The college football season is finally here, and it’s time to get ready for the kickoff. I’m going to give you my picks for who will make it to the playoffs, which players are worth watching this year, and what teams have a chance at winning the national championship.
The 2021-22 college football predictions is a preview of the upcoming season. It includes CFP picks, Heisman favorites and more.
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The first week has arrived. So let’s get right down to business.
What coaches are already feeling the heat? Which players do we believe will emerge as stars this season? Is it possible for an underdog to make the College Football Playoffs?
Our college football analysts break down their expectations for the season and the matchups they’re most looking forward to seeing:
Which coach is the most under pressure?
If USC gets off to a shaky start, Clay Helton may be in danger. Kirby Lee is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Clay Helton is the obvious option here, according to David Hale is a writer who lives in the United States. He’s been under criticism for years, and the fan base isn’t going to put up with it much longer, especially if USC has a difficult start despite high expectations. On a lesser scale, Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente is on the verge of losing his job, with major supporters looking for a change after the program’s worst season in decades in 2020. AD At the conclusion of the season, Whit Babcock gave a lukewarm support, and if the Hokies struggle early (they play North Carolina, West Virginia, and Notre Dame in the first five weeks), change may be forced.
Chip Low, Chris Low: Kelly’s triumphant return to the Pac-12 hasn’t come close to duplicating his success at Oregon, where coach went 33-3 versus Pac-12 opponents from 2009 to 2012 and led the Ducks to a BCS national title game attendance and Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl wins. He’s just 10-15 in Pac-12 play and has yet to produce a winning season in his fourth season at UCLA. The good news is that the majority of the Bruins’ starters from last season have returned, and they are now all Kelly’s guys. The home game versus LSU in the second week of the season is a wonderful chance to set the tone for the rest of the season. A fourth consecutive season without a bowl game, on the other hand, would put Kelly’s job at Westwood in jeopardy.
Scarborough, Alex (Scarborough): We’ll have to consider if Scott Frost was the appropriate guy to bring Nebraska back to prominence at some time. Yes, he was instrumental in the Huskers’ 1997 national championship, and for that, he will always be remembered in Lincoln. That was, however, more than two decades ago. Although he was a fantastic coach at UCF, the AAC is not the Big Ten, and Florida is not Nebraska. We’ve had three seasons with him as the head coach at his alma school, and the results haven’t been pretty: 12-20, three consecutive fifth-place division finishes, and no bowl appearances. To make things worse, the NCAA has launched an inquiry into whether Frost was aware of illegal usage of analysts and consultants, as well as off-campus workouts. While it may not be enough to get him fired on its own, it may be the last straw when coupled with another sub-.500 season.
VanHaaren, Tom: I’m Tom VanHaaren, and I’m I agree with Alex that it’s most likely Frost, but I’ll throw Jim Harbaugh into the mix as well. I don’t think of the person under the greatest pressure as being on the hot seat, but he’s under a lot of it after a 2-4 season, additional coaching changes, and uncertainty about his future when the season finished. Michigan’s players have spoken about a fresh sense of vigor and enthusiasm. At Big Ten media days, Harbaugh looked and sounded rejuvenated, but with games against Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State is a university in the state of Ohio is a university in the state of Ohio is a university in the state of Ohio is a university in the state of Ohio is a university in the state of Ohio on the schedule, the Wolverines will need to demonstrate early on that the talk is transferring to the field. If Michigan does not get out to a good start, questions about Harbaugh will be asked often.
Connelly, Bill: Bryan Harsin, how about you? It doesn’t take much at Auburn for things to become strange, and Harsin has had an especially strange offseason. To get people with SEC experience in the building, he made coordinator selections that would have made a lot more sense in 2013 than 2021 (Mike Bobo and Derek Mason, who haven’t had much success in their specialities in recent years). He didn’t make high vaccination rates a priority until recently, much less than new competitors Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, and he ended up testing positive for COVID-19 during fall camp. It is possible to overcome a bad first offseason, but it has been a difficult first offseason.
Ryan McGee (Ryan McGee) is a (Ryan): Connelly has my support. My high school friend, who flunked out halfway through freshman year, was the only person I know who had a worse first semester at Auburn.
Schlabach, Mark: Nick Rolovich of Washington State and Herm Edwards of Arizona State are likely to be included. Over the last 18 months, Rolovich has made some, um, unusual remarks, and his stance on COVID-19 vaccinations has left some people scratching their heads. Edwards’ squad has the potential to win the Pac-12 South, but I’m not sure they can just close their eyes and ignore the NCAA investigation that has hung over the school for a few months. Three assistants are on administrative leave, which is never a good sign as the season approaches.
Who do you think will be your breakthrough star?
As a true freshman, Bijan Robinson ran for 703 yards in nine games. Kirby Lee is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Hale: Does Alabama quarterback Bryce Young qualify as a breakthrough star if he already has over $1 million in endorsement money? Nonetheless, as Alabama’s next hotshot quarterback, Young will have the largest platform and the most pressure on his shoulders when he takes over for Mac Jones. All Young has to do now is play up to the five-star hype, assist Alabama in building on one of the best offensive seasons in college football history, and outdue fellow Southern California quarterbacks D.J. Uiagalelei and JT Daniels on route to a national title. It’s not a huge deal.
Low: Texas running back Bijan Robinson is far from unknown, having rushed for 703 yards in nine games as a true freshman last season. But don’t be shocked if he more than doubles his output in 2021. For starters, he’ll be healthy after fighting a back ailment to begin his rookie season, and once he got it going, he kept it going with 220 or more rushing/receiving yards in each of his final two games. Robinson, who stands 6 feet 214 pounds and weighs 214 pounds, is expected to produce even more explosive plays this season after leading the team with 14 plays of 20 yards or longer as a rookie. Robinson will be used in the same way that Alabama’s Najee Harris was used by first-year coach Steve Sarkisian.
Scarborough: Lane Kiffin, like his old USC colleague, understands how to make the most of a great running back. And he has precisely that at Ole Miss in Jerrion Ealy. Last season, Ealy scored scores on the ground, in the air, and on a kick return, making him perhaps the most versatile back in the nation. With go-to receiver Elijah Moore heading to the NFL, expect Kiffin to shift Ealy about and incorporate him more in the passing game. When you have a player of his caliber, you find a method to get the ball to him.
VanHaaren: Ohio State is bringing in a new quarterback and has top receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson back, so wide out Jaxon Smith-Njigba has a chance to put up huge numbers with defenders concentrating on those two. He signed in the 2020 class as a former top-100 receiver from Texas. Last season, he recorded 10 catches for 49 yards, but he could play a larger role in 2021. With three excellent wide receivers and tight end Jeremy Ruckert, new starting quarterback C.J. Stroud should be able to maintain the passing game a strength for the team this season, and Smith-Njigba could be a major target.
Wilson, Dave: Stroud, please. It’s difficult to pass on a quarterback receiving the keys to an offensively stacked system with Ryan Day calling the plays.
Connelly: Haynes King’s chances at Texas A&M this year intrigue me. He had a famous high school career and was a top-100 recruit, and in only 16 plays last fall, he had a touchdown throw, an interception, and a good run. In College Station, Kellen Mond set a very high, but not impossible, standard, so it’s not the worst job in the world to inherit, and if King is the genuine thing, so is A&M.
Adelson, Andrea: It has nothing to do with the last name of Miami receiver Charleston Rambo. Okay, it has something to do with his surname. Rambo, in all seriousness, has the ability to produce the kind of explosive big plays that Miami badly lacked last season. Rambo stunned everyone with his excellent performance in the spring game after transferring in after a poor last season with Oklahoma. Miami made it a goal this summer to strengthen their deep ball, and Rambo will be a big part of it. The Hurricanes haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Allen Hurns in 2013, and with D’Eriq King returning and more comfortable in Year 2 of the system, they have a good opportunity to do so.
Adam Rittenberg is a writer who lives in New York. (Adam Rittenberg): I’ve been a fan of Iowa running back Tyler Goodson for a long, and this season should be his breakout season for a Hawkeye team that values the run game. He’s had two seasons with fairly identical results, but he’ll be Iowa’s main runner behind a strong line headed by Rimington Trophy contender Tyler Linderbaum. Goodson has a career rushing average of more than five yards per carry and also serves as an excellent receiver out of the backfield for Iowa. Iowa is my choice to win the Big Ten West, and Goodson should have a breakout season as a junior.
What are you most looking forward to as a true freshman?
Agiye Hall may be Alabama’s next great wide receiver. Gary Cosby is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Clemson RB Hale Players have praised Will Shipley’s athletic abilities, as well as his maturity and leadership, throughout the preseason. Shipley was a top recruit who can play both running and passing and fills a need left by the loss of Travis Etienne. The Tigers are expected to start with a committee backfield, but don’t be shocked if Shipley soon takes over the majority of the plays because he’s just too talented to sit on the bench.
Low: If you’re going to see Alabama play this autumn, make sure you have plenty of Kool-Aid on hand, because Kool-Aid McKinstry (yes, that’s his name on Alabama’s official roster) is the Crimson Tide’s next great cornerback. McKinstry, a 6-1, 190-pound true freshman, has been electrifying since arriving on campus in the spring, and while it’s never easy for a true freshman to step in at cornerback and play every down, he has all of the tools (size, speed, and physicality) to be one of the Tide’s best defensive backs this season. He also has a lucrative NIL sponsorship contract with the Kool-Aid beverage company. “Oh, yeah!” exclaims the speaker.
Scarborough: Have you seen Agiye Hall play in Alabama’s spring game? Did you see the one-handed catches and acrobatics all around the field? He may not have a creative moniker (yet), but now that Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle are all gone, he seems to be the next great Alabama receiver.
Connelly: At USC, edge rusher Korey Foreman finds himself in an ideal position. Because the Trojans have experience in the front seven and have a recognized talent in Drake Jackson, coordinator Todd Orlando can put Foreman in the best possible position to succeed early on. He was the No. 3 recruit in the nation and possesses college-ready size (6-5, 265). He and Jackson have the potential to become one of the greatest pass-rushing tandems in the nation, and if the Trojans’ defense improves any more, they might easily be Pac-12 favorites.
McGee: It’s not just one guy in Columbus; there’s a slew of them, and they’re all on defense. They may have five true freshmen starting on D in the near future. In Ohio State’s spring game, defensive end Jack Sawyer was a one-kid show. I say child, but his name is Jack Sawyer and he’s 6-4, 240 pounds. He seemed to be 30 years old when he was born in Pickerington, in my opinion.
Who will be a game-changer right away?
McKenzie Milton went to Florida State after transferring from UCF. USA TODAY Sports’ Melina Myers
Low: After leading Tennessee with 10 tackles for loss a year ago, Henry To’o To’o made an immediate impact at Alabama. To’o To’o was not only one of Alabama’s most effective players in preseason at inside linebacker, but he also impressed with how fast he took up the Crimson Tide’s defensive system. Alabama’s coaching staff admires his leadership and work ethic, and they expect him to be a key member of one of Nick Saban’s finest defenses in recent years. To’o To’o, in particular, should assist the Tide in generating more negative defensive plays in 2021.
Wilson: Eric Gray will be a crucial component for Oklahoma as running back, a position where the Sooners are thin. In two seasons at Tennessee, the 5-9, 206-pound transfer averaged 5.1 yards per carry while running for 1,311 yards in 22 games. He also caught 43 passes and will have the chance to demonstrate his versatility in the OU system.
VanHaaren: The acquisition of defensive end Arnold Ebiketie to Penn State’s lineup was critical. Odafe Oweh and Shaka Toney left for the NFL, while defensive end Adisa Isaac may miss the whole season due to injuries. Last season for Temple, Ebiketie recorded 42 total tackles, four sacks, and three forced fumbles. He’ll be in high demand this season due to the loss of productivity and depth at the position.
Defensive tackle Connelly Next to Ebiketie, Derrick Tangelo may be a key disruptor for Penn State, but we’ll settle with Mike Jones Jr. at LSU. He seemed to be Isaiah Simmons’s heir apparent at Clemson in 2020, and he performed well (four TFLs, two interceptions), but he may be a focal point for an LSU defense that returns a lot of experience but must replace Jabril Cox. He’s grown into a full linebacker (234 pounds) rather than a nickel linebacker, but he’s still very flexible, and LSU would benefit from using him in a variety of ways.
Is there a greater tale in college football than McKenzie Milton’s? McGee: Is there a better story in college football than McKenzie Milton’s? That issue will be moot if the former UCF standout can get FSU back on track.
Adelson: Milton is without a doubt the guy who everyone wants to see play again. On the other hand, I’ll offer you a player from the opposite side of the ball: defensive end Jermaine Johnson II, who joined the team from Georgia. Aside from his enormous height (6-5, 260 pounds), Florida State has been bullied up front in recent seasons, which is atypical of a school that has produced so many outstanding defensive lineman. Johnson has been a standout since the spring, and his ability to rush the passer will be critical in setting the tone for the defense.
I’m going with Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer, who started 39 games for Baylor over the last three seasons. Brewer battled with concussions and retired after a difficult season in 2020, but he still racked up remarkable career throwing yardage (6,700) and touchdowns (6). (65). Utah’s defense is capable of challenging for the Pac-12 championship; the trick is to get more out of the offense and passing game. Brewer had a strong offseason and may be the missing link in Salt Lake’s puzzle.
Schlabach: How about the Notre Dame quarterback, who used to be the most attractive position in the sport? At Wisconsin, Jack Coan got Wally Pipp’d, leading the Badgers to a 10-4 record and visits to the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl in 2019. He sustained a foot injury during preseason camp last season, and Graham Mertz stepped in and took over. In high school, Coan transferred to Notre Dame, which had given him a lacrosse scholarship. Brian Kelly, the Irish coach, has been searching for a passer who can move the ball down the field, and he may have found one in Coan.
What game are you most looking forward to?
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart talks about his team’s next game against Clemson and quarterback JT Daniels’ progress.
Georgia-Clemson, according to Hale. It’s not only that it’s the season opener between two top-five clubs. That alone would make it the year’s most important regular-season game, but there’s so much more to enjoy. Uiagalelei vs. Daniels is a duel between two Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback. It’s a long-standing rivalry between two institutions that are just an hour away and fight for the same recruits. The SEC and ACC are locked in a preseason fight, with both conferences trying to build a postseason storyline that they can sell throughout the season. While it’s doubtful that the loser will be officially eliminated from postseason contention, it will definitely increase the significance of every game the club plays the rest of the way.
Low: We all remember Jimbo Fisher’s remarks at a Houston Touchdown Club speaking engagement last summer (and I’m sure Nick Saban remembers, too), when Fisher was asked what it would take to win Alabama other than Saban’s retirement. In Fisher’s defense, how was he expected to respond to that question in front of a crowd of Aggies? “Let’s just hope he retires soon, shall we?” Of course not, so a beaming Fisher promised the adoring Aggies that Texas A&M will “kick his ass when he gets there.” When Alabama visits Texas A&M on Oct. 9 in a possible top-5 matchup, Fisher will get another shot at his former employer. In College Station, this might be Fisher’s most complete squad ever, and a victory against Alabama would be historic. Saban is 23-0 versus his previous coaches, with just two teams coming within 13 points of Alabama in those 23 games.
Scarborough: The game between Oregon and Ohio State in Week 2 is going to be a blast. In one of the best college football environments in the Horseshoe, you get two possible playoff teams and two new quarterbacks (Anthony Brown Jr. and Stroud).
McGee: I’m really looking forward to the resumption of major interconference matchups. Because we didn’t have the big throwdowns and rivalry games last season, Labor Day and Thanksgiving seemed like the most epidemic weekends of them all. But I’m looking forward to Oct. 2, when Texas visits TCU and Oklahoma visits Kansas State. Both teams will be playing their first Big 12 road games since defections, and the atmospheres should be only somewhat less poisonous than Wrestlemania.
Wilson: McGee, on the other hand, has A&M-Bama at College Station and Texas-OU at the State Fair of Texas the following weekend (Oct. 9). In one state, two major SEC games take place on the same day. It’s only a matter of getting some practice in early. That’ll take some time to adjust to.
Liberty, according to Rittenberg – Ole Miss is a college in Mississippi. I can’t believe I’m the only one who thinks this way. What’s the matter with you? Hugh Freeze will meet Lane Kiffin in Oxford. What more could you possibly require?!?!
Who do you think will win the Heisman Trophy?
Spencer Rattler has a chance to become the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in the last five years. File: AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter
Spencer Rattler has a chance to become the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in the last five years. File: AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter
Low: Nine of the previous 12 Heisman winners led their teams to a national title, appearance in the national championship game, or participation in the College Football Playoff the year they won it. To put it another way, a guy who puts up huge statistics while playing on a team that wins eight or nine games isn’t going to win the Heisman Trophy. This isn’t the case in today’s world. I’m going with Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, who is surrounded by great talent in a school that is a perennial College Football Playoff contender. In his second season as a starter in Lincoln Riley’s system, Rattler is expected to put up even greater statistics. If Rattler does win the bronze statue, maybe it could be renamed the “Soonerman” Award. He would be the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in the last five years.
Scarborough: Have you looked at the Oklahoma schedule? It has a Charmin-like softness to it. Have you seen their running back and wide receiver talent? Rattler has a plethora of talented pass-catchers to choose from. Last season, Rattler finished on a high note by thrashing Florida in the Cotton Bowl, and I anticipate him to continue that momentum into this season, putting up monster statistics, and winning the Heisman Trophy.
Wilson: In his office, Lincoln Riley has two Heisman Trophy winners (along with an impressive collection of Air Jordans). Remember when everyone on Twitter shouted, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait “Baker and Kyler, on the other hand, were transfers. Let’s see if he can create his own character.” Rattler, on the other hand, is that man.
Connelly: I’m excited to see what Rattler comes up with this year with all of his new toys, but I’m not going to overthink it. When it comes to the Heisman race, “starting quarterback with a prolific offense on the No. 1 team” is a fairly solid place to start, so let’s go with Young.
Adelson: Last season demonstrated that the Heisman Trophy does not necessarily have to go to a quarterback. As a result, I’m going to go with Iowa State running back Breece Hall, who has the potential to rush for 2,000 yards on a top-10 team this season.
Schlabach: Robinson, just so Tom Herman, the former Longhorns coach, can seem even more ridiculous for wasting his potential a year ago.
Who will be a part of the College Football Playoff?
Picks for the playoffs
|Writer||Champion||Team 1||Team 2||Team 3|
|Andrea Adelson||Alabama||Ohio State||Clemson||Texas A&M|
|Chris Low||Alabama||Ohio State||Oklahoma||Clemson|
|Ryan McGee||Alabama||Ohio State||Clemson||Oklahoma|
|Tom VanHaaren||Oklahoma||Alabama||Ohio State||Clemson|
|Dave Wilson||Oklahoma||Alabama||Clemson||Ohio State|
College football season is just around the corner, and we’re here to help you get ready. The college football picks 2020 will tell you everything you need to know about this year’s college football season.
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