2021 College Football: Your Team's Chances of Winning the Championship
If you've studied college football closely over the past decade, you know that the sport elevates a small group of elite teams above others; Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Georgia, LSU, and a few others have enjoyed prominence in the sport.
Four schools however – Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma – have accounted for 20 of the College Football Playoff’s 28 berths over the past seven years. The SEC West Division (Alabama 3, LSU 1) and Clemson (2) have won six of the seven College Football Playoff national championships.
It’s an exclusive club.
The question people ask every year is, “Will we see fresh faces in the playoff?” Fans want it, but they usually don’t get it. Maybe this year will be different, but that shouldn’t be the prevailing expectation with Stats Insider’s national championship odds wisely reflecting that point.
Let’s look at the leading contenders to win the 2021 national title:
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 25.8%
Mac Jones, Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith are all headed to the NFL. Those four skill position players carried the workload for Alabama’s overwhelmingly dominant offense last season. The 2020 Crimson Tide averaged 48.5 points per game, second in the United States. This was a machine which roared to the national title.
You might think that with these four players gone, Alabama will suffer… but Alabama lost Tua Tagovailoa a year ago and came back better than ever with Mac Jones, who's not as talented as Tua. The Crimson Tide have Bryce Young at quarterback, ready to take the torch from Jones. Alabama is reloading at its major positions and still has the best personnel in the SEC. The fact that LSU and Auburn struggled mightily last year showed that those teams aren’t ready to match the consistency of Nick Saban’s team. Alabama is still the one to beat in the SEC. If the Tide make the playoff, they usually win in the semifinals. Their only semifinal loss was in the first playoff, back in 2014 to Ohio State and Ezekiel Elliott in the Sugar Bowl.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 20.2%
Clemson does not have as good a team this year as it did last year, but the Tigers don’t play North Carolina or Miami on their regular-season schedule. Clemson plays Georgia at a neutral site (Charlotte, North Carolina) in Week 1 of the season. The winner of that game has a great chance to make the playoff, but the key difference is that Clemson plays in the weak ACC, while Georgia still has to get past Florida and especially Alabama in the SEC. If Clemson does beat Georgia, it's virtually impossible to imagine the Tigers not making the playoff. Clemson lost to Ohio State in last season’s playoff, but if the Tigers meet the Buckeyes again in the semifinals this year, OSU would not have Justin Fields. Clemson would likely have the advantage at quarterback with D.J. Uiagalelei, who gained valuable experience last year against Notre Dame.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 15.2%
The Oklahoma Sooners lost two of their first three games last season. It was very possible that they would not win their sixth straight Big 12 championship. Yet, they won eight straight games to defend their title. This was a younger, less experienced team in 2020, but now these players are seasoned and a lot more mature. Oklahoma has a battle-tested lineup, and it has a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback: Spencer Rattler. Oklahoma is still waiting for its first win in the College Football Playoff. The Sooners have reached four playoff semifinal games but are 0-4 once there. Pundits and analysts believe this is easily Oklahoma’s best chance to win a semifinal and play for the national title since the 2017 season, when Oklahoma gained a 31-14 lead in the semifinals against Georgia but lost in double overtime. A key reason Oklahoma’s stock is rising: The defense is no longer a sieve. Coordinator Alex Grinch has dramatically improved this side of the ball. Oklahoma is now a balanced and more complete team.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 9.8%
The Buckeyes lose Justin Fields, which is why they are fourth in the Stats Insider rankings after making the national championship game last season and very nearly making the title game the year before in 2019. Fields did a lot for the Buckeyes, and it won’t be quite as easy for them to score in 2021 without him. However, receiver Chris Olave returned to the Buckeyes instead of going to the NFL draft. That’s a huge addition for OSU’s new and untested quarterback. A.J. Stroud is the leader in the offseason battle for the starting job, but coach Ryan Day might try out other quarterbacks early in the season. If one of the top four favourites for the national title doesn’t make the playoff, it will be Ohio State.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 4.1%
The Bulldogs will dramatically improve their playoff odds if they beat Clemson in their season opener, a gigantic game for head coach Kirby Smart. However, if UGA loses this game, the Bulldogs would likely need to run the table the rest of the way. Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma are not likely to lose twice. If Georgia falls to Clemson, its margins will be extremely small. The Dawgs would need to win the SEC championship and receive help from other teams if they are to make the playoff with two losses (an 11-2 record). The man of the hour for Georgia is J.T. Daniels, a quarterback who transferred from USC and played well when given an opportunity to start late last season. The big question is if Daniels can play a full 13-game season at the level he displayed late last year. The jury is still out on that point.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 3.6%
Iowa State made and won the first New Year’s Six (premium) bowl game in school history last season. The Cyclones reached the Fiesta Bowl and clobbered Oregon. This was easily the most successful Iowa State season in over 110 years. Now, the Cyclones – with nearly all their important 2020 players returning this year – are focused on one remaining goal: Winning the Big 12 championship. If ISU – which narrowly lost to Oklahoma in last season’s Big 12 Championship Game – can take that one extra step against the Sooners, the Cyclones could achieve a longstanding goal and get into the playoff instead of OU. Given that Iowa State is picked to finish second in Stats Insider’s Big 12 projections, it’s hardly out of the question to think this team can take down Oklahoma.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 2.9%
Analysts think Oregon has an elite defense with defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux on the roster. Thibodeau is viewed as a top-three NFL draft pick for next year, and he has plenty of talent and depth to accompany him on the Ducks’ defense. The Ducks are strong on at running back and wide receiver as well. Their roster doesn’t have a large number of weaknesses. However, their big weakness is conspicuous: They don’t have an elite quarterback. Anthony Brown is the favourite to be the starting quarterback, with Ty Thompson the challenger. Oregon visits Ohio State in Week 2 of the season. That will be a very tough game for UO to win. If the Ducks lose, they would need to win the rest of their games to have a chance at the title. Stats Insider’s championship projection properly values the Ducks’ odds.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 2.6%
Wisconsin’s offense was hamstrung last year because its two top receivers were hurt for most of the year. If healthy, the Badgers could field a dramatically different offense compared to what they worked with in 2020. Quarterback Graham Mertz struggled, but he struggled because his best receivers weren’t able to play. Wisconsin is clearly the best and most likely contender to Ohio State for the Big Ten championship.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 1.9%
Losing tight end Kyle Pitts is a massive departure. No personnel change will harm the Gators more than that one. Losing quarterback Kyle Trask is significant, but if new quarterback Emory Jones – who is familiar with Dan Mullen’s offensive system – can thrive with his own skill set (he is more of a running quarterback than Trask), Florida could still overtake Georgia in the SEC East Division and earn the right to face Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Still, the Gators’ path to the national title is extremely difficult.
Stats Insider Championship Projection: 1.3%
Iowa regularly fields a strong, tough defense under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz, who is the longest-tenured coach at a single school in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Quarterback performance is usually this program’s stumbling block, and that’s where the Hawkeyes will have to answer tough questions once again this season.
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