College football is not just about finding a team to root for and watching them win a game. It is a business, run by the NCAA, and it is in a constant state of flux as a result of money, politics, and public opinion. The game has changed a lot in the last 50 years, and will continue to evolve into 2020.
While many of the best prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft are already firmly in place, that doesn’t mean the next crop of prospects will be slotted into a position and forced to play out their rookie seasons without any mistakes. In fact, we’re projecting that just four of the top-ranked quarterbacks and five of the top-ranked running backs will play their rookie seasons in their current role.
College football: a sport that’s been shrouded in controversy since its inception. No other sport carries the same level of emotional attachment as college football, and fans of the sport will always be the most devoted. This is especially true in the states, where college football has been the main source of entertainment for Americans for generations. College football is an exciting game, and this season promised to be even more exciting when a record 10 teams were projected to compete for a national championship in the new College Football Playoff (CFP).. Read more about ncaa football 2021 and let us know what you think.
College football is a combination of two elements. It is as stolid and rigid at the top as it has been since the 1970s. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma have all been in the AP top 10 for at least six years (Bama has finished in the top 10 for 13 years) and have snatched up 20 of the 28 College Football Playoff invitations. In addition, Georgia has four top-10 finishes in a row, while Notre Dame has qualified for two of the last three College Football Playoffs. We have a good notion of who the on-field governing elite is in this sport.
However, under the surface, things are still as chaotic as they’ve always been.
In my SP+ ratings, approximately 2.2 teams in the FBS improve or regress by at least 20 adjusted points per game on average each season — a dramatic leap or stumble — while a total of 27.5 teams improve or regress by at least 10 points per year.
In the last three years, Baylor has gone from 7-6 and 67th in SP+ to 11-3 and 18th, then 2-7 and 63rd. From 2017 to 2019, Central Michigan moved from 8-5 to 1-11 to 8-6. Many programs despise being forced to remain motionless.
There is usually a rubber band effect. From 2005 through 2019, 66 percent of teams that regressed by at least 10 adjusted points per game improved the next season, with an average change of plus-3.7 PPG; 60 percent of teams that improved by at least 10 adjusted PPG regressed the following year, with an average change of minus-2.3. Even in the midst of a pandemic year, these patterns mostly persisted. With practice and contact restrictions, it was impossible to try a massive comeback, although colleges like Nevada, Arkansas, Toledo, NC State, and others succeeded to different degrees.
The season of 2021 is rapidly coming, and we may expect a whole new set of twists and turns. But first, let’s take a look at the clubs who made especially significant movements, either forward or downward, throughout the erratic 2020 season. Which of those who have tripped are the most likely to recover quickly? Which of the surgers is most likely to maintain their gains?
Teams that are most likely to maintain their gains in 2020
Coastal Carolina (+25.0), BYU (+23.1), UTSA (+17.2), UAB (+16.6), Northwestern (+15.6), West Virginia (+14.6), Arkansas (+13.4), Toledo (+12.9), Nevada (+12.0), Georgia Tech (+11.5), Cincinnati (+10.8), and Maryland (+0.0) were among the 12 teams in the FBS to improve by at least 10 adjusted PPG in SP+ last fall.
From 2005 through 2019, the greatest one-year increases have came from 2014 Western Michigan (+24.7), 2012 Ole Miss (+23.9), and 2014 Florida International (+22.7). The Broncos recovered a significant part of the squad core responsible for the leap and continued to improve in both 2015 and 2016. Of the 12 teams that improved by at least 20 points per game, 11 regressed the following season, while WMU did not. The Chanticleers will have an opportunity to keep up their fast pace thanks to a slew of returning talent, including standout quarterback Grayson McCall.
They aren’t the most likely to stick with it, however. The revised SP+ predictions are expected to drop by approximately 1.7 adjusted points per game when they are released shortly. (That’s still around ten predicted victories.) BYU and Northwestern, both of which have suffered significant losses, may suffer setbacks as well. But these are the teams who have the greatest potential of pushing the bar even higher.
Terrapins of Maryland
In 2019, the team has a 3-9 record and is ranked 96th in the SP+ rankings (-6.3 adjusted PPG) 2-3, 53rd (+3.7) in 2020 6-6, 38th (+9.2) in 2021 projection*
Last season, we didn’t get a full picture of Mike Locksley’s Terrapins since they only played five games and managed to beat Penn State and lose to Rutgers (by 40 points!). But their defense found its stride, and rookie quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa got his feet wet (despite the short sample size, they moved to 44th in defensive SP+, their highest performance since 2013).
The defense now returns 10 starters, including a potential star in cornerback Tarheeb Still. And with Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett & Co. out wide, Tagovailoa has one of the Big Ten’s most explosive (if still potentially inconsistent) receiving corps at his disposal. The Terps aren’t a Big Ten East contender, but their odds of finishing above .500 for the first time since 2014 are pretty solid.
* I’ll be releasing revised SP+ predictions for 2021 shortly, and the figures I’m using here are where they are right now. A last-minute move or a camp injury may cause them to shift somewhat.
Razorbacks of Arkansas
2019: a 2-10 record and a 108th-place finish in the SP+ rankings (-10.6 adjusted PPG) 3-7, 57th (+2.8) in 2020 Projection for 2021: 5-7, 48th (+7.7)
Under Sam Pittman, the Razorbacks were competitive again after a 2-10 season in 2019, winning three SEC games and coming close to winning three more. They’ll have to fill a huge hole at quarterback, with junior KJ Jefferson expected to replace Feleipe Franks, but Treylon Burks is one of the finest slot receivers in the SEC, and running back Trel Smith will be taking handoffs behind a strong and veteran offensive line. Barry Odom, the defensive coordinator, still needs an elite pass rusher, but he returns 10 starters and has recruited reinforcements via the transfer portal.
One thing that’s harder to like: the schedule. With road trips to Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and LSU, plus a trip to Jerry World to face Texas A&M, the Hogs will have to win nearly every winnable game to reach a bowl.
Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech
2019: a 3-9 record and a 111th-place finish in the SP+ (-12.0 adjusted PPG) 2020: March 3–7, 75th (-0.5) Projection for 2021: 5-7, 62nd (+4.0)
With back-to-back youth movements, Geoff Collins accepted a long rebuilding effort. His 2020 team was headed by freshman quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs, with plenty of freshmen and sophomores on the offensive line and defense. They weren’t great, but they showed signs of improvement: the defense improved to 58th in defensive SP+, and the offense scored 31.2 points per game when Gibbs had at least 100 combined running and receiving yards (and 16.6 when he didn’t).
Tech’s schedule, like Arkansas’, is tough. In divisional play, the Jackets face Miami and North Carolina, while also facing Clemson from the Atlantic division and Notre Dame and Georgia in nonconference play. Their potential may go as high as 6-6. However, winning six games in two years is something to strive towards.
The UTSA Roadrunners are a team from the University of Texas at San Antonio
2019: a 4-8 record and a 124th-place finish in SP+ (-23.7 adjusted PPG) 7-5, 93rd in 2020 (-6.5) 8-4, 91st in 2021 prediction (-2.2)
Jeff Traylor’s inaugural Roadrunners club was fortunate in that, based on the data generated by each of their games, SP+ rated them as a five- or six-win team. They did, however, have a strong special teams unit and created a lot more turnover chances than their opponents, which isn’t difficult to maintain.
They’re also 13th in terms of total return production: Most of last year’s difference-makers are back, including probable All-American running back Sincere McCormick, quarterback Frank Harris, and two of Conference USA’s best offensive lines. They return a total of 12 super seniors, and whether they received any benefits last year or not, they are predicted favorites in nine games by at least a modest margin. In the C-USA West, UAB is the favorite, but UTSA is a strong No. 2 heading into 2021.
Wolfpack of NC State
2019: a 4-8 record and a 94th-place finish in the SP+ (-6.3 adjusted PPG) 8-4, 54th (+3.6) in 2020 7-5, 46th (+7.8) in 2021 forecast
This season, Devin Leary is under a lot of strain. Due to a fractured fibula, he only quarterbacked four games, but the Pack won 3-1, and Leary had a Total QBR that would have placed 13th in FBS over a complete season.
The Wolfpack went 8-4 despite losing five games without Leary. Granted, they lost by an average of 17 points to the three SP+ top-40 teams they played, and ended below the top 50 as a consequence of a defense that was excellent against poor opponents but terrible against good ones. They do, however, return virtually every starter, and because Leary’s performance is only included into the forecasts in a minor way, State has a good chance of outperforming SP+’s expectations. If, at the very least, Leary can live up to small-sample predictions.
Rockets of Toledo
2020: 4-2, 76th (-0.8) 2021 projection: 8-4, 66th (+2.7) 2019: 6-6 record, 114th in SP+ (-13.7 adjusted PPG) 2019: 6-6 record, 114th in SP+ (-13.7 adjusted PPG) 2019: 6-6 record, 114th in SP+ (-13.7 adjusted PPG) 2019: 6-6 record, 114th in SP+
When starting quarterback Eli Peters retired in the summer after a series of injuries, the outlook for Jason Candle’s Rockets dimmed a little. The replacements are competent — among them, Georgia Tech transfer Tucker Gleason and sophomore Carter Bradley, who showed big-play potential last fall — but the Rockets’ return output fell from the 50s to the 60s in the SP+ predictions, dropping them from first to 20th.
This is still a squad built to go on a tear. Things went apart momentarily in 2019, but Candle made two key defensive additions in former Mount Union head coach Vince Kehres and TFLs expert Craig Kuligowski, and they paid off quickly. Every defensive starter, as well as all-conference center Bryce Harris, big-play receiver Isaiah Winstead, and virtually every offensive player not named Peters, looks to be returning.
Teams most likely to bounce back from a setback in 2020
We like parallels: LSU (-27.5), Navy (-18.6), Baylor (-16.5), FAU (-14.7), Louisiana Tech (-14.1), Temple (-13.3), Memphis (-13.2), Air Force (-13.1), Utah State (-12.0), Michigan (-12.0), UL Monroe (-11.4), Minnesota (-11.4), LSU (-27.5), Navy (-18.6), Baylor (-16.5), FAU (-14.7), Louisiana Tech (-14.1), (-10.8).
(You may also include Old Dominion, since the Monarchs declined by 10.3 adjusted PPG in 2019 and were forced to withdraw from the 2020 season.)
Approximately eight of these clubs are expected to rebound in autumn. SP+ expects ten of them to accomplish so, with seven of them outperforming the others by at least three adjusted PPG.
Wolverines of Michigan
9-4 record, 10th in SP+ (+20.7 adjusted PPG) in 2019. 2-4, 33rd (+8.8) in 2020 8-4, 17th (+18.3) in 2021 forecast
For years, it was simple to argue that Jim Harbaugh’s time at Michigan was being unfairly portrayed. His Wolverines had won 10 games three times in his five years (they had only done it once in the eight years previous to his arrival) and had placed 10th or better in SP+ four times after averaging 31.1 in the decade prior. His greatest transgression was simply failing to keep up with an Ohio State team that was cruising at maybe its highest altitude ever.
After 2020, it will be far more difficult to mount a defense. Last season, the Wolverines underachieved considerably, finishing 2-4 and not just suffering offensively (which is nothing new), but also regressing significantly on defense.
Longer-term variables are included in SP+ predictions, such as your recent past beyond previous season and current recruitment, and these factors indicate that the Wolverines have a strong chance of improving on last year’s performance. If your eyes disagree, it’s understandable. There is one real star on the Wolverines’ roster (defensive end Aidan Hutchinson). Their starting quarterback will most likely be a chronically injured Texas Tech transfer (Alan Bowman) or a redshirt freshman (Cade McNamara) with just one good performance, against Rutgers, on his resume.
SP+, on the other hand, is here to remind you of the good days. (Who says statisticians and statisticians’ friends are antisocial?) Harbaugh’s moves, such as bringing in Mike Macdonald as defensive coordinator, may go wrong in a variety of ways, but they aren’t certain to.
Tigers of LSU
2019: 15-0, 2nd in SP+ (+33.1 adjusted PPG) 5-5, 45th (+5.6) in 2020 7-5, 26th (+9.0) in 2021 forecast
You get a huge mulligan if you win a national championship. Ed Orgeron’s Tigers lost to Mississippi State and Missouri a year after romping through the SEC and the CFP, then lost by 37 points to the weakest Auburn team in years; they needed a series of lucky breaks against Florida and Ole Miss just to finish. Since 1950, when Notre Dame finished 4-4-1, this is the least successful season for a defending champion. Orgeron discovered that the replacements for his lost stars weren’t quite ready for prime time yet — losing a few more than anticipated to opt-outs didn’t help matters — and that the replacement hires he made for departing coaches like Joe Brady and Dave Aranda just weren’t up to the task.
It’s difficult to predict what the Tigers will be capable of in 2021, particularly given quarterback Myles Brennan’s recent injury. However, the chances of a recovery at some point are quite strong. The Tigers return 17 to 18 players and have added Clemson nickel linebacker Mike Jones Jr. as a transfer. Furthermore, Orgeron’s mulligan appointments of offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and defensive coordinator Daronte Jones may reintroduce some of the youthful vigor that was missing last season. Whether you think of the Tigers as a Top 25 or Top 10 club, you can bet they’ll progress.
2019: 11-3 record, 40th in SP+ (+7.5 PPG adjusted) 5-4, 95th in 2020 (-7.1) 8-4, 75th (+1.1) in 2021 forecast
FAU seemed virtually certain to decline in Willie Taggart’s first season after replacing Lane Kiffin in 2020 after two 11-win seasons and two C-USA championships in three years. The defense, which ranked 56th in defensive SP+ and allowed just 9.4 points per game in victories, did well, while the offense struggled. The depth chart was a revolving door, with the Owls being kept to ten points or less four times.
For better or worse, the Owls return almost every offensive starter, as well as an all-conference receiver in John Mitchell, who will miss 2020 due to a knee injury. Taggart also used the transfer gateway to bring reinforcements in. If the offense is merely competent, the defense, which returns eleven starters, should be able to handle the rest.
Golden Gophers of Minnesota
2019: 11-2 record, 13th in SP+ (+19.4 PPG adjusted) 3-4, 34th (+8.6) in 2020 Projection for 2021: 8-4, 25th (+15.5).
Minnesota’s offensive remained strong in 2020, and it should do so again this fall, with quarterback Tanner Morgan returning for his 17th season as a Gopher. The Gophers will score frequently with 1,000-yard running back Mohamed Ibrahim, dynamic receivers Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson, and a restocked and seasoned offensive line.
However, they dropped from 26th to 64th in defensive SP+, owing to a terrible run defense. Nyles Pinckney (Clemson) and Val Martin (NC State) are tackle transfers who may help the offense, while the defense is stacked with seniors. We’ll see whether this improves UM marginally or transforms them into a dark-horse division contender.
Aggies from Utah State University
2019: 7-6 record, 83rd in the SP+ rankings (-4.3 adjusted PPG) 1-5, 118th, 2020 (-16.3) Projection for 2021: 5-7, 114th (-10.8)
USU recently fielded their poorest squad since 2007, so there’s a lot of “it can’t get much worse” vibe in the air. While SP+ does not expect a huge turnaround, incoming coach Blake Anderson hails from Arkansas State and brings with him quarterback Logan Bonner, receiver Brandon Bowling, and linebacker Justin Rice, among others. The Aggies may benefit from a dose of adrenaline. They certainly need it.
Logan is going through a rough patch right now. USU suffered throughout nearly the entire 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, but beginning in 2011, Gary Andersen orchestrated a furious comeback. Matt Wells kept it going, until it all came to a halt in 2020. Are they going to be lost in the woods again, or will Blake Anderson be able to patch things up quickly?
Bears of Baylor
2020: 2-7, 63rd (+1.3) 2021 projection: 6-6, 49th (+7.0) 2019: 11-3 record, 18th in SP+ (+17.8 adjusted PPG) 2020: 2-7, 63rd (+1.3) 2021 projection: 6-6, 49th (+7.0)
Baylor has climbed or dropped by at least three wins in each of the last five seasons, and by 19 places in SP+ in four of them. It stands to reason that, more than virtually any other FBS school, if they fell last year, they’ll climb again this year.
The defense was strong and likely stay so, so the offense, which placed 91st in offensive SP+, will have to make the most progress. Dave Aranda brought in a pair of transfers to help bolster the line, and coordinator Jeff Grimes came over from BYU. The Bears may be well-positioned for a climb if either Jacob Zeno or Gerry Bohanon can play effectively as quarterback.
Warhawks of UL Monroe
2020: 0-10, 122nd (-22.1) 2021 projection: 3-9, 123rd (-10.7 adjusted PPG) 2019: 5-7 record, 109th in SP+ (-10.7 adjusted PPG) 2020: 0-10, 122nd (-22.1) (-17.0)
You have to sympathize for Matt Viator. He came within a whisker of earning ULM’s second-ever bowl berth on two occasions: in 2018, the Warhawks went 6-6 but were denied, and in 2019, they lost two one-point games and ended 5-7. Then the bottom dropped out: ULM was winless and only managed to remain within 17 points of one opponent.
Terry Bowden takes over an experienced team with little expectation. Rich Rodriguez may not have the mobile quarterback he prefers, and the offensive line has lost some of its most dependable players, but slot receiver Perry Carter Jr. is a keeper, and… once more… The bar has been set quite low. The anticipated three victories would be a significant source of optimism.
This article broadly covered the following related topics:
- ncaa football 2021
- college football season
- college football rankings
- college football games today
- ncaa football rankings