Preseason College Football Rankings 2021: Predictions for Initial AP NCAA Top 25

Keegan PopeContributor IIIAugust 16, 2021

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney yells during the first half of the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game against Ohio State Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

As college football enters the final two-week homestretch before the regular season kicks off, things look a little different than they did a year ago at this time. 

When last year's Associated Press Top 25 poll dropped on August 24, the Pac-12 and Big Ten had they would be postponing their football seasons until the end of the calendar year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the recency of the leagues' decisions at that point, all conferences were included in the ranking before Pac-12 and Big Ten schools were dropped the following week. 

This year, no such disclaimers should be needed. 

The AP Poll and Coaches Poll both had the same preseason Top Four rankings last year—Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia—and they both had Notre Dame No. 10 and Texas A&M at No. 13. The latter two finished Nos. 4 and 5 in the final College Football Playoff poll last year, while Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State finished 1-3. This year's coaches' poll, which was released last week, featured the Crimson Tide at No. 1, with Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia rounding out the top five. 


Predicted AP Top 25

1. Alabama 

2. Clemson 

3. Oklahoma 

4. Ohio State

5. Georgia 

6. Notre Dame

7. Texas A&M

8. Cincinnati

9. North Carolina

10. Iowa State 

11. Florida

12. Oregon

13. Miami (Fla.)

14. USC

15. Wisconsin

16. LSU

17. Indiana

18. Iowa

19. Washington

20. Texas

21. Penn State 

22. Oklahoma State

23. Ole Miss

24. Coastal Carolina

25. Liberty

Alabama, Clemson will top poll 

It's never smart to bet against the Crimson Tide, and even though Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, it's almost certain to be the preseason No. 1. Sophomore Bryce Young has only attempted 22 passes in college, all as Mac Jones' backup last season. He was the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2020 class and is considered a potential Heisman candidate if he lives up to the reputation Jones and Tua Tagovailoa built. 

Alabama returns eight starters on defense but just three on offense. That's what tends to happen when you have one of the greatest offensive units in college football history, and if anyone has the depth and talent to replace that production, it's the Tide. 

Clemson will be start a new starting quarterback after Trevor Lawrence went first overall in the 2021 NFL draft, and like Alabama, the Tigers have a star quarterback from the 2020 class to replace him.

D.J. Uiagalelei, who threw 117 passes last season in relief of Lawrence, gets five other offensive starters back, and the defense returns all 11 starters from a unit that was among the best in the country last year. 

Neither Clemson nor Alabama returns quite the depth it normally does, but considering at least one of the two has played in every national championship game since 2016, who is going to count them out?


Michigan on the outside

One of the most storied programs in college football history could find itself outside the preseason poll for the first time since 2015. No, not Texas, which last missed the Top 25 that year. The Longhorns, whether deserving or not, will likely find themselves in the poll yet again.

But Michigan, which finished just 2-4 last season, will not. Jim Harbaugh's program has been on a downward trend recently, and returning just three of 11 starters on offense doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that's going to change this season. The Wolverines will have nine back on defense, but they'll also be starting a new running back and are in the middle of a three-way quarterback competition. 

The good news is that Michigan's non-conference schedule isn't particularly daunting, though it is expected to face four Top 25 teams in the Big Ten this season.