News has been going around that the College Football Playoff will be expanding to 12 teams which I believe to be incredible for the sport. There is no secret that college football lacks parity and has made it harder for fans to enjoy the sport. In seven years, only 11 schools have made the playoffs. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma account for 20 of the 28 appearances. I wanted to project what a 12 team playoff for 2021 could potentially look like.
1: Oklahoma Sooners – The Sooners are expected to be the class of the Big 12 once again. Spencer Rattler is expected to contend for the Heisman Trophy while captaining one of the best offenses in the country. Running back Kennedy Brooks returns to Oklahoma to help the rushing attack. Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch has helped turn around the Sooners defense. If Grinch can help keep the current trajectory, the Sooners should have one of the best defenses in the Big 12.
2: Clemson Tigers – The Clemson offense will look much different this year without Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne but they should not take too much of a step back. D.J. Uiagalelei will take over the helm at quarterback after starting two games last fall. Justyn Ross returns to lead the wide receivers after an injury kept him out last fall. The Tigers also return all 11 starters on defense. An early test against Georgia will give us an early look at how Clemson will fare in 2021.
3: Georgia Bulldogs – Georgia’s quarterback situation was a mess last year. Between Jamie Newman possibly playing for the Bulldogs, then Stetson Bennett and Dwan Mathis failed to secure the position. Once healthy, J.T. Daniels looked better than anyone. Daniels will have a full off season and training camp entrenched as the starter to begin building a successful 2021 season. The biggest question is the receiving room. Pickens tore his ACL in March and speculation is he will be able to return at some point this season. Georgia has the talent to top Alabama this year, but can they finally get over the hump?
4: Ohio State Buckeyes – Another team that will be retooling their offense is Ohio State. Justin Fields led the the Buckeyes the last two season and there is currently a quarterback battle for who will take over. The winner should be in good position to have success with wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson providing insurance. The Ohio State secondary struggled for a large portion of last season and will need to improve to have a chance in the 12 team playoff or an upset would be looming.
5: Alabama Crimson Tide – The first team on the outside looking in would be Alabama. With their loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship, they would be pushed out of the top four. Remember, those spots are reserved for conference champions. Quarterback Bryce Young has limited playing experience and Alabama replaces numerous pieces on offense, but that has never stopped them before. They continue to be one of the most talented teams in the nation.
6: USC Trojans – I am probably one of the only people this high on USC this fall. I personally love what they are bringing back and the transfer they have brought in. They won all of their games in close fashion last season. I believe they will build upon their success in 2020 to have a strong season in 2021. Quarterback Kedon Slovis is the real deal and he has play makers around him. The big question is can USC avoid a slip up to inferior teams? The talent is there, but will they capitalize?
7: Iowa State Cyclones – Matt Campbell is proving year after year he is one of the best coaches in the country. Iowa State has never had sustained success in the history of their program. The Cyclones enter 2021 with high expectations after running back Breece Hall and quarterback Brock Purdy had strong seasons in 2020. An early season rivalry game against Iowa should give us a glimpse at what Iowa State will be capable of in 2021.
8: Texas A&M Aggies – The Aggies are coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory and are looking to keep the momentum going. Running back Isaiah Spiller will look to build off his 1,000 yard season in 2020. Quarterback Haynes King is the current front runner to take over for Kellen Mond. King has limited game experience but was the 5th ranked duel threat quarterback in the 2020 class. The Aggies have an early season road test against Colorado which could put Texas A&M on upset alert.
9: Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Notre Dame will rely heavily on the running game this year. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree will be the cowbell backs as Notre Dame will be breaking in a new quarterback this fall. Former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan will compete with Brendon Clark and Drew Pyne. The Fighting Irish are also expected to have a good defense once again. Notre Dame’s schedule features difficult games against Florida State, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and USC. If they can weather the schedule, Brian Kelly’s team should have no issue making a 12 team playoff.
10: Cincinnati Bearcats – Luke Fickell has done an amazing job with Cincinnati building the program into one of the best in the country. Cincinnati is 31-6 in the last three seasons. Desmond Ridder returns to quarterback the Bearcats after completing over 66% of his passes in 2020. The Bearcats will continue to play great defense and maximize on their opportunities on offense. Cincinnati will have early season tests against Indiana and Notre Dame. Even winning one of those games would be impressive.
11: North Carolina Tar Heels – Sam Howell could be the best quarterback in the country by the end of the season. North Carolina should have one of the best defenses in the ACC. They return their top three defensive backs in Tony Grimes, Kyler McMichael, and Duck Storm. The biggest question for North Carolina is who will breakout as the top playmaker? The Tar Heels lost their top two wide receivers and top two running backs to the NFL. Wide receivers Josh Downs and Khafre Brown are two of the early candidates to assist Howell this season.
12: Wisconsin Badgers – Last year was an odd season for Wisconsin. Graham Mertz burst onto the scene with a phenomenal debut against Illinois and then Covid happened. Then Wisconsin’s offense looked anemic against Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana. Mertz should be more consistent after establishing himself as the starter. Sophomore running back Jalen Berger should see an increase in workload after a strong freshman season. The Badgers should be expected to once again win the Big Ten West in 2021.
In the first round, we start with Alabama over Wisconsin. The Crimson Tide have too much talent and Wisconsin has lacked consistency. Next we have Notre Dame over Texas A&M. This is a very even match up but the difference maker is Notre Dame’s defense. Both will have good defenses but Notre Dame’s just a little bit more talented and consistent. Iowa State tops Cincinnati in the third game. Brock Purdy will be too much for the Bearcats to handle. Lastly we have USC over North Carolina. The Tar Heels are missing play makers on offense which will be the difference maker.
In our quarterfinals games we start with a rematch from the National Championship game. Ohio State and Alabama are two of the most talent teams in the country. They continue to recruit at the highest levels. Ohio State returns more key pieces on offense to give them the advantage. Next up is Notre Dame and Oklahoma. While Notre Dame has a great defense, their offense will not be able to keep up with Spencer Rattler and Co. The Iowa State and Georgia match up would be one of the more underrated games. Iowa State has the ability to knock off Georgia but the talent on Georgia will eventually help lead them to victory. Lastly we have USC and Clemson facing off. The Trojans upset the Tigers in this match up. Clemson has struggled to build an offensive line you would expect from a top team. USC has enough talent to match up well with Clemson.
Heading into the semifinals we have Oklahoma facing off against Ohio State. We saw Ohio State’s secondary struggle in 2020. While I expect them to improve, I do not think it will be enough to slow down Marvin Mims, Jadon Hasselwood and the rest of the Oklahoma receivers. The other semifinal matches up Georgia against USC. Georgia has a running back stable to keep their legs fresh this late in the season. Zamir White, Kendall Milton, and James Cook should all help the Bulldogs top USC.
The National Championship would place Oklahoma against Georgia. The biggest question going into this game would be Oklahoma’s defense. The Bulldog defense should be able to stop Oklahoma enough to make the game close but can Oklahoma stop the Georgia offense? I firmly believe they would not be able to stop Georgia enough times. The Bulldogs top the Sooners 42-38 in the National Championship game.