Preseason Power Rankings
Published on Monday, 8/16/21, at 2:22 p.m. Eastern.
*Note: My Power Rankings are based on who I would make favored over whom on a neutral field if I was the book.
1-Alabama: Nick Saban’s well-oiled machine shouldn’t skip a beat if QB Bryce Young can live up to his five-star billing. The Crimson Tide have daunting road assignments at Florida, at Texas A&M and at Auburn.
2-Clemson: Other than its opener vs. Georgia in Charlotte, Dabo Swinney’s team might be favored by more than 17 points in the rest of its games.
3-Oklahoma: The Sooners ended the 2020 campaign on an eight-game winning streak, hooking up its backers at a 7-1 against-the-spread clip.
4-Iowa St.: IF the Cyclones have a weakness, it’s probably their defensive line. Seven offensive players who garnered first or second-team All-Big-12 honors last season return.
5-Ohio St.: The defense lost seven of its top-nine leading tacklers from a unit that gave up 25.8 points per game. That was the worst scoring ‘D’ for the Buckeyes in a decade. Both specialists in the kicking game have to be replaced and there’s zero experience at the QB position.
6-LSU: This is based on Max Johnson staying healthy for 12 games. I had the Tigers at No. 5 until Myles Brennan sustained an arm injury that required surgery. Presuming Johnson stays healthy, I believe LSU is poised for a big bounce-back season after everything went wrong in its first eight games last year.
7-Texas A&M: If Haynes King or one of the other QBs takes over for Kellen Mond and lights it up, the Aggies will likely spend most of the season in the top five. But until a QB emerges and produces, that position is a question mark. Texas A&M only plays three true road games, but November trips to Oxford and Baton Rouge will be difficult.
8-Georgia: I’m not drinking the JT Daniels’ Kool-Aid like most prognosticators have been inhaling since his four-game stretch as a starting QB last season. Daniels put up outstanding numbers… vs. Mississippi St. (31-24 win as a 25-point home favorite), at South Carolina (after Will Muschamp had been fired and after the Gamecocks’ two best players — DBs Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, who intercepted Jacob Fromm three times at UGA in 2019 — had opted out), at Missouri (when the Tigers were short on players due to positive COVID-19 tests) and vs. Cincinnati (24-21 Peach Bowl win). Thirty lettermen have departed, six defensive starters are gone, star WR George Pickens tore his ACL during spring practice, highly-touted transfer TE Arik Gilbert has already left the team for personal reasons and WR Dominick Blaylock hasn’t been cleared to return yet. Nevertheless, I still have UGA as a top-10 team, but there are plenty of concerns for this squad that most are seemingly overlooking (considering its top-five standing in every other preseason poll I’ve seen).
9-Florida: I’ve been saying it for seven months now — Emory Jones has patiently awaited his turn and the dude is ready to thrive in Dan Mullen’s offense. Sure, it’ll be a much different unit than the explosive one that featured first-round picks Kyle Pitts (No. 4 to my Falcons) and Kadarius Toney (No. 20 to the Giants) catching passes from Kyle Trask (second round to the Bucs), but the Gators are still going to score a lot of TDs. They’re five deep in the backfield with a pair of five-star transfers (Demarkus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard) jockeying for playing time with veterans Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Na’Quan Wright. WRs Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter are poised for breakout seasons.
10-North Carolina: Sam Howell might be the nation’s premier QB. He has an elite offensive line in front of him that returns all five starters, but Howell lost his two favorite WRs and a pair of explosive RBs. Fortunately for UNC, it added ex-Tennessee RB Ty Chandler out of the transfer portal. Eighteen of 24 starters are back from a team that finished 8-4 SU and 6-6 ATS.
11:Oregon: The roster is loaded with talent, but the QB position is the biggest question mark.
12:Utah: Watch out for this team if Baylor transfer QB Charlie Brewer has a huge season. The Utes have studs galore in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
13: Indiana: Hoosiers finished 6-2 SU and 8-0 ATS last year. They’ve added eight transfers from Power-Five programs, including former five-star RB Stephen Carr from USC.
14: Notre Dame: Former Wisconsin QB Jack Coan takes over for Ian Book. Six opponents have an open date before facing the Fighting Irish.
15: Cincinnati: Luke Fickell has built an East-Coast version of Boise St.
16: Penn St.: Nittany Lions finished last season on a four-game winning streak after a disastrous 0-5 start.
17: Miami: D’Eriq King has been shining in practice despite suffering a torn ACL last December.
18: Wisconsin: Two position groups — the defensive line and the WRs — are serious concerns, but the Badgers are set everywhere else.
19: Louisiana: The Ragin’ Cajuns are really good. Sark better have the Longhorns ready in Week 1.
20: Arizona St.: There’s drama in the building and ASU fired two more assistants last week. But Jayden Daniels is still around and ASU will be a tough Saturday at the office for any Pac-12 foe.
21: Ole Miss: I’m not sure the defense is going to be much better considering the losses of DE Ryder Anderson and leading tackler Jacquez Jones. Nevertheless, Lane Kiffin’s team is going to outscore most of its opponents.
22: USC: Utah gets two weeks to prepare for the Trojans, who will be playing their sixth game in six weeks when they host the Utes.
23: Washington: The secondary and offensive line are the Huskies’ biggest strengths.
24: Iowa: Hawkeyes ripped off six straight wins after losing their first two games by five combined points. They need improved QB play out of Spencer Petras.
25: Mississippi St.: Bulldogs will be one of the nation’s most improved teams and they have the most underrated defensive coordinator in the country (Zach Arnett).
26: Liberty: The Flames have a good chance of being 9-0 when Hugh Freeze brings them to Oxford on Nov. 6.
27: TCU: With four home games and a trip to Lubbock to start the year, the Horned Frogs could be undefeated when they visit Norman on Oct. 9.
28: Coastal Carolina: A Wednesday game in Boone, N.C., will determine who faces Louisiana in the SBC Championship Game.
29: Auburn: A brutal schedule includes games at Penn St., at LSU and at Texas A&M. UGA, ‘Bama, Ole Miss and MSU come to The Plains.
30: Boston College: Phil Jurkovec and Zay Flowers are poised for monster seasons. Remember this name: Trae Barry.
Best of the Rest: Texas, NC St., Appalachian St., Kentucky, UCF, West Virginia, Oklahoma St. & Nevada.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
—Check out my in-depth preview of the Gators over at MajorWager.
–Florida cornerback Jaydon Hill, who started seven games last season and contributed 14 tackles and a team-best seven passes broken up, is out for the season with a torn ACL. Fortunately for UF, it added a late transfer from Texas A&M just last week in Elijah Blades.
—I like LSU in Week 1 at UCLA. The Tigers have been adjusted from -4.5 to -3.5 at quite a few spots.
–Like I noted above, Steve Sarkisian better have his new squad ready for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who are poised to cash tickets as generous underdogs in Austin on Sept. 4.
–ICYMI over the weekend: Who could have seen more drama coming for Arik Gilbert?
–Joey Gatewood is back in the transfer portal after Kentucky announced that Will Levis, a transfer from Penn St., will be its starting QB in the Sept. 4 opener vs. Terry Bowden’s ULM Warhawks.
–Where is R-Rod these days? Well of course, he’s Terry’s OC in Monroe, LA., which is a long way from both Ann Arbor and Morgantown in more ways than one. I’m still bitter he didn’t take the ‘Bama job.