Before the confetti finished falling at the national championship game Monday, college football analysts and writers all over the nation turned their attention to next season.
Way-too-early rankings are a tradition unlike any other: It's almost like a race to see who can put out a top-25 first just to show off how much they think they know about future rosters.
The thing is, so many decisions haven't been made. Underclassmen have until Jan. 18 to enter the NFL draft. The pro league just announced Thursday that it's allowing fourth-year and beyond players until March 1 to decide if they want to exercise their extra year of NCAA eligibility given to them because of the pandemic.
Right now, it's a guessing game. Or is it?
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which team you pull for, the best teams, i.e., Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, continue to be the best teams. They aren't going anywhere.
So that's over half of a top-5. Throw a team like Georgia or another SEC team and perennial Big 12 power Oklahoma, and you're done. The next 20 is complete guesswork and nobody is going to hold you responsible for your 18th-ranked team from January come December.
That said, it's so much fun to look at and evaluate. Prognostication is what makes college football special. So much is not decided on the field like it is in the NFL, so we're left with our own opinions that spark plenty of debates.
So what can we glean from pundits' outlook of the 2021 Clemson Tigers? Here's a quick breakdown of where Dabo Swinney's squad ranks:
ESPN: No. 1
CBS Sports: No. 1
Stadium: No. 5
Saturday Down South: No. 1
Athlon Sports: No. 1
Sporting News: No. 2
Sports Illustrated: No. 2
Clemson is going to be pretty good if you want to base it on prognosticators' thoughts eight months before a season. It does speak to the Tigers' relevance and trust, though.
Think about it: Swinney just lost a generational talent in quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The ACC's all-time leading rusher Travis Etienne is gone. The top two receivers left as well. The offensive line, while loaded with returnees, underwhelmed.
Still, much of college football feels really good about the Tigers, even though Alabama just won the national championship, Ohio State is a recruiting machine and Oklahoma returns key weapons.
How much did seeing D.J. Uiagalelei's two huge performances in place of Lawrence and incredible pedigree? Having Justyn Ross back at receiver, along with Frank Ladson Jr. and Joseph Ngata, could make Clemson's passing game one of the best in the country.
But the Tigers don't seem to have an easy answer at O-line and running back. The defense, meanwhile, is bringing back potentially every single starter. The problem is, the secondary struggled mightily in 2020 and has a ton of work to do.
Another reason for optimism from talking heads and writers is Clemson's path to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers have won six consecutive ACC championships, and they'll enter 2021 as the prohibitive favorite once again, especially with Notre Dame heading back to the Independent ranks.
There are many factors at play for Clemson it's going to live up to these kinds of preseason expectations, but the Tigers have earned it.