THUMBNAIL SKETCHES OF (130) 2021 CFB TEAMS
By Joe Gavazzi JoeGavazziSports.com
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide emerged as National Champions yet again in 2020 with a 52-24 decapitation of a very good Ohio State team, outgaining them 621-341. With only 11 returning starters, just 3 on offense, one may question if they continue to average the 47 PPG of the L3Y. May I point out that in the L4 seasons, Alabama has gone 51-4 SU WITH NO MORE THAN 12 RETURNING STARTERS IN ANY OF THOSE SEASONS. Most of that is a function of the perennial Top 5 recruiting classes by 14th year HC Saban year after year. The stats for each of the 3 previous seasons look remarkably similar with an MOV of 47-19 and average yardage edge of 525-333. This year’s new signal caller is QB Bryce Young who has already garnered more than a million dollars in endorsements. The list goes on and on as the Tide reloads year after year as Saban looks for his 7th National Title. The defense is even better than last season with the only question mark being the effectiveness of new OC Bill O’Brien, the former head coach of the Houston Texans.
Texas A&M Aggies
Now in his 4th season at College Station, and with a trio of Top 10 recruiting classes in his back pocket, it is time for Jimbo Fisher to prove he was worth the $80,000 contract he signed. Last season, 9-1 SU, 6-4 ATS (only lost to Alabama) was the 2nd time in 3 seasons that Jimbo had a “200 Club” offense and a sub 100 rush defense. That will win you a lot of football games. His outstanding coordinators, OC Dickey and DB Elko, add continuity to the staff. Only potential question mark for this team is replacing 4 year starter QB Mond. How well the trio of signal callers currently competing for the job evolves, will dictate their fortunes. It will be the only area of potential weakness which will prevent them from competing for a National Title.
After winning the National Title in 2019, it was easy to predict the Tigers fall from grace to 5-5 SU, 6-4 ATS last year when they returned just 8 starters and had numerous star players opt for the NFL. Forced to play a number of young players who gained instant experience, and now with 17 returning starters, this bureau will join the many who expect the Tigers to BOUNCE BACK BIG in 2021. Much may depend on how well these Cats assimilate the new ways of OC Peetz and new DC Jones, each of whom has outstanding credentials. But by the time October rolls around, they will be well prepared to face the meat of their SEC schedule. With plenty of talent and depth, this team will be tough to beat. When they come as underdog be sure to note the success of HC Orgeron who has a lifetime record of 25-14 ATS in that role including 9-0 ATS in his 4 years at LSU as road pup.
To the surprise of few who follow College Football, now 2nd year HC Lane Kiffin authored one of the more memorable offenses of the 2020 campaign. How about 39/556 with 345 PYPG. A major leap in the recruiting ranks comes as no surprise. Who wouldn’t want to play on a team with this type of offense. QB Matt Corral returns to guide the Nation’s leading offense, authoring an average of 385 YPG with his arms and his legs. Look for the Rebs to be among the Nation’s leaders in offense once again. With 35 seniors and 14 recruits who enrolled for spring, Kiffin is building a potential power house. Key to the season will be a Matador defense that allowed a “200 Club” 38/521. Must question whether 10 returning starters from that unit is a good or bad thing. An opening game test on September 6th, vs. the always prolific offense of an HC Satterfield team (Louisville), will go a long way to answering that question. In closing, must note the pointspread history of Kiffin who has dichotomous numbers of 1-8 ATS as home dog (think LSU and Texas A&M this season) but 13-5 ATS as road dog (Alabama).
Mississippi State Bulldogs
With 8 players returning on each side of the ball, and reliance on a plethora of 26 players who made their first start last season, and 44 Frosh who saw playing time, the Bulldogs have the look of “Hidden Gem” in the 2nd year under HC Mike Leach. Adding to the new-look Bulldogs is the fact that no fewer than 20 players have entered the transfer portal. Leach, who has the experience of 8 years at Wash State and 10 years at Texas Tech, is the author of “run and shoot” offenses. He has quickly developed a team that will fit that image. Each side of the ball was a major surprise in 2020, a 4-7 SU, 5-6 ATS campaign under Leach. The defense allowed a decent 28/390, including just 127/3.6 overland. Of a greater surprise, was that his team could muster just 21/342. That includes scoring 44 in the opener against LSU and 51 vs. Missouri in the Final Regular Season game. A Bowl victory vs. Tulsa provides momentum for this season. Look for a much improved season on offense with the return of QB Rogers who, in 6 starts, had 69% C and an 11/7 ratio. There is also veteran QB Jack Abraham who, in 27 starts in 3 years at S. Miss., had a 69% C. Leach gotta love that kind of accuracy.
Clearly, former Auburn HC Gus Malzahn had no clue how to lead the Tigers football team. All he did, in his 8 seasons on The Plains, was record a winning season each year taking the Tigers to Bowl games each campaign. Now he is off to UCF. Enter new HC Bryan Harsin. From the files of “biting off more than you can chew” comes the story of Auburn’s new head man Bryan Harsin. Harsin thought it was so easy to light up the scoreboard in the Sun Belt with Arkansas State that he returned to his roots at Boise where he took over a program that did much the same. Now let’s see if it translates to scoring against SEC defenses. If he is to succeed, he will have to do so in the face of losing 17 transfers. Respect for his predecessor, Malzahn, was such that recruiting rank fell out of the Top 10. To his credit, he brought in coordinators with head coaching experience in OC Mike Bobo and DC Derreck Mason. From the perspective of this bureau, he inherits Top 10 prospect QB Bo Nix who has failed to live up to his potential in 2 seasons. That was especially true last year when the Tigers dipped to 6-5 SU (a 1-3 SU, ATS finish) declining by 8 points in the offensive column and increasing by 5 points on the defensive side of the ledger. Put Harsin in the “show me” classification until he succeeds in the SEC.
From the files of last year’s “Hidden Gems” comes the story of Sam Pittman. This guy has been an OC at 9 FBS schools including Georgia for 4 recent seasons. Though the record said just 3-7 SU, the money said 7-3 ATS. He molded young players into potential stars playing numerous freshmen. Though the defense was of usual 35/400+ variety, that will improve this season with no fewer than 10 returning starters. Look for improvement also in a running game under the guidance of 2nd year OC Briles. To the public, improvement may not come in the W/L column as they play one of the toughest schedules in the Nation. That does not mean we can’t pick our spots with the Hogs in their preferred underdog role at least 5 times in the 2021 season.
Inheriting a perennial winning SEC power from Mark Richt, there was plenty of pressure for former Alabama Assistant, Kirby Smart to perform. All he has done is go 52-14 SU, play in 3 SEC Championship Games, and challenge for 1 National Title. Though “only” 13 starters return, Smart has built a recruiting juggernaut that annually lands Top 5 classes. Offensive consistency is offset by defensive superiority, the strength of which is a defensive front which has allowed a combined 74/2.5 in the L2 seasons. Last season the Bulldogs were slogging along offensively with a 4-2 SU record and coming off a loss to rival Florida. Enter USC transfer signal caller JT Daniels. He took over the starting role for the final 4 games of the 2020 Season (now 16 career starts), following his transfer from USC after the 2019 Season. The Bulldogs went 4-0 SU down the stretch averaging 37 PPG including a Bowl win over Cincinnati where Daniels threw for 392 PY. With Georgia’s Top 5 rushers returning, the Bulldogs are once again a Top 5 team, featuring their usual tough as nails defense.
After 4 consecutive winning seasons, and 18-8 SU the last two of those including consecutive Bowl wins, the bottom fell out for the Wildcats last year. The yardage numbers were reflective of their 5-6 SU, ATS campaign. A season closing 23-21 Bowl win vs. NC State should provide a positive vibe going forward. Good news for the offense is the addition of 5* QB Joey Gatewood from Auburn. Along with Penn State transfer Will Levis, they will team with 1st year OC Coen to revive a Kentucky passing game that has averaged just 118 PYPG the last two seasons. The return to prominence of the always tough defense, who allowed just 18 PPG in 2018-19 will be aided when they are allowed to take less reps. Major shock (they play ULM, UT Chat, and New Mex. State) if Kentucky does not return to the plus side of the ledger.
In a year of “Super Seniors” and a transfer portal swinging wide open both ways, the Gators return just 9 starters. The 40/511 offense of last year has major losses with QB Trask, TE Pitts, and WRs Grimes and Toney. Always hard to underestimate a Dan Mullen coached team who inherited a 4-7 SU, 3-8 ATS mess in 2018, and has since gone 29-9 SU. There are major concerns on both sides of the ball including a defense that allowed 31/429 in what seemed too often be an effort to get off the field so the offense could be showcased. With only 3 SEC home games and Alabama and LSU on the schedule, there could be a major dip in Gator fortunes this season. Going 0-3 SU and 1-5 ATS to finish last year’s campaign, could be just the tip of the iceberg. Nonetheless, always hard to discount HC Mullen, who has a career record of 49-34 ATS when installed as chalk, including 15-10 ATS for the Gators.
2nd year HC Drinkwitz was hired for his offensive credentials as OC at Boise State, NC State and when he recorded a 13-1 SU record at App State in his first year as head man. Neither his 1st offense nor defense lived up to expectations. QB Bazelak was decent in 8 starts with 67% C, yet the unit averaged only 27/402. It was the defensive finish, when that unit ran out of gas, that is cause for greater concern. A 0-2 SU, 0-3 ATS record occurred when Missouri allowed 148 combined points to Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi State, losing the last two of those games by 35 and 19 points. No way to build momentum for the 2021 Season in which the Tigers, despite having a trio of “gimmees” on their schedule, will be fortunate to surpass the Mendoza line.
Oh how the mighty have fallen from the peak of Rocky Top. The perennial Top 20 Volunteers now enter 2021 on a nose dive of 17-26 SU, 15-26 ATS. New hire, HC Heupel, inherits just 12 returning starters with the Vols losing no fewer than (8) Top 100 players in the nation to the transfer portal. The 3-7 SU record of last year, at the end of a 3 year experiment with Jeremy Pruitt, has left the Vols in the depths of despair. Enter proven winner Heupel who was 28-8 SU in a 3 year run at UCF. He will team with his UCF OC, Alex Golish, in the eventual effort to reach the average of 43 PPG, his Golden Knights average, in the previous 3 years. Don’t be fooled if they do that against early season victims Bowling Green and Tenn Tech. The SEC defenses that will follow however will prove most problematic. That is his bottom line challenge. Transferring his prolific offensive ways, this year with the reins in the hands of a pair of transfer QBs in Hooker (VA Tech) and Milton (Michigan), could be a challenge unlikely met in 2021.
South Carolina Gamecocks
If great genes and great environments lead to success, as many predict, then Beamer should be a no-brainer to succeed after the Gamecocks dipped to a combined mark of 6-16 SU, 7-14 ATS in the final two years under the guidance of Will Muschamp. Beamer is not only the son of legendary VA Tech HC Frank Beamer (genes), he was also raised in a great football environment, has coached as an assistant at Carolina under Steve Spurrier, under Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, and at Georgia as recently as 2017. However, Beamer does not have any HC experience and his new coordinators have no experience with Power 5 teams. He finds the cupboard relatively bare, inheriting a team that was gutted by injuries and defections at the close of the season losing 9 players to the portal. To replace them, Beamer will have the benefit of 7 “Super Seniors” and 7 “Scholarship Transfers”. His projected starting QB is a Top 10 recruit, Luke Doty, who will be taking the reins as a true Frosh. It may be further back to respectability than Beamer would like to think.
After no one else wanted to ruin their coaching career at the perennial losing program that is Vandy (0-9 SU LY, outscored 37-15), Clark Lea (author of that 37 PPG defense), decided to slide over one seat and take the reins. Many point to the 17 returning starters. But who wants those guys when they were winless last year and have lost 13 straight SEC games. Need I say more… Lea will have to show success before he gets our money.