College Football Rankings: Preseason Top 25 for 2021

Only 25 teams can be recognized as the best in the league each fall. These are our preseason Top 25 College Football Rankings in 2021.

Preseason Top 25 College Football Rankings | 6-15

Which teams are looking to catapult into the Top 10? Which teams already in the Top 10 will climb the college football rankings?

15) Wisconsin Badgers

The floor is never the issue with Wisconsin teams. Rather, it’s their ceiling. In every season under head coach Paul Chryst, the Badgers have had a winning record. They’ve even broken the season-ending top 10 twice (2016 and 2017). Yet, Wisconsin teams seem to peak just below College Football Playoff relevance, with Ohio State being a notable roadblock.

In 2021, Chryst will look to change that, but it will be a tall task. Wisconsin isn’t quite as talented as other teams on our Top 25 College Football Rankings. Graham Mertz should experience a bounce-back year at quarterback, and the defense is fairly stout with a nice linebacker duo of Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal. Even so, the roster doesn’t have a great deal of established talent.

Nevertheless, that’s been the brand of Chryst throughout his Badgers career. While he doesn’t produce as many NFL players as Alabama and Clemson, his teams are well-coached, and they play old-school, fundamentally sound football. That’s why they’re a safe bet to start this high.

14) Miami Hurricanes

A man of Miami, Manny Diaz has found early success building the Hurricanes back up. Miami finished the 2020 season inside the Top 25 College Football Rankings, and now, they return as one of the more anticipated squads on the FBS stage.

Much of the Hurricanes’ talent resides on offense. The team has a formidable two-headed tandem at RB in Cam’Ron Harris and Donald Chaney Jr., while Mike Harley, Dee Wiggins, Charleston Rambo, and Will Mallory make up a strong receiving cast. All of this talent will be directed by veteran passer D’Eriq King, who has Zion Nelson protecting his blindside.

On defense, there will likely be a slight drop-off, especially after losing Jaelan Phillips, Gregory Rousseau, and Quincy Roche in the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, Nesta Jade Silvera, Bubba Bolden, and Tyrique Stevenson form a solid core. There’s more developmental talent as well.

13) Arizona State Sun Devils

There’s been some uncertainty regarding the Arizona State Sun Devils leading up to the 2021 season. At the moment, Herm Edwards’ squad is currently mired in a recruiting scandal. Nevertheless, the team has enough talent to be in the Top 25 College Football Rankings — and comfortably so. The question is whether they can stay focused with controversy on the doorstep.

The backfield is where most of Arizona State’s offensive talent lies. Jayden Daniels is one of the most productive signal-callers in the country, and he’ll benefit from a thunder-and-lightning RB combo that includes Chip Trayanum and Rachaad White. Those RBs should be able to find running room behind an experienced offensive line headlined by Kellen Diesch and Dohnovan West.

Similarly to the offense, the defense is bolstered by the presence of several chief playmakers. Jermayne Lole, Tyler Johnson, and Merlin Robertson make up the core of the front seven, while the cornerback duo of Jack Jones and Chase Lucas strengthens the secondary.

12) North Carolina Tar Heels

As long as Phil Longo and Sam Howell are still together in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels are going to be a factor. Howell is the engine that keeps North Carolina relevant, and there’s no shame in that. But even outside of Howell, UNC has some talent. They wouldn’t be the same without their QB, but the cupboard isn’t bare around him.

Howell will have to adjust after losing both of his running backs as well as Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome in the 2021 offseason. However, he does have transfer RB Ty Chandler coming in to help soften the blow. The receiver room is a bit of a projection, but Khafre Brown is a proven deep threat with upside, and Josh Downs has ample potential. Perhaps most notably — UNC returns all five starters on the offensive line — including Joshua Ezeudu, who garnered All-ACC recognition.

Over the past few years, defense has never been the strong suit for North Carolina. Having said this, they have some talent there as well. The defensive line will benefit from the duo of Desmond Evans and Tomon Fox, and aptly-named defensive back Storm Duck may make air travel difficult for opposing teams.

11) Indiana Hoosiers

2020 was a pretty bad year, but it did come with the resurrection of the Indiana Hoosiers football program. Before 2020, Indiana hadn’t ended the season on the list of Top 25 College Football Rankings since 1988. Now, they’re coming off a 6-2 season and are widely regarded as one of college football’s best teams in 2021.

All eyes are on QB Michael Penix Jr. as the Hoosiers’ signal-caller rebounds from a torn ACL. He’s on track to start in the team’s first game, and he’ll have plenty of help across the board. USC transfer Stephen Carr should be able to find some running room behind a line anchored by Matthew Bedford. Additionally, Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot headline the weapons in the passing game.

Indiana’s defense is equipped to find more success in 2021 as well. Micah McFadden is back as the team’s leader at linebacker. Meanwhile, in the secondary, Jaylin Williams and Tiawan Mullen bring back some needed playmaking ability.

10) USC Trojans

Kicking off our top 10 in our Top 25 College Football Rankings are the USC Trojans. The Trojans incurred a few big losses in the offseason, including Alijah Vera-Tucker, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Olaijah Griffin. The Trojans were busy working in the transfer portal to fill these holes, acquiring Keaontay Ingram, KD Nixon, and Memphis standout Tahj Washington on the offensive side of the ball.

On top of those acquisitions, USC also has 6’5″, 210-pound Drake London — a towering receiver with early-round potential. There’s a lot for quarterback Kedon Slovis to work with, and if he gets back to his 2019 form, this can be an explosive offense with conference-leading potential.

On defense, the Trojans aren’t as consistently well-built, but they have some stellar players. Drake Jackson is a physics-defying pass rusher with tremendous bend, burst, and dynamic potential. Kana’i Mauga is an experienced starter with solid size and tenacity. Chris Steele is an underrated, productive cornerback, and Isaiah Pola-Mao is a hulking playmaker with exciting versatility.

9) Cincinnati Bearcats

The class of the Group of Five, the Bearcats have an unreal amount of talent returning for Luke Fickell. As quarterback, Desmond Ridder naturally gets much of the attention, but the team around him is stacked. Alec Pierce, Michael Young Jr., and Josh Whyle bolster the offensive attack. The defense  looks just as fearsome as last year, if not more so.

In an era of football where pass rush and pass coverage prove most important, Cincinnati is well-equipped to make offenses uncomfortable. Their pass-rushing unit is occupied by Curtis Brooks, former top recruit Malik Vann, and potential first-round pick Myjai Sanders. Furthermore, the secondary boasts one of the deepest depth charts in college football, with Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant, Arquon Bush, Ja’Von Hicks, and Bryan Cook.

8) Iowa State Cyclones

The Iowa State Cyclones have developed into a mainstay on our Top 25 College Football Rankings. The bulk of the credit goes to Matt Campbell, but he’s put together a talented roster.

Iowa State has one of the top returning backfields in Brock Purdy and RB Breece Hall. Charlie Kolar provides a big body in the passing game, and the offensive line also returns some starting experience, led by first-team All-Big 12 selection Colin Newell.

The Cyclones are impressive on offense, but they might have just as much talent on defense. Will McDonald and Eyioma Uwazurike headline a strong defensive front, while Mike Rose returns as the defending Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Anthony Johnson and Greg Eisworth give the secondary some respectability, while Villanova transfer Jaquan Amos has the playmaking chops to add an extra dimension.

7) Oregon Ducks

The Ducks barely edge out the USC Trojans for the top spot in the Pac-12 in these Top 25 College Football Rankings. What’s even more impressive is that Oregon gets this spot mostly by virtue of their defense. CJ Verdell is an exciting offensive piece, and the team’s offensive line is fairly well-stocked. Nevertheless, Oregon’s defense — potentially the best in the FBS — is what earns them this spot.

It makes sense to start with the most important piece of Oregon’s defense — Kayvon Thibodeaux. The electric pass rusher has an elite combination of explosiveness and length, and he can use that to dominate tackles this fall. In addition to Thibodeaux, the Ducks have a star in the making at linebacker in Noah Sewell, a star in waiting in Justin Flowe, and a potential lockdown cornerback in Mykael Wright.

Oregon’s defense is the headliner, but the offense also has some potential. Anthony Brown, a former Boston College standout, has the rushing ability and the talent to be productive under center. He’s also been lauded as a leader in his time at Oregon. If he can find consistency, this team could go far.

6) Georgia Bulldogs

The Georgia Bulldogs are one of the most interesting teams in our Top 25 College Football Rankings. Some view them as the top challenger to Alabama in the SEC. Much of that excitement derives from the strong play of J.T. Daniels down the stretch in 2020. However, the Bulldogs have a solid roster outside of Daniels, and they should be able to go toe-to-toe with most of their opponents.

The Bulldogs have three starters returning on the offensive line and have a plethora of weapons within their offense. The most anticipated of those weapons is Arik Gilbert. Gilbert hasn’t reported yet, but even without him, Georgia has James Cook, Zamir White, Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson, and Darnell Washington once he returns from injury.

The Bulldogs should have an even easier time keeping opposing offenses from scoring. Jordan Davis, Adam Anderson, Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt, and Nolan Smith make up a fearsome front. And behind them, a reworked secondary that includes Derion Kendrick and Tykee Smith should only raise the unit’s ceiling.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and his voice and face on Pro Football Network Daily. Follow him on Twitter @ian_cummings_9.

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