson Tide
Coaches Poll: No. 1
You want to talk about roster turnover? Alabama has lost its quarterback, its stud running back, top two wide receivers — including Heisman winner DeVonta Smith — three starting offensive linemen, and half its coaching staff. I know they won the national title last season, but I just can’t justify putting them at No. 1 to begin the new campaign with all of that production now gone. Former five-star Bryce Young will take over at QB, who is almost definitely better than Mac Jones, and they have a stable of blue-chip running backs. The Tide’s defense wasn’t spectacular last year, but they were solid and return a good amount of their big names. At the end of the day they’ve got Nick Saban at the helm, so they’ll be fine.
No. 2: Oklahoma Sooners
Coaches Poll: No. 2
Listen, I know that Oklahoma has earned a reputation for bodying Big 12 talent and then getting destroyed in the CFP, but I think this is the Sooners’ best team in quite some time. Spencer Rattler had his freshman struggles, but he is still one of the best young quarterbacks in the country. Running back Kennedy Brooks returns after opting out in 2020, and the wide receiver talent in Norman is always top notch. For all the flack their defense has gotten over the years, they have been getting progressively better, and they return seven starters from last year’s strong group. With a year under his belt, an improved Rattler surrounded by talent with even a just okay defense — which should be the floor for that unit — could make some noise in 2021.
No. 1: Georgia Bulldogs
Coaches Poll: No. 4
I know Georgia never seems to live up to the hype, but I don't get how they aren’t looked at as the top team in the country entering the season. The best roster in college football in the talent composite, JT Daniels really changed the Bulldogs’ offense at the end of last season and returns as the full-time starter at quarterback. James Cook and Zamir White are a tremendous tandem at running back, and the loss of George Pickens hurts the receiver core a ton but the introduction of Arik Gilbert from LSU should relieve at least some of that stress. The front seven of the Georgia defense is as good as you’ll find, and while there are some question marks in the secondary, they have a ton of incoming talent between transfers and underclassmen. This is a championship-level team if Kirby Smart can get out of his own way.