The big change with the ACC is the departure of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne from Clemson, but the Tigers are still the team to beat. Clemson replaces Lawrence with D.J. Uiagalelei, who filled in for Lawrence last year for two games when Lawrence was out with COVID. Can he make strides to being a top quarterback in the country? Challenging Uiagalalei as the top signal-caller in the ACC is North Carolina’s. If he can throw the Tar Heels into the conference championship conversation, he might also find himself in the Heisman conversation.
Miami might be one of the hardest teams to predict in the country. With D’Eriq King coming back after an underwhelming first season with the Hurricanes, he is looking to take over the league from game one. Boston College is a team to watch with Phil Jurkovec under center and Pitt might play spoiler again for the top teams. Florida State in Mike Norvell’s second year is another team to keep an eye on.
2. Big Ten
Ohio State replaces Justin Fields with C.J. Stroud and remains the team to beat.
Will Michigan ever live up to expectations? Yes, this conference is built off the success of Ohio State and the consistency of Wisconsin and Penn State (last season notwithstanding), but the Big Ten can’t surpass the SEC if Michigan is an average team. This team could be really good if Cade McNamara thrives at quarterback, or it can once again fall below its lofty expectations.
The top teams are obvious this season, but the interesting teams are what comes next. Can Minnesota return to the level of play they showed in 2019? Can Tom Allen lead Indiana to another successful season? Is Iowa going to be good again, or is this going to be a pseudo rebuilding year? Illinois already gave Nebraska and Scott Frost their first loss of the year when they played on Week 0, so the Cornhuskers are starting from a position of weakness already. The craziest thing about this conference so far is not everyone is picking Rutgers to finish in last place.
Don’t overthink it. The SEC is the most powerful conference until someone comes along and literally takes it from them. Alabama is the top team as long as Nick Saban is still there. They lost Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Jalen Waddle, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner DeVante Smith from the offense, but they replace them with Bryce Young, Brian Robinson, John Metchie, and Jameson Williams at the skill positions. They face an interesting test in Miami this week, so right away we learn where Alabama is.
LSU is looking to bounce back after a miserable 2020. Georgia returns a strong contender that might have a chance at the College Football Playoff. They get to make a statement this weekend with a matchup against Clemson. Texas A&M is a team to watch as Jimbo Fisher seems to be finding a rhythm with the Aggies. Florida never completely goes away. After that, the expectations are low, even for teams like Auburn and Tennessee. It should be very top-heavy, but that top is so much better than every other conference in the country.