The preseason Coaches Poll top 25 was released on Tuesday as the 2021 college football season draws near, and there weren’t many huge surprises. Alabama claimed the top spot, followed by Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State. Georgia chimed in to round out the top five, while fellow SEC contender Texas A&M coming in one spot behind at No. 6.
It’s talkin’ season, which means that it’s time to yell at one another at the top of our lungs as we now have rankings to digest. Which team is overrated? Which team is underrated? Here are my thoughts on where the panel of 65 Division I head coaches missed the mark in the first edition of the Coaches Poll.
Overrated: No. 6 Texas A&M
Look, I get it. Texas A&M was in the College Football Playoff mix all the way up to the final release of the rankings last winter. That has given Aggie fans around the country a false sense of hope that this is the year they break through the glass ceiling and make the CFP. That isn’t going to happen. The No. 6 ranking ignores that coach Jimbo Fisher is breaking in a new quarterback — Haynes King or Zach Calzada — who hasn’t taken a single meaningful snap in FBS football. That matters, especially in a system that demands a lot from its signal-caller. What’s more, the Aggies are breaking in four new starters on the offensive line. Granted, the one returning starter, All-American left tackle Kenyon Green, is a monster, but he’s only one man. This unit will be charged with not only protecting the quarterback, but making critical checks at the line of scrimmage in order to protect said quarterback. The coaches seem to think that the Aggies are the top contender to Alabama in the SEC West. I disagree (more on that below).
Underrated: No. 13 LSU
Can we stop with the narrative that LSU is a hot mess destined for a disaster in 2021? That simply won’t be the case. Coach Ed Orgeron told me at SEC Media Days that he didn’t handle the pressure of defending a national championship well at all. He’s right. To fix things, he canned defensive coordinator Bo Pelini in favor of Daronte Jones, and replaced Steve Ensminger with Jake Peetz, who Orgeron says will incorporate five-man protection schemes almost exclusively. That’s exactly what Joe Brady did during the 2019 national title run. Max Johnson is a more than willing runner at quarterback, just like Joe Burrow. The running back room is loaded. Wide receiver Kayshon Boutte is one of the best receivers in the country and the Tigers return four starters up front. The defense has nine starters back, including star defensive back Derek Stingley Jr., defensive linemen Ali Gaye and Glen Logan, and — most importantly — the absence of Pelini. LSU is Alabama’s primary threat, and it isn’t even close.
Quarterback Ian Book is gone, and Jack Coan has come over from Wisconsin to replace him. Is Coan a difference-maker? Maybe under normal circumstances. Will he be a difference-maker on a new team with only three offensive starters returning off a team that limped to the finish line last season? Nope. The coaches seem to think that the Fighting Irish, who lost defensive coordinator Clark Lea to Vanderbilt, will pick up right where they left off as a legitimate CFP threat. I’m not buying it. LSU, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Oregon and several other teams ranked lower than the Fighting Irish are much bigger threats.
Underrated: No. 5 Georgia
Georgia hasn’t been able to break through that glass ceiling under Kirby Smart, but that should change this year as the Bulldogs are loaded from top to bottom. It starts with quarterback JT Daniels, who now has a full year operating in Todd Monken’s offense after working through issues and not seeing the field until the final month of the season. The running back room is loaded, the wide receiving corps in versatile and dangerous, the offensive line is stacked with talent and we don’t have to worry about Georgia’s defense at all. If you want to look at the most complete teams right now, Georgia and Oklahoma are the two that should come to mind. It seems like it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to rank Alabama and Clemson in the top two based on their history of replacing stars with stars. Georgia doesn’t even have to worry about that this year.