Yahoo Sports' 2021 preseason college football top 25

A lot of changes have already happened in college football and plenty more changes are coming (looking at you, Texas and Oklahoma), but the teams projected to be the best on the field in 2021 largely remain the same as in recent years.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be any surprises this season, but you’ll see plenty of familiar names across Yahoo Sports’ 2021 preseason Top 25 rankings. The season is less than two weeks away, so it’s time to size up the best teams in the country.

(All odds via BetMGM.)

1. Alabama (13-0 in 2020)

The Crimson Tide will have a lot of new faces in key roles in 2021. But that doesn't mean Alabama isn't worthy of the top spot in the preseason rankings. Bryce Young takes over for Mac Jones at QB and Brian Robinson leads a loaded running back room replacing Najee Harris. John Metchie was big after Jaylen Waddle's injury and Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams could be an intriguing deep threat. The offense — under new coordinator Bill O'Brien — will look different. And it'll still be very good. Defensively, Alabama can be dominant. Eight starters are back on a unit that held Notre Dame and Ohio State to 38 combined points in the College Football Playoff. Tennessee transfer LB Henry To'o To'o should be an immediate contributor in place of 2020 leading tackler Dylan Moses while the next eight top tacklers on the team are back in 2021 including LB Christian Harris, S Jordan Battle and LB Will Anderson.

National championship odds: +260

2. Clemson (10-2)

Clemson has six consecutive ACC titles and CFP appearances under its belt entering 2021. It’s hard to foresee those streaks not extending to seven. Sure, Trevor Lawrence is gone. So is Travis Etienne. But Dabo Swinney has built the Tigers into a juggernaut, and this year’s roster is immensely talented. The defensive line could rival the 2018 group that saw all four starters go off to the NFL, including three first-rounders. There’s also D.J. Uiagalelei, who is ready to step in at QB, a stellar secondary and a slew of skill position players ready to step into prominent roles. That Week 1 matchup with Georgia is going to be a doozy.

National championship odds: +450

3. Georgia (8-2)

By now we know that Georgia's defense is going to be very good. Top tacklers Nakobe Dean and Lewis Cine are back, while pass rusher Adam Anderson should have a bigger role. Transfers Tykee Smith (West Virginia) and Derion Kendrick (Clemson) should bolster the secondary as Georgia has given up fewer than five yards per play in four consecutive seasons. Smith, however, is reportedly injured and could miss Week 1 against Clemson. The biggest question for the Bulldogs is on offense. Will the passing offense be as explosive as it was at the end of the season? If J.T. Daniels is a star, then Georgia has a claim to be the best team in the country. LSU transfer Arik Gilbert could be in line for a big role with top wideout George Pickens potentially out for the season. And the offensive line has three starters back to block for RBs Zamir White and James Cook.

National championship odds: +600

4. Oklahoma (9-2)

For years, Oklahoma has been prolific on offense but below average on defense. What can happen if the defense starts to catch up with the offense? We might find out this year. The Sooners have won six straight Big 12 titles and have reached the CFP four times. In all four appearances, OU lost in the semifinals. A porous defense was usually the culprit. If Alex Grinch’s unit continues its trend upward and the offense continues its prolific ways, Oklahoma could get closer to that elusive national championship.

National championship odds: +800

5. Ohio State (7-1)

The gap between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten continues to be very large. The Buckeyes have won four straight conference titles with Ryan Day steadily improving what was already an excellent roster under Urban Meyer. In 2021, the Buckeyes will work in a new quarterback. CJ Stroud is the leader of the pack, and he represents one of the lone question marks surrounding this team. The wide receiver depth is incredible. The young talent at running back is ascending and both lines should be very good. There are some worries about the secondary as the Buckeyes struggled defending the pass in 2020. But OSU has always developed top-level cornerbacks, and there aren’t many QBs in the Big Ten that scare you.

National championship odds: +600

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day talks to reporters during an NCAA college football news conference at the Big Ten Conference media days, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Friday, July 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day talks to reporters during an NCAA college football news conference at the Big Ten Conference media days, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Friday, July 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

6. Texas A&M (9-1)

Who is the starting quarterback? Haynes King and Zach Calzada are competing to replace longtime starter Kellen Mond. Whoever wins the job will have lots of help at the skill positions, especially at RB with Isaiah Spiller, Ainias Smith and Devon Achane. The offensive line needs to replace four starters, but there are a lot of highly-touted recruits in line to take over up front. Nine starters are back on defense as A&M aims to allow fewer than 100 rushing yards per game for the third time in four seasons. The biggest game of the season is on Oct. 9 when Alabama comes to College Station. A win there means everything is in play for the Aggies.

National championship odds: +4000

7. Iowa State (9-3)

Before Matt Campbell arrived, just getting to a bowl game was a big-time accomplishment for Iowa State. Now the Cyclones have their sights set much higher. Entering 2021, Iowa State is nipping at Oklahoma’s heels in the Big 12. The Cyclones lost to the Sooners in last year’s Big 12 title game, but have 20 starters back and are seeking another shot against OU. And if ISU can knock OU from the top of the Big 12, is a CFP berth really out of the question? Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, Charlie Kolar, Will McDonald and Greg Eisworth are all among the best at their positions in the Big 12. This team is extremely experienced, but are now in the unfamiliar position of being a favorite in most games instead of playing the underdog role. Will that dynamic affect the Cyclones?

National championship odds: +4000

8. Cincinnati (9-1)

The Bearcats cruised through their AAC schedule in 2020 and nearly upset Georgia in the Peach Bowl. Despite the undefeated regular season, Cincinnati was way down at No. 8 in last year’s CFP rankings. Trips to Indiana and Notre Dame this year will give UC a better chance to rise up the rankings. About two-thirds of the team’s starters are back, led by Desmond Ridder at quarterback. While Ridder has the chance to cement himself as one of the better QBs in the nation, the Bearcats should be stronger on the defensive side of the ball. Sauce Gardner, a junior CB, earned All-America odds from some publications last year and is a player to watch.

National championship odds: +15000

9. Notre Dame (10-2)

It’s hard to envision Notre Dame pulling off an undefeated regular season yet again, but this should still be a really tough team. The Irish’s weaknesses were exploited in losses to Clemson in the ACC title game and Alabama in the CFP semifinals, and those weaknesses might linger into 2021. Last year, the Irish didn’t hit many explosive plays in the passing game with Ian Book at quarterback. Jack Coan should be a solid replacement, but do the Irish have the weapons on the outside to improve in that facet of the offense? Elsewhere, the talent is there. Kyren Williams is an extremely fun player at running back, the tight end room is loaded, and the offensive line should be stout once again. The defense will always keep the Irish in games, too.

National championship odds: +8000

10. Oregon (4-3)

Anthony Brown was good enough at the end of the 2020 season to be the presumed starter ahead of 2021 after Tyler Shough transferred to Texas Tech, though freshman Ty Thompson is apparently getting a serious look. RBs Travis Dye and CJ Verdell are both back after combining for over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the Ducks' abbreviated 2020 season. Star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux leads a defense that brings back its four leading tacklers and aims to improve on a pass rush that averaged fewer than two sacks a game. The Ducks' visit to Ohio State in Week 2 is one of the best matchups of the season.

National championship odds: +8000

11. North Carolina (8-4)

Mack Brown’s second stint in Chapel Hill has to be going better than most UNC fans could have imagined. UNC won a combined five games in Larry Fedora’s final two seasons. In Brown’s first two seasons, the Tar Heels have gone 15-10. Not only have they won more games, the roster is significantly improved from a pure talent standpoint. Nowhere does that stand out more than the presence of QB Sam Howell, who is one of the nation’s best. UNC has the chance to be very good along the lines of scrimmage. The secondary looks promising as well. But there’s a lot of production to replace at running back and receiver. Still, we like the Tar Heels as the clear second-best team in the ACC.

National championship odds: +5000

FILE - North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell takes a snap during an NCAA college football practice in Chapel Hill, N.C., in this Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, file photo. The Tar Heels return 18 starters from an eight-win team and are picked to win the ACC's Coastal Division. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
FILE - North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell takes a snap during an NCAA college football practice in Chapel Hill, N.C., in this Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, file photo. The Tar Heels return 18 starters from an eight-win team and are picked to win the ACC's Coastal Division. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

12. Wisconsin (4-3)

The Badgers saw their 2020 season get derailed by COVID-19 and now have had a full offseason with Graham Mertz as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback. Mertz is the most talented QB Wisconsin has had in a long time — perhaps since Russell Wilson. He showed his potential at times last year, but also had some struggles. If he takes a step forward, the Badgers look like the favorite in the Big Ten West. He’ll also need help from a running game that was mediocre in 2020. Jalen Berger is the guy Wisconsin fans are looking to emerge as the program’s next big-time running back.

National championship odds: +8000

13. Florida (8-4)

Florida loses a ton from its prolific 2020 offense, but Dan Mullen will have the opportunity to go back to his roots. Dating back to his days as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator, Mullen thrived with dual-threat quarterbacks. Kyle Trask did not fit that mold, but Emory Jones does. Jones, a top 100 recruit in 2018, has patiently waited his turn and now will get to run the show in Gainesville, albeit without first-round talent like Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney as his top targets. Still, there are reasons to be high on the Gators. Mullen always finds ways to score points, and there’s a lot to like on defense, especially up front. Whether this group has enough to fend off Georgia in the SEC East remains to be seen.

National championship odds: +5000

14. Penn State (4-5)

The 2020 season was a rough one for Penn State. PSU lost its first five games before winning its last four. James Franklin hopes that late-season momentum carries into 2021. There’s reason to believe it will. The Nittany Lions are loaded at the skill positions on offense, but QB Sean Clifford’s career has been plagued by inconsistencies. Will new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich help Clifford? Defensively, there is plenty of talent with the secondary looking especially strong. The defensive line will need its transfer additions, especially Arnold Ebiketie, to be productive for the unit to reach its potential. The schedule is tough, too, with Wisconsin and Auburn in Weeks 1 and 3, but the Nittany Lions look primed to bounce back.

National championship odds: +8000

15. LSU (5-5)

We'll see if 2020 was an aberration for LSU. Daronte Jones is the team's new defensive coordinator after the disaster that was last season under former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. LSU allowed nearly 35 points and 500 yards per game a year ago. With nine starters returning — including potential top-10 pick CB Derek Stingley — we'll find out quickly if the scheme was the issue a year ago. Projected starting QB Myles Brennan is out indefinitely after suffering a left arm injury in a freak accident on a boat dock. That leaves Max Johnson, who showed promise late in 2020, as the starter. Will Johnson blossom into an SEC-caliber starter? Or will Brennan be able to return to action? LSU's games against Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas A&M are in the second half of the season.

National championship odds: +5000

16. USC (5-1)

It's another big year for Trojans' coach Clay Helton. USC won its first five games of the season before losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. That was the only game of the season where USC didn't score at least 28 points. The connection between QB Kedon Slovis and WR Drake London should be strong again and Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram is in line for a big role at RB. The Trojans need to replace Talanoa Hufanga on defense, but he's just one of three starters who don't return. There's a path for USC to be 6-0 ahead of a trip to Notre Dame in late October.

National championship odds: +10000

17. Miami (8-3)

There’s a lot to like about Miami. Manny Diaz found a good recipe for the offense by hiring Rhett Lashlee as coordinator and adding transfer QB D’Eriq King. King is back for his sixth season of college football, but is coming off an ACL tear. If King is healthy, the line rounds into form and the receiver play improves (adding Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo could be a big help), the Hurricanes could have a top 20 offense. What’s concerning with Miami are the losses on the line of scrimmage defensively. Even with Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, the Hurricanes didn’t defend the run very well. Now those two are in the NFL and it’s hard not to envision the pass rush taking a step back.

National championship odds: +5000

Miami tight end Will Mallory (85) prepares to catch a pass from quarterback D'Eriq King (1) during NCAA college football practice Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Miami tight end Will Mallory (85) prepares to catch a pass from quarterback D'Eriq King (1) during NCAA college football practice Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

18. Iowa (6-2)

Over the last five seasons, Iowa has a 13-15 record in one-possession games. That’s a lot of close games, many of which have been the difference between Iowa winning Big Ten West titles and good, but not great seasons. By the looks of the 2021 schedule (trips to Iowa State and Wisconsin, home games vs. Penn State and Indiana), there will be a lot more close games on the horizon. The Hawkeyes have a lot of experienced players. The offensive line should be one of the Big Ten’s best, and Phil Parker’s defense has no glaring weaknesses. The passing game, led by second-year QB Spencer Petras, is the biggest question mark.

National championship odds: +20000

19. Washington (3-1)

The Huskies bring back most of a roster that saw three games lost to COVID-19 in 2020. When Washington was on the field, two of its three wins came by six points or less and the Huskies ended their season with a loss to Stanford. Washington should have some more convincing wins in 2021 in Jimmy Lake's second season as head coach. QB Dylan Morris should be better with those four games as the team's starter under his belt and Washington's top three running backs return. Week 2 against Michigan will be a great test.

National championship odds: +10000

20. Utah (3-2)

We see the Trojans and Utes as the top two teams in the Pac-12 South ahead of Arizona State. Utah ended the season with three consecutive wins after losing to USC and Washington and brings back 19 starters. One of the new starters is transfer QB Charlie Brewer from Baylor. He completed over 60% of his passes in four seasons with the Bears and is a significant upgrade at the position. Oklahoma transfer TJ Pledger is in line to be the team's top running back and six of the top seven tacklers are back for 2021.

National championship odds: +20000

21. Coastal Carolina (11-1)

Most of the team from Coastal's magical 2020 is back for another run at the Sun Belt title. The Chants need to replace RB CJ Marable but Reese White rushed for 485 yards and seven touchdowns on just 88 carries in 2020. QB Grayson McCall completed nearly 70% of his passes and had a combined 33 TDs. Ten starters are back on defense including defensive linemen CH Brewer and Jeffrey Gunter. They combined for 13 sacks. You'll also see a lot of Coastal Carolina on national TV this season. Six games are on either a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

National championship odds: +50000

22. Texas (7-3)

After a fourth underwhelming season under Tom Herman, the Texas brass decided it had had enough with Herman’s teams not meeting expectations. So exit Herman, and enter Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian had stints as a head coach at Washington and USC before revitalizing his career as an offensive assistant at Alabama. Now he’s getting another shot as a head coach, and the cupboard isn’t bare in Austin. There’s little experience at quarterback, and there are holes on defense. But there’s also plenty of talent. Running back Bijan Robinson is one of the most explosive players in the country and the defensive line has promise.

National championship odds: +10000

Texas running back Bijan Robinson (5) runs during the final half of the Texas Orange and White Spring Scrimmage in Austin, Texas, Saturday, April 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
Texas running back Bijan Robinson (5) runs during the final half of the Texas Orange and White Spring Scrimmage in Austin, Texas, Saturday, April 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

23. Indiana (6-2)

We’ll know pretty early in 2021 if Indiana’s 2020 triumph was a fluke. The Hoosiers play Iowa, Cincinnati and Penn State in three of their first five games. The gutsy play of QB Michael Penix Jr. was a big reason for IU’s success last year, but he is coming off yet another season-ending injury and was often a boom-or-bust player. There are questions about the talent of the offensive line, and IU will be relying on a bunch of transfers at the skill positions. Defensively, though, nine starters are back, including all-conference linebacker Micah McFadden. This defense should keep IU in games, even after coordinator Kane Wommack left to become the head coach at South Alabama. If the defense continues to cause turnovers in bunches and the offense is less erratic, the Hoosiers should easily outplay our skeptical ranking.

National championship odds: +20000

24. Ole Miss (5-5)

A little defensive improvement can go a long way for the Rebels. Ole Miss allowed a wild 38 points and 519 yards per game in 2020 as seemingly every game was a shootout. The Rebels gave up fewer than 30 points just three times in 2020. Nine starters are back on defense, but leading tackler Jacquez Jones transferred to Kentucky. The offense will be really good again despite the departures of Eljiah Moore (86 catches, 1,193 yards) and Kenny Yeboah. If Matt Corral can avoid multi-interception games, Ole Miss can be very dangerous.

National championship odds: +15000

25. Louisiana (10-1)

We're hoping to get the Louisiana vs. Coastal Carolina Sun Belt title game matchup that COVID-19 canceled a season ago. The Ragin' Cajuns bring back 10 starters on each side of the ball including nearly every key contributor on a defense that can go from good to great win an improved pass rush. Offensively, WRs Kyren Lacy, Jalen Williams, and Peter LeBlanc are a nice trio and the Cajuns present a formidable test for Texas and new coach Steve Sarkisian in Week 1. The teams are pretty evenly matched, though that won't stop an overreaction if Louisiana pulls the upset.

National championship odds: +100000

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