Last season saw perhaps one of the strongest years in recent memory for midmajor, independents, and small conference teams. There was a lot of quality football being played in the country last year, but by and large it wasn’t happening in the Bigs; it was happening in places like Conway, SC and San Jose, CA and Lafayette, LA and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dear reader, that was not an aberration. This season to looks to be much the same, though a lot of quality G5 teams from last season (Georgia State and Boise State, for instance) look to actually be even better in 2021. This comes as so many of the Power 5 contenders have been decimated by graduation and the NFL, and with their second-tier P5 brethren still needing to prove it on the field (teams in this category include Ole Miss, Minnesota, TCU, even Rutgers, among others).
If the grotesqueness of NIL deals, opt-outs, megaconferences, The Alliance (tm), ESPN-SEC collusion, and 12-team playoff chatter get too much for you (and I fear they are have damn-near destroyed my interest in major division CFB), then keep an eye on games in the Sun Belt, Mountain West, AAC, MAC and CUSA — the talent may not be there, but among the elites it’s hard to argue that the coaching, execution, and quality are not. And, folks, enjoy those G5 and indie coaches now — hosses like Chadwell, Candle, Freeze, and Napier simply won’t be cutting their teeth in CFB’s remote outposts much longer. But for now, they’re manning the final holdouts of what college football has been for almost 150 years and what it was meant to be: college students, playing a game on college campuses, for the benefit of other college students, alumni, and fans in their local communities: State U, not State U, Inc.
I devoutly hope we never lose that vibe either. Because in the major conferences at least, the past decade has destroyed what we knew as major college football, even as its largest stakeholders have become obscenely wealthy, and yearn for more and more cash. And with that skin-deep prosperity, we have murdered a lot of the joy and anticipation that came with those perfect fall Saturday afternoons.
On to our preseason Blog Poll. Usual caveats apply — the criteria are nebulous, far-ranging, and capricious: strength of schedule, bad and good coaching, injuries, exigent circumstances, returning rosters, home/away results, defense or lack thereof, offense or lack thereof, line play, power poll-ishness, can you cover a spread (Vegas is pretty smart about how good a team is), head-to-head where possible or prudent, and my own lying eyeballs. Potential, returning production, talent, depth and proven coaches are especially important in early polls.
2021 Blog Poll Week 1
|17||San Jose State|
|CONSIDERED||Buffalo, Florida, BYU, ND, WMU|
|SMU, Memphis, UCF, UAB, App. State|
|Boise, Indiana, Texas, Army|
A few observations:
- Man, they’re doing it again. They’re trying to sell us on teams in the ACC, when as usual, it looks like a structurally-weak conference of predictive mediocrity and “recursive derpiness”. Read that link, then look back to the past decade. Now, look at this season. Who will be The Chosen One? I think it’ll wind up being UNC, though I love Clemson’s QB. DJ Uiagalelei was a better QB, with a better skill set as a freshman than anything that Redneck Jimmy Clausen ever showed at Auburn with a Lake. Look for CU to use more of the middle of the field than they ever have before. He’ll wind up being the best QB in the ACC since Deshaun Watson. But, and there is a but, the rest of the roster is gutted, thin, and hasn’t recruited nearly well enough to keep up with its losses. UNC, meanwhile, is loaded. I think it’s the Tarheels’ best shot in about 25 years.
- I just don’t like the SEC this year. UGA had a ton of losses on defense, with a secondary that never particularly liked playing against modern passing schemes. SHOCKER: I KNOW. Alabama lost 89% of its offensive productivity and practically its entire offensive coaching staff. Jury is out on whether the new crew is as talented as the old, but look at what replaced Sarkisian and Huff and Flood and tell me that you’re confident it will be as good. You can’t. LSU could be a player, returning 18 dudes and a potent offense. But who cares that 9 defensive starters return if they all suck? I do like Ole Miss to be a surprise, but their defense is even worse than LSU’s. Aggie could make a little noise with a strong returning defense and good RBs. But, what do they do about a nonexistent OL and breaking in a new QB? What about the second tiers — blah. Auburn is just a team, Mizzou needs more time in the oven, Kentucky can’t throw the ball and a bad defense got exponentially worse in the offseason.
See what I mean?
- Prove it: Where did BYU, Notre Dame, Miami, Indiana, and Florida go? These teams were decimated by graduation and NFL riches. They’re going to have to do some winning to get in my good graces.
- Watch out for the dangerous Power 5 teams outside of the blue bloods: In this group I’m including very experienced teams like Ole Miss, Minnesota, Iowa, UNC, Rutgers, and TCU among others.
- The PAC 12 could be the best that it’s been in half a decade, at least at the top — for whatever that’s worth. Everyone is pumping the usual suspects like Oregon, Washington, Utah, and USC. But I really like two others — Arizona State (assuming they gain consistency and weather the NCAA investigation), and in particular a dark horse Stanford team. None are playoff caliber though.
- It’s a two-team race again with Iowa State and Oklahoma. Both are filthy-loaded, especially on offense. The second tier takes a tumble though with Baylor and TTU in the gutter, K State rebuilding. And god only knows what Texas will look like. I suspect the Horns are spoilers more than anything, at least for this year.
Ohio State is going to out-talent everyone in the Big 10 again. But, I’m very intrigued by their opening game. On the road, in Minneapolis, against a Gophers team with 20 returning starters and 9 months of tape on how to attack that defense. Say what you will about PJ Fleck’s rah rah, but he gets his boys up for big games...especially at home. Four-Alarm Upset Alert potential that could absolutely shatter CW in the early weeks.
Outside of the Buckeyes, I think the team best positioned to win the B1G is Iowa. Solid group of starters on both sides, strong line play on both sides, explosive young receivers, and probably the best proven returning tandem of RB/QB in the Big 10. Michigan not only was terrible last year, but they lost a lot in the offseason — almost as much as Alabama. Penn State should be a lot better, but...yeah, James Franklin. This conference has almost as many question marks as the SEC.
- Man, the G5 and Indies are stacked:
Tulsa, Memphis, SMU, UCF, and Cincy in the AAC.
SJSU, Nevada, Boise, and much stronger SDSU, Hawaii, and Wyoming teams in the MWC
The Fun Belt is the best it has literally ever been — App State, ULL, Ga. State, Ga. Southern, Coastal, and much improved Arkansas State and Troy teams should return to form.
The SBC’s Yankee Cousin, the MAC, is also loaded...and almost to the same extent. Western Michigan, Toledo, Ball State, Buffalo, Central Michigan and Ohio can all legitimately win the conference.
The CUSA race is going to be a lot of fun too, with most leaning into UAB, Marshall, and FAU. But don’t sleep on the proven guys in Ruston (LA Tech), or sleep on UTSA, the deepest and most improved team in the conference. North Texas will be much improved as well.
Liberty is still the class of them all, however. Fantastic defense. Mad Scientist Hugh Freeze calling the offense. And 20 returning starters. Godspeed with that, middle-of-the-road Power 5 teams.
Did we mention the Service Academies? They didn’t go anywhere. Army had minimal losses for a service academy, and Navy will be much much better. Poor Air Force though...sigh, they’re going to still suck.
There you have it, our first Blog Poll of the year. Chime in below. Who’s too high? Too low? What conferences are you looking forward to seeing shake out? What’s the most one-sided conference for now? Who are your sleepers?