The Walk-On Redshirts staff is here to answer all of your questions pertaining to the 2021 college football season! We are only days away from the first college football game of the season. We are here to help you stay up to date and knowledgeable. If you have missed any of our previews, make sure to go back and read them as you still have time until the first game of the season.
Who is your best bet, at their current odds, to win the Heisman? – @Bearslb65
Justin: There haven’t been many surprises with Heisman voting lately. (D’Vontea Smith may be a surprise, but best-player-on-best-team is the formula.) With there appearing to be a clear Top 5 teams, you have to think the winner will come from that list. It will probably be one of Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Spencer Rattler or either JT Daniels or DJ Uiagalelei (depending on who wins the Georgia-Clemson game). The best bet to me is…whoever leads their team to an undefeated season.
I sense there will be some Stroud love elsewhere, so I’ll say Uiagalelei.
Jake: I will continue to ride the Bijan Robinson hype train. I believe Robinson will be the best running back in college football by the end of the season. As a true freshman he averaged over 8 yards per carry and totaled over 700 yards. Steve Sarkisian is going to lean heavily on Robinson since he still has not decided on a quarterback. Even when Sarkisian does pick a quarterback, they will have limited experience requiring Robinson to take on a larger role.
Cole: While you have to love the upside of guys like DJ Uiagelelei, Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, and Bijan Robinson, I think this year’s Heisman is Spencer Rattler’s to lose. Oklahoma has everything set up in front of them to have a storybook season and the cherry on top of that would be Rattler hoisting the stiff-arm trophy in New York. With weapons like Theo Wease, Jadon Haselwood, and Marvin Mims, the Sooners gunslinger should be able to easily put up video-game numbers and become the third Oklahoma QB in the last five years to be named the Heisman winner… let’s just hope the playoff experience goes a little smoother this time around.
Tyler: The last time a defensive player won the Heisman was in 1997 when Michigan’s Charles Woodson lifted the trophy. Following a year that was far from normal, perhaps it is time for a change. A true dark-horse candidate in 2021 on the defensive side of the ball is Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux was the #2 overall recruit in 2019, and has totaled 23.5 tackles-for-loss and 12 sacks in his two seasons with the Ducks. With Oregon’s current schedule, Thibodeaux looks to face off week 2 against another Heisman hopeful in C.J. Stroud of Ohio State. If Oregon makes the Pac-12 title game for a third straight year in 2021, Kayvon may face another Heisman foe in Kedon Slovis of USC or Jayden Daniels of Arizona State. Picked as a projected top 5 recruit in the upcoming NFL draft, expect Thibodeaux to shock & awe, bringing defensive players back to one of college football’s most sacred lists.
Aaron: Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence are two of the most efficient QB’s we’ve seen in our lifetime, and neither left college with the Heisman hardware. In recent years we’ve watched an out of nowhere Louisville QB, a former walk-on QB, a top ten MLB draft pick, a once underwhelming transfer QB, and a wide receiver all win the Heisman. So, while everyone is obviously betting on guys like Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell, you may have a better chance of picking by going down the board a bit. I’m gonna be a bit homer-ish with this and pull two: D’Eriq King from Miami (+2000) and Breece Hall from Iowa State (+4000). Miami’s success is almost entirely on King’s shoulders and legs and that’s important when it comes to Heisman discussion. He operated Rhett Lashlee’s offense with success last season, and an improved supporting cast with a good (but not overwhelming) schedule should improve his chances. For Hall, I picked Iowa State to win the Big 12, and if they do it’ll largely be on his legs. I expect the Cyclones to be a bit run heavy to set up the pass and limit potential mistakes from Brock Purdy, and coming off being one of the top running backs in college football, I think he takes another step forward this season.
Thoughts on Wisconsin #12 Preseason ranking? – @SlumNGravy
Justin: I don’t think they are the 12th best team personally, but they aren’t so far off that I’m offended by it. I don’t know how they have distinguished themselves from the Iowa/Indiana/Penn St. group that are ranked 16-17-18. However their September, with games at home against Penn St. and in Chicago against Notre Dame, sets them up to shoot up the rankings sooner rather than later.
Jake: I personally ranked Wisconsin 19th when I did my poll. I was shocked they were as high as they were. I do think Wisconsin has a high ceiling and potential to move up in the rankings, but they did not show me enough last year to rank them just outside of the top 10. The Badgers could also prove me wrong and beat Penn State opening weekend. I believe Graham Mertz could be the best quarterback in the Big Ten this year, but he struggled at times last fall.
Cole: Let’s see… it’s a year that ends with an odd number so that means it’s Wisconsin’s turn to play the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game (next year will be Northwestern again, you can go ahead and book it). Honestly, the Pandemic created more questions than answers when it comes to the Badgers. They started out 2-0, winning by an average score of 47-9. Then proceeded to lose the next three, never scoring more than 7 points in each game before winning their last two, including a 42-28 victory over Wake Forest for the Duke’s Mayo Bowl (RIP that beautiful trophy). The Badgers will be what they always are, a technically sound team that doesn’t beat themselves, so the ranking feels like a bank on Graham Mertz taking the next step, and I agree with it. If Mertz consistently struggles then the Badgers could see themselves in the 20 to 25 range. If Mertz does elevate his game and lives up to his lofty ranking, Wisconsin could find themselves in the Top 10.
Tyler: I may not place Wisconsin as high as #12, but I would argue its a fair assessment given their track record under current head coach Paul Chryst. With six full seasons under his belt, Chryst’s Badger team has exceeded expectation on numerous occasions. In part of three separate seasons, The Badgers have been placed inside the AP Poll Top 5 during the year, and have finished with a post-season ranking higher than their pre-season ranking. That being said, of the five Big Ten schools ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, the only other team from the Badger’s division is the Iowa Hawkeyes. If Wisconsin wins the division and makes their way to the conference title game, I believe they will face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Win or lose, the Badgers will most certainly be eyeing their second Rose Bowl trip in 3 years, a game they have not won in over two decades.
Aaron: Preseason rankings are stupid. That said, I’m very high on Graham Mertz, he has an experienced and talented receiving core returning, and I expect the running game to get back close to pre-2020 levels. Badgers always have a pesky defense as well. I’m fine with the #12 ranking.
Dark horse College Football Playoff team? Cannot include Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia or Oklahoma. – @LWOSDrew
Justin: My heart wants to say Cincinnati, but I don’t think they end the season undefeated, which is a prerequisite for any G5 team to get to the playoff. I’ll actually say Texas. They have a couple non-conference games (Louisiana, Arkansas) that could look good at the end of the season if they win them. The annual Red River Rivalry game against Oklahoma has a recent history of going either way, and their game against the other Big 12 big boy, Iowa St., is in Ames. You want to win road games that will impress the committee, and the Cyclones are not unbeatable.
*Cue Joe Tessitore exclaiming that Texas is BACK.*
Jake: I am high on USC this season and with the offensive fire power they have, I could see them running the table in the Pac-12. Kedon Slovis is returning at quarterback for his third season and should have plenty of weapons on the outside. Drake London should be one of the top receivers after having a productive short season in 2020. Keontay Ingram saw plenty of playing time at Texas and should step in nicely at running back for USC. I do have questions about their defense as they struggled at times last year. I also do not have the most faith in Clay Helton to avoid any potential upsets. USC has a sneaky tough game to start the year against San Jose State. They should enter October 4-0. A trip to South Bend to play Notre Dame could be the make or break game for the season.
Cole: Mack Brown returned to college football in 2019 and just keeps stacking up wins. His most recent was landing 5-star DL and top five player in the 2022 class, Travis Shaw. I believe he will add another big win (several to be more accurate) to his resume when we see North Carolina in the CFP. With a Heisman contender in Sam Howell behind center, a defense that is loaded with guys like Tony Grimes, Desmond Evans, and Myles Murphy, and a more than favorable schedule, I think this is the year that the stars align for the Tar Heels. The only hiccup before a potential matchup with Clemson in the ACC Championship game is the game against the Notre Dame Irish in South Bend on Halloween Weekend. Even if that treat becomes a trick (You can roll your eyes all you want, I’ll never stop), as long as the Tarheels win out, they will find themselves one win away from their first ACC Championship Trophy and College Football Playoff.
Tyler: The team that most intrigues me in this conversation is the Iowa State Cyclones, BUT, having to beat Oklahoma twice will be a near-impossible feat that keeps them from reaching that CFP pedestal this season. The team whom I feel is a quarterback away from the College Football Playoff is the Oregon Ducks. Mario Cristobal and company have taken the up-tempo high flying Ducks of the past, and molded them into a smash mouth team that emphasizes winning the battles in the trench. The Ducks offense will likely be led by sixth-year senior Anthony Brown, but the true freshman Ty Thompson will be looming large should Brown falter early on. The skills positions are young but loaded for Oregon, and their running back room is led by senior tandem CJ Verdell & Travis Dye. On defense, the Ducks took a major step back in the 2020 shortened season, but new DC Tim DeRuyter looks to rejuvenate a group with the likes of DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, and LBs Noah Sewell & Justin Flowe. Oregon’s toughest game comes Week 2 in Columbus against the Buckeyes, a game they could afford to lose and stay in the CFP talks. Win out, and the Ducks could be flying south in January.
Aaron: I picked Iowa State to win the Big 12 in my Six Pack Preview so that’s who I’m riding with here. Matt Campbell teams have had a problem with starting slow, but if they can get over that summer hangover with a CyHawk victory, it sets them up for a strong rest of the season. They return almost all key contributors to a team that came a late coaching blunder from potentially having a huge comeback victory against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game last season. I’ve been a believer in Iowa State for years now, and I refuse to get off that bandwagon at the height of their success.
Name 1 team that will exceed expectations and 1 that will fail to reach them. – @CFBHome
Justin: I don’t know exactly what the expectations are in Boston for the Boston College Eagles, but I think they separate themselves from the middle of the pack and are discussed in the same conversation as Miami and North Carolina as teams just below Clemson in the ACC pecking order. The offense, led by Phil Jurkovic, is every bit as potent as the aforementioned teams, and their schedule sets up real nice. I would not at all be surprised if they finish 9-3.
One team that will fail to reach expectations is Iowa St. They’ve never won more than 9 games in a season, they rarely beat Iowa, Oklahoma will not take them lightly this year, and as I mentioned above, I think Texas beats them. Matt Campbell is a great coach, but Brock Purdy kinda is what he is at this point. They’ll still be good, probably get 8, maybe even 9 wins. But people are talking about them as a Playoff team and I just don’t see it.
Jake: I am captain of the Boston College hype train so grab a ticket and come aboard. Jeff Hafley did a fantastic job in his first year as a head coach. He found his starting quarterback in Phil Jurkovec who is in line to have a breakout season. Jurkovec threw for 17 touchdowns with only 5 interceptions in 2020. Boston College travels to Clemson which is the only game I do not believe they will have a chance. Every remaining game, I believe Boston College has a real shot at winning. Overall, I think Boston College finishes 9-3.
One team that will fail to reach expectations this fall will be Notre Dame. The main reason I am picking the Fighting Irish is due to my lack of faith in Jack Coan. Marcus Freeman will have Notre Dame’s defense as one of the best in the country. Kyle Hamilton will be one of the best defenders in all of college football. They have a great tandem at running back, but they will need efficient quarterback play to win them big games. Notre Dame’s ceiling this season is 9-3 this year. Notre Dame plays North Carolina, USC, Stanford, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, and Florida State this year. I have a hard time picturing Notre Dame winning every one of those games.
Cole: I’m going to steal this one from a friend and guest on Episode 4 of 1st & Goal (Give it a listen); the team I believe will exceed expectations are the Iowa Hawkeyes. Their schedule starts off with Top 25 matchups with Indiana and Iowa State, but tapers off for the next three matchups. The Hawkeyes get Penn State at home and head to Madison, Wisconsin after a bye week, so the season is overall very favorable. If quarterback Sam Petras can continue to improve his accuracy, Iowa has enough weapons to be the team that comes out of the Big Ten West and get to a New Years Six Bowl game.
The team that I believe will fail to meet expectations knows exactly what they have at quarterback (Emory Jones) but it’s the skill positions around him that make me believe their preseason ranking is a tad optimistic. The Florida Gators and Dan Mullen have to figure out to replace 41% of their offensive production. With Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, and Trevon Grimes moving on to the NFL it’s up to guys like Justin Shorter and Jacob Copeland to pick up the slack; I think that is a bit much to ask this early. Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Gators finish with a 10-2 or 9-3 record but a return trip to the SEC Title game is not a foregone conclusion.
Tyler: The best way to exceed expectation is to have no expectations. This may be best suited for the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Pac-12 this season. The Sun Devils have been the face of scrutiny this off-season due to potential NCAA violations including illegal on-campus recruiting visits and holding off-campus workouts that went against COVID-19 protocols. Arizona State has not admitted fault to any of these violations, but their initial decision to place 3 coaching assistants on administrative leave was certainly not a good start. The Sun Devils arguably return the best dual-threat quarterback in the country in Jayden Daniels, while paired with running back Raachad White, produced the No. 1 rushing offense and No. 1 total offense in the Pac-12 over the 2020 shortened season. The toughest test for the Sun Devils will be matchups with USC & Washington back-to-back in November. I expect them to drown out the talk, and surprise the west coast this fall.
No team has been riding the hype train more than the Georgia Bulldogs. Quarterback J.T. Daniels and company will open their 2021 campaign against the Clemson Tigers in Week 1, surely a matchup the entire country will have their eyes on. The Bulldogs have been touted as a Top 4 playoff contender with the personnel to potentially beat Alabama this year in the SEC while the Tide look to their next generation of starters to step up. Georgia will play its three toughest conference matchups this season on the road, visiting Auburn on Oct. 9th, Florida on Oct. 30th, and Tennessee on Nov 13th. Should Georgia hope to join the College Football Playoff this season, the Dawgs can only afford to lose one game, a feat the team has failed to accomplish since 2001. That is where this hype train comes to a stop. I do not see Georgia beating Clemson, and I do not see them beating their SEC West foes should they make the conference title game. With another slip up along the way to a team like Auburn or Florida, the Bulldogs may be looking at another 3-loss season.
Aaron: I’m going completely off the board here. Everybody talks about Cincinnati being a Playoff contender or favorite to make a New Years Six bowl game, but here’s a team that will give them a run for their money: The Nevada Wolfpack! Boise State is still very good, but they may be unseated by Nevada as the favorites in the Mountain West for 2021. They have a QB in Carson Strong that has NFL evaluators salivating, they return all nine of their All-MWC players from last season, and a schedule that includes road trips to Cal, Kansas State, and Boise, all winnable matchups.
I debated between North Carolina and Texas here, but I feel UNC has the higher expectations so we’ll do them. Look, Sam Howell is a tremendous QB and Mack Brown has done a wonderful job after the hiring was universally laughed at when it was made. I just think its gonna be hard as hell to replace the talent and production from Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dazz Newsome, and Dyami Brown offensively. Brown has been about as good of a recruiter as you could envision for the North Carolina program, but UNC is still only in the 30% region as far as blue chip ratio goes, so there is still a ways to go in terms of building out depth within the program. Factor in the fact that they lost to a bad Florida State team last year, and while I still think they’re a good team this year, I don’t think Howell wins Heisman, I don’t think they’re a shoe-in to win the Coastal, and I don’t think they’re a true Playoff contender.