College football rankings 2021: Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State vie for No. 1 in way-too-early Top 25

Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide. (USA Today)
Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide. (USA Today) /
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College football rankings
Liberty Flames. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports /

Our way-too-early 2021 college football rankings take a peek into the landscape for next season as Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia and more remain at the forefront.

While many were considered adequate challengers, the Alabama Crimson Tide quickly made it evident in the unprecedented pandemic-affected 2020 college football season that they were the best team in the country. And after a dominant victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the National Championship Game, there’s no arguing that fact.

Fans, players, coaches and everyone in Tuscaloosa can enjoy another title that will be added to their trophy case. But for the rest of the country — and even some Crimson Tide fans — it’s never too early to look ahead to next season and the top 25 college football rankings. After all, there’s always next year for every other program that’s not Alabama, so it stands to reason to wonder what next year will entail.

Taking that into account, we’re looking at the 2021 college football rankings way too early to see who the top 25 teams in the country should and could be heading into next season as we close the book on this one.

Way-too-early 2021 college football rankings

Kicking off our rankings is the Liberty Flames, with the caveat and/or assumption that they are able to retain head coach Hugh Freeze for another season. After a one-loss campaign that included a win over Virginia Tech, the Flames return dynamic quarterback Malik Willis to lead the way next season and Freeze has created a pipeline of talent that can thrive in his system. Still a newcomer to the FBS level, Liberty is going to be a pesky presence as long as Freeze is there.

Given what we saw from Bo Nix and the Auburn Tigers last season, it’s hard to get too excited about this team in their first season under Bryan Harsin. If they’re going to exceed expecations, it starts with Nix being a more consistent and reliable passer, something we’ve yet to see from him and that will be difficult with losses at wide receiver. Perhaps more importantly, though, Harsin will try to get the Tigers defense back to playing at an acceptable level by the program’s standards.

James Franklin and the Penn State Nittany Lions couldn’t have looked worse in the shortened 2020 season, so you should expect the pressure to be turned up on the head coach to perform next season. Lucky for him, he should be in a position to do so.

With veterans returning on offense in the form of quarterback Sean Clifford and wide receiver Jahan Dotson, that side of the ball should be in good hands. And with a hopefully normal offseason, Franklin and his staff should be able to truly develop and coach up a young, gifted defense to live up to their potential.

The aforementioned Liberty Flames ruined the dream of a perfect season for the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers but Jamey Chadwell’s team isn’t going to fade into obscurity after an impressive one-loss campaign. The return of quarterback Grayson McCall will be huge for the Chanticleers after garnering a ton of experience — and thriving — as a freshman. There are big losses at running back and on defense to contend with but don’t expect Coastal to go away anytime soon.

There might not be a college football program that was more negatively affected by COVID-19 among Power 5 teams than the Wisconsin Badgers. Frankly, it’s hard to know what to make about the team moving forward with quarterback Graham Mertz moving forward, at least in terms of their ceiling.

On a baseline level, though, the Badgers defense should be their calling card once again and, if Mertz and a fledgling run game can find their footing, Wisconsin will be a tough team to beat.