College Football News: National champion and surprise team picks

Week 1 of the season is here and Between the Hashes has you covered with all the latest NFL, NFL Draft, and college football news.

The latest episode of Pro Football Network’s Between the Hashes Podcast touches on Week 0 of college football news and beyond. PFN’s Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline and Draft Analyst Cam Mellor look at draft prospects in the Georgia-Clemson matchup, give some new insight into NC State prospects, and give their picks for national champion and surprise team in 2021.

Note: To watch this episode of Between the Hashes, tune in to the video player above. You can also watch on the PFN YouTube Channel or listen on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

College football news and notes

The college football world will be buzzing this week as the action returns across the country. With an amazing slate of games scheduled for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, just about any fan can find delight all weekend long. In action on Thursday night, however, are a couple of players on opposite ends of the 2022 NFL Draft spectrum.

The NC State Wolfpack take on the USF Bulls on Thursday at 7:30 PM ET. Fresh off a first-round grade from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu will take the field for the first time in 2021. Yet, as Tony Pauline put it, he has a lot to show this season.

“Ekwonu has a lot to prove this season. Some have him as a Day 1 prospect, some scouts I trust have him as a mid-round player, Rounds 3-5. I have him with a sixth-round grade right now. He has a lot to clean up and is a tackle who projects to guard in the NFL. He gave up 7 sacks in 2020 in just 12 games for NC State. He’s got a lot to prove.”

On the flip side, no one is really talking about NC State LB Payton Wilson. Seen by some as a projection, Wilson has all the tools to be a Day 2 player at worst, according to Pauline. Injuries have slowed his career to date, but Wilson is among the best in the country when healthy. Wilson should showcase that in Thursday night’s game.

College football national champion and surprise teams in 2021

The college football world will be back to a 12-game regular-season schedule across the country after last year’s COVID-19-marred season. That means we’ll get a four-team college football playoff leading to one team named national champions. The Between the Hashes co-hosts are split on who will be champion at year’s end, but neither chose defending champs Alabama.

The choices for CFB playoff victor and national champion in 2021:

  • Mellor: Georgia Bulldogs
  • Pauline: Oklahoma Sooners

Georgia plays Clemson this weekend while Oklahoma will now host Tulane after that game was moved back to Norman, Oklahoma, following Hurricane Ida hitting Louisiana.

And as far as a team who could surprise in 2021? They’re also split there:

  • Mellor: Iowa State Cyclones
  • Pauline: Oregon Ducks

Iowa State opens the season against the University of Northern Iowa, while Oregon hosts Fresno State.

College football’s “Game of the Week”

Taking center stage during a weekend of immense action will be the Georgia vs. Clemson matchup on Saturday night. In this contest, two of college football’s finest and most well-known teams will kick off the season with the eyes of the nation on them.

NFL Draft fans will be incredibly intrigued in this matchup — it will be the first glimpse of multiple players at or near the top of their respective position’s draft order. The Georgia defense will likely place several players in next year’s draft, while the Clemson offense has a highly-regarded skill player hopefully making his return to top form.

Some of the top prospects to watch in this matchup

Clemson

Georgia

All the action kicked off with a UAB victory over Jacksonville State on Wednesday night. The mayhem culminates when Louisville takes on Ole Miss on Labor Day evening.

Happy college football season!

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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