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With college football hitting the spring practice phase of the offseason, we are in the middle of getting the way-too-early preseason top 25 polls from various media outlets. Look, it’s tough to make predictions about the fall in the middle of March, but it’s also fun.
These rankings will more than likely change as we continue to work our way through the offseason. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy the debate. Next up will be top 25 rankings following the conclusion of spring practice.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama finds itself at the top of my rankings out of respect. They’ll be one of the best four teams in the country, and could even win another national title. But there are way too many losses, both players and coaches, on offense to automatically assume they’re the best team.
Like always, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will get a chance to prove they’re worthy of this spot. In the past, it’s worked out for them more times than not. It will still be one of the most talented teams, from top to bottom, in the nation.
2. Clemson Tigers
Clemson finds itself in a similar situation as Alabama. Normally, losing the No. 1 overall pick at quarterback, as well as one of the top running backs in the country, would mean regression. Add in the losses of Jackson Carman and Amari Rodgers, and I came close to moving them down the list.
I couldn’t do it though. We saw enough of D.J. Uiagalelei to know the Tigers will still have a top signal caller. Plus, there’s hope that star Justyn Ross can return from a serious neck injury. The defense should be improved after getting a lot of young guys action in 2020.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
There’s an argument to be made for Georgia as the national title favorite. Kirby Smart’s staff has recruited well, and it’s all starting to come together with the emergence of JT Daniels at quarterback. The offense is loaded with weapons, and the offensive line is loaded with talent.
It’s going to hurt losing their best pass rusher Azeez Ojulari and a majority of the starters in the secondary, but the expected growth on offense — on top of the players expected to step up — give me confidence that they’ll be a complete team and a top contender.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
If I were confident in Oklahoma’s offensive line, I might rank them higher than this — even with the annual defensive struggles. Adding two transfer blockers, Wanya Morris (Tennessee) and Robert Congel (Arizona), will help alleviate some of those concerns however.
Last season, Spencer Rattler didn’t have the same caliber of weapons as his predecessors had, but he will in 2021. Running back Eric Gray is transferring in with a couple teammates from Knoxville. Plus, there’s the return of Kennedy Brooks and Jadon Haselwood, as well as the additions of Mario Williams and several other high-profile wide receiver recruits.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
Like Alabama and Clemson, Ohio State is losing several key contributors on offense. They’ll feel the impact of the departures of Justin Fields, Trey Sermon and Wyatt Davis. But like Alabama and Clemson, they’ve recruited well and are in position to reload and not rebuild.
There will be a lot riding on former five-star quarterback C.J. Stroud, but he’ll have the best 1-2 punch at wide receiver in the country, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Plus, there’s Master Teague in the fold at running back. Ryan Day’s group will be fine.
6. Iowa State Cyclones
It’s the same four or five teams rounding out the top 4 or 5 spots at the start every season, and this year is no different. However, once we get beyond that, things begin to get interesting. The conversation normally includes those teams who finished strong and are returning the most talent.
Iowa State fits that bill for this upcoming season. They almost won the Big 12 and finished with a top 10 team in 2020. Now they’re returning quarterback Brock Purdy, feature running back Breece Hall and two top pass-catchers Xavier Hutchinson and Charlie Kolar.
7. Texas A&M Aggies
I might be in the minority, but I think losing quarterback Kellen Mond actually helps Texas A&M. When he was playing well, the team was excellent. But he was way too inconsistent to be reliable when it mattered.
Whether I end up being right will largely depend on who replaces Mond, which we still aren’t entirely sure on. What we do know is there are playmakers returning on both sides of the football, and recruiting success continues to add depth and talent.
It might be time to start trusting Jimbo Fisher again.
8. Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati is losing its top rusher Gerrid Doaks, but there’s enough at the skill positions to expect another strong season. There won’t be much competition in the AAC anyways, and Desmond Ridder is one of the top quarterbacks returning in college football.
Alabama transfer Jerome Ford is also back after rushing for almost 500 yards and eight scores in 2020. My main concerns are at left tackle, since they lose the underrated James Hudson, and the other side of the football. The defense was a strength this past season, but a few key defenders will need to be replaced for a repeat performance.
9. USC Trojans
USC finished with a top 10 recruiting class in February a year after ranking outside the top 60. As much as I like some of the returning pieces, I wonder if that gap in accumulated talent hurts the Trojans. Maybe, maybe not, but I’m predicting a top 10 squad here.
Kedon Slovis has a bright future in the NFL, and despite losing Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns over the last two drafts, the Trojans are still loaded with potential at wide receiver.
I could see this team being 6-0 rolling into South Bend against Notre Dame on Oct. 9. If that’s the case, I’m guessing anyone leaving USC out of their top 10 will have changed their minds by then. This is easily my biggest leap of faith on this list, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
10. Indiana Hoosiers
A lot of this top 10 ranking could depend on the return of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. from a torn ACL that ended his 2020 season prematurely. The rest of the roster is in great shape, including an impressive defense that returns almost all of its production.
In some ways, I think Indiana slightly overachieved last season, but I also can’t justifiably leave them out of the top 10 because they return so much. At the very least, they’re a solid top 25 team. That will be another major accomplishment for Tom Allen.
Just missed: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Wisconsin Badgers, North Carolina Tar Heels, Texas Longhorns
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.