Irish Breakdown Preseason College Football Top 25

The Preseason College Football Top 25 from Irish Breakdown
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The college football season is just over a month away. That means we have a pretty good idea of what teams will look like, so it’s time to release the Irish Breakdown Preseason Top 25. This ranking is a combination of past season’s success, how teams should be viewed to start the season and partly a prediction on how teams will finish.

Here’s my breakdown of the Top 10 teams and the rest of my Top 25 rankings, with a few explanations as to why some teams are ranked where they are.


2020 Record: 13-0
2020 Final Ranking: 1

I’m a big believer in you’re the best until someone proves otherwise, and that’s the primary reason I have the defending champions ranked number one, but it’s not the only reason. Alabama returns eight starters on defense and should be improved on that side of the ball. The front seven should be especially improved despite the loss of Christian Barmore.

Offensively, expect to see the Crimson Tide run the ball early as it looks to get redshirt freshman quarterback Bryce Young comfortable running the show. Losing DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are huge blows, but the Crimson Tide welcome arguably the best freshman receiver class in the country and Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams.


2020 Record: 9-2
2020 Final Ranking: 6

I am quite high on the Sooners heading into the season and an improved defense is a big reason for that. Oklahoma held its final five opponents to 21 points or less and there is legitimate talent returning on all three levels. OU is also going into year three of the Alex Grinch tenure, which should give what is now an experienced defense a major boost. This unit should be good enough to make enough big-game stops it couldn’t in past seasons.

While I believe Spencer Rattler is getting more hype than he should, he’s still a quality quarterback with plenty of room for improvement. What I like about the Oklahoma offense - beyond its head coach’s mental brilliance - is it will have one of the nation’s best lines and a loaded backfield. Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks are going to take a lot of pressure off Rattler, who has a talented group of pass catchers to throw to.


2020 Record: 7-1
2020 Final Ranking: 2

I’m not in love with Ohio State coming into the season, at least not from the standpoint of believing the Buckeyes have the third best roster heading into the season. What has Ohio State ranked this high is a combination of strong coaching and a relatively soft schedule. The Buckeyes get Oregon and Penn State at home and won’t have to face Wisconsin or Iowa in the regular season.

What I do like about the Buckeyes is the fact they have a big and talented offensive line, arguably the best group of pass catchers and a freshman running back (TreVeyon Henderson) that should form a potent duo with Master Teague. The reasons I’m not as high on Ohio State is the loss of seven defensive starters from what was a mediocre defense and the fact that its starting quarterback - whoever that ends up being - enters the season with 0 career pass attempts.


2020 Record: 10-2
2020 Final Ranking: 3

I must be honest, part of the reason I have Clemson ranked where they are is their track record the last six seasons. If it wasn’t for that I’d consider dropping them a spot or two. Clemson should have one of the nation’s best defenses, which will be bolstered by a young but incredibly talented front seven. The secondary is a bit more of a question mark, but it’s hard to expose the back end when the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw.

It’s on offense that I have some concerns. Former quarterback Trevor Lawrence masked some warts on offense the last two seasons, but he’s not around to continue putting the unit on his shoulders, and the Tigers also lose Travis Etienne and its top two receivers and starting left tackle from a line that wasn’t very good last season. Unlike the more mobile Lawrence and Deshaun Watson, DJ Uiagalelei - as talented as he is - lacks the mobility to overcome a spotty group of blockers.


2020 Record: 10-2
2020 Final Ranking: 5

Notre Dame’s losses on offense are eased by the arrival of grad transfer Jack Coan at quarterback and lineman Cain Madden from Marshall. Last season’s banged up receiving corps is poised to take a major leap forward, which should combine with a dynamic group of backs and one of the nation’s best tight ends to give the Irish a chance to take a much-needed leap forward on offense.

My confidence in Notre Dame begins with the Irish defense, which should take better advantage of its athleticism with Marcus Freeman running the show. I expect the defensive line to be dominant, the linebackers will be improved and sources close to the team are confident the secondary is going to be much better than expected. Three of Notre Dame’s toughest games are at home, a place the Irish haven’t lost since 2017. The other - Wisconsin - is on a neutral field.


2020 Record: 8-2
2020 Final Ranking: 7

Georgia has a very talented football team and a quarterback (JT Daniels) that could emerge as one of the nation’s best, which is why I have them ranked this high. The Bulldogs should have enough talent and a favorable enough schedule to give them a shot to compete for a playoff berth. My concern, however, is a head coach who hasn’t shown in recent seasons that he’s capable of getting the most out of his team.

If Kirby Smart can turn that corner this season the offense should be much, much better and the defense has enough athletes to continue playing quality football. Georgia returns just four starters but many of the front seven players stepping into the lineup have played a lot of football. The secondary is where the youth resides but it’s a very talented young group of players at cornerback. Not having to play Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M or Ole Miss in the regular season also helps the Bulldogs.


2020 Record: 4-3
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

Oregon had a number of top players opt out of the 2020 season, which should help the Ducks in 2021 by giving others a chance to gain experience they otherwise would not have gained. Quarterback Anthony Brown is a solid player that has plenty of weapons and an experienced offensive line. Getting a full offseason with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead gives the Ducks a chance to be a potent scoring unit.

Hiring Tim DeRuyter to run the defense was a great move for head coach Mario Cristobal, who is doing a very good job of building a strong program in Eugene. DeRuyter has an athletic group of defenders to work with and defensive end Kaybon Thibodeaux should wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and Pac 12 offensive linemen. If the Ducks can at least play Ohio State tight on the road the rest of the schedule sets up pretty nicely.


2020 Record: 9-3
2020 Final Ranking: 9

Iowa State has four very important factors working in its favor this season. It is extremely well coached, it has a top quarterback, it’s a very experienced team (19 returning starters) and the schedule sets up well. A road trip to Norman, Oklahoma will be a challenge, but the Cyclones get Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU at home.

Quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall are one of the nation’s top one-two backfield tandems, and Purdy’s experience combines nicely with a good group of pass catchers to give the Cyclones a chance to be potent on offense this season. Iowa State lacks top athleticism on defense but it is very experienced, well coached and capable of making stops in big games.


2020 Record: 8-4
2020 Final Ranking: 13

Florida returns just nine starters and must replace a top quarterback, an elite tight end and its top two wideouts. Its defense was abysmal last season and returns just our starters - and its defensive coordinator - from that unit. Florida getting better on defense is a very important aspect to the Gators bouncing back and being a Top 10 team, and I expect that the happen. DC Todd Grantham isn’t good, but he isn’t as bad as he was last year and he has some tools to work with.

Offensively, do not expect Emory Jones to replace the pass game production that Kyle Trask brought to the offense, but that’s okay. Jones is more in line with what Dan Mullen prefers at quarterback, possessing a run-throw skillset that fits perfectly in his offense. Jones will give the run game a boost and I like young wideouts Jacob Copeland and Xzavier Henderson, and veteran Justin Shorter.


2020 Record: 9-1
2020 Final Ranking: 8

Cincinnati suffered some personnel losses but it returns the vast majority of its top players. A huge loss, of course, is defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, but his replacement - Mike Tressel - inherits a talented group of defenders. Defensive end Myjai Sanders and cornerback Ahmad Gardner are getting preseason All-American love and the Bearcats have the most athletic defense in the AAC.

Cincinnati isn’t an explosive offense but it should be even bette this season. Quarterback Desmond Ridder is extremely talented, but if the offense is going to reach its full potential he must become more consistent and make faster decisions. Ridder has plenty of weapons and running back Jerome Ford, an Alabama transfer, has explosive speed. Cincinnati has two tough non-conference road games in the Hoosier state (at Notre Dame, at Indiana), but it gets UCF, Temple, Tulsa and SMU at home.


2020 Record: 9-1
2020 Final Ranking: 4

Texas A&M is a trendy pick but I just don’t see it. I expect Mike Elko’s defense to be outstanding, but Texas A&M loses do-everything quarterback Kellen Mond and four offensive linemen from a unit that wasn’t very good last season with them. The Aggies also play at LSU, at Missouri, at Ole Miss and host Alabama.


2020 Record: 5-1
2020 Final Ranking: 21

I expect the Trojans to be better than some expect, but it’s partly due to a manageable schedule, an offense I expect to be capable of scoring a lot of points and a defense that will be improved in year two of Todd Orlando’s tenure.


2020 Record: 5-5
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

LSU won’t be nearly as good as it was in 2019 or nearly as bad as it was in 2020, assuming head coach Ed Orgeron can keep this team together. LSU has a lot of talent and if it can settle on a quarterback and come together as a team it will be a quality squad. If that doesn’t happen the Tigers will implode and fall out of the Top 25 again.


2020 Record: 8-3
2020 Final Ranking: 22

A blowout loss to North Carolina late in the season masked a lot of the really good things Manny Diaz did last season. Assuming D’Eriq King is healthy the Hurricanes will be potent on offense and I expect the defense to continue improving despite losing two very talented ends from its 2020 defense. Not playing Clemson is part of an otherwise favorable conference schedule.


2020 Record: 7-3
2020 Final Ranking: 19

Texas has talent and finally has a good head coach. Casey Thompson will be a solid quarterback and Steve Sarkisian will get the most out of his perimeter weapons, but the pass game will be aided by what could be an outstanding running game that is led by Bijon Robinson. The defense should also be improved.


2020 Record: 8-4
2020 Final Ranking: 18

North Carolina should still be potent on offense and I expect the defense to continue improving. I’m not quite as high on the Tar Heels as others, but Mack Brown has improved the talent, his coaching staff is strong and the schedule is relatively favorable outside of a non-conference road game at Notre Dame.


2020 Record: 4-3
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

Wisconsin will rebound from its 2020 struggles thanks to an aggressive and experienced defense. A year of seasoning for quarterback Graham Mertz should also benefit the Badgers and should allow Mertz to improve greatly over his mostly poor 2020 showing.


2020 Record: 3-2
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

Utah was a sneaky good squad last season in limited action and the Utes return 18 starters. In the past an experienced Utah team has usually been a very good Utah team. The arrival of former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer should also help the offense make the improvements needed to battle for the Pac 12 South crown.


2020 Record: 3-1
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

I’ve been back and forth on the Huskies all offseason. There are things I like, like the veteran defense, veteran offensive line and favorable schedule that doesn’t include USC or Utah, and allows the Huskies to host Oregon. I like the offensive weapons but I’m not all that high on OC John Donovan. If he proves me wrong expect Washington to battle Oregon for the North title.


2020 Record: 4-5
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

Penn State was absolutely awful during its 0-5 start to the season, but instead of folding like Michigan did the Nittany Lions competed, battled and finished the season with four straight wins. Penn State returns a lot of weapons on offense and I expect a bounce back from quarterback Sean Clifford. The question is can Brent Pry and Anthony Poindexter get the defense back on track.


2020 Record: 8-3
2020 Final Ranking: 20

I’m projecting a bit here, but I think Oklahoma State’s improvements on defense last season were real and the Cowboys return eight starters on that side of the ball. If talented QB Spencer Saunders can harness his talent the offense should be improved, and it will need to be if the Cowboys are going to manage a schedule that has road games against Boise State, Texas, Iowa State and West Virginia.


2020 Record: 6-5
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

Boston College returns a lot of talented weapons for quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who should benefit from a revamped offensive line that returns all five starters. Jurkovec and the offense should also benefit from actually getting an offseason with OC Frank Cignetti, something it didn’t have last season. BC returns nine starters from a defense that struggled last season.


2020 Record: 11-1
2020 Final Ranking: 14

Coastal Carolina returns 19 starters from its 11-1 squad and the schedule is once again very favorable. Quarterback Grayson McCall should be the best quarterback in the Sun Belt and the defense should be much better. They won’t run the table in the regular season but the Chanticleers should still be quite good.


2020 Record: 7-2
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

Nevada’s Air Raid offense should flourish in 2021 thanks to the return of 10 starters from a unit that was solid last season. Of course, the primary reason for optimism on offense is the return of quarterback Carson Strong, who will put up monster numbers this season. I’ve seen many mock drafts that include Strong in the first round, and Nevada also returns nine starters on defense.


2020 Record: 3-4
2020 Final Ranking: Not Ranked

Some might scoff at this one based on UCLA’s recent history, which includes a 3-4 record in 2020. UCLA, however, lost its four games by six, three, five and one point (in overtime) last season. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson must become more consistent, and if he does the Bruin offense should be really good. He’ll have a lot of help in the backfield thanks to Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet.

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