By RJ Younger
FOX Sports activities school soccer reporter
Nobody may’ve predicted Coastal Carolina or Brigham Younger or Cincinnati would rank as prime 10 groups at one level in 2020, and but that’s precisely what occurred.
I feel it will possibly and can occur once more.
In looking at 2021 schedules and vital gamers and coaches returning throughout school soccer, right here’s a have a look at my Prime 25 groups only a few moments faraway from the nationwide title sport.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
It has been plug-and-play in Tuscaloosa since Blake Sims was quarterback, and every time a extra prolific QB has emerged — from Jalen Hurts, to Tua Tagovailoa, to Mac Jones.
Now former five-star recruit Bryce Young takes over a very powerful place on the nation’s solely energetic dynasty. With the return of Malachi Moore, Christian Harris and Jordan Battle on the protection and John Metchie on offense, there’s little motive to consider Nick Saban’s squad won’t be a robust contender for one more nationwide championship.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners misplaced defensive finish Ronnie Perkins and working again Rhamondre Stevenson to early entrance to the 2021 NFL Draft, however they’re prone to return Kennedy Brooks, Nik Bonitto and Jalen Redmond to the 2021 group.
After exhibiting what the offense may do in opposition to an undermanned Florida and a full-strength Iowa State, the Sooners are loaded for a nationwide title run led by Heisman-favorite Spencer Rattler.
For OU, the hardest non-conference sport on the schedule is at house in opposition to Nebraska.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
The window for Georgia to win a nationwide title hasn’t been this open in 4 years. With a returning starter at quarterback and playmakers on offense and protection, the Dawgs ought to come back out of the SEC East unscathed and problem for the SEC crown.
JT Daniels, George Pickens and that embarrassing elite bevy of backs makes this a “No Excuses 12 months” for UGA coach Kirby Sensible. It’s easy for them: Win the SEC title, after which compete within the School Soccer Playoff.
4. Clemson Tigers
D.J. Uiagalelei led Clemson to a comeback victory in opposition to Boston School, and the freshman threw for greater than 400 yards in opposition to Notre Dame on the highway. With James Skalski returning on protection, the Tigers needs to be designated because the dominant drive within the ACC for a seventh consecutive 12 months.
They’ve additionally acquired some of the intriguing video games on the schedule that would act like a quarterfinal for the CFP in opposition to Georgia to open the season on September 4.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ryan Day has been head coach at Ohio State for 2 years, and he has run the regular-season desk in each. Dropping Justin Fields is perhaps devastating for many groups, however the Buckeyes have quarterbacks CJ Stroud and Jack Miller on campus, together with five-star recruit Kyle McCord on his technique to Columbus.
With video games in opposition to Minnesota, Oregon and Tulsa to open, the Buckeyes may have one of many hardest nonconference schedules within the nation.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Jimbo Fisher was magic in 12 months 4 at Florida State, and if he turns both Haynes King or freshman Eli Stowers right into a playmaker at quarterback, the Aggies ought to compete for SEC West supremacy and maybe their first SEC Championship en path to a School Soccer Playoff spot.
A&M performs Colorado on the highway, however ought to run by way of its nonconference schedule unblemished.
7. Cincinnati Bearcats
The Bearcats misplaced their star defensive play-caller, Marcus Freeman, to Notre Dame, however Cincy coach Luke Fickell welcomes again quarterback Desmond Ridder, who may find yourself as the primary QB off the board within the 2022 NFL Draft.
With video games in opposition to Indiana and Notre Dame of their first 4, the Bearcats can have an opportunity to show they belong at No. 7. And in the event that they make it previous ND and IU, full an undefeated convention season and repeat because the American champs, it could be tough to depart them out of the Playoff.
8. Iowa State Cyclones
Matt Campbell turned down an opportunity to interview for an NFL head teaching job. He additionally returns his three most vital gamers on offense, together with the primary unanimous All-American in Cyclones historical past, Breece Hall, at tailback.
The Cyclones additionally acquired a lift from the return of security Greg Eisworth, and defensive finish Will McDonald IV is one in all my favourite gamers heading into the 2021 season. McDonald notched 10.5 sacks and two compelled fumbles in 2020, which tied for No. 1 within the nation.
Add the return of linebacker Mike Rose — who notched 5 interceptions final season, tied for the third-most within the nation — and the Cyclones will threaten Oklahoma as soon as once more for Massive 12 supremacy.
9. LSU Tigers
LSU’s victory at Florida was not a fluke. We all know this as a result of the Bayou Bengals walked into the Swamp with 54 scholarship gamers and a real freshman quarterback making his first begin, and UF misplaced by a shoe.
Additionally they have only one Energy 5 nonconference sport in 2021, and their SEC cross matchups are Kentucky and Florida. LSU is proficient sufficient to win 10 video games in 2021 — if Ed Orgeron nails his defensive coordinator rent.
With nonconference video games in opposition to UCLA, McNeese, Central Michigan and Louisiana-Monroe, LSU ought to stroll into its matchup at Alabama as a Prime 20 group.
If offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing sport coordinator DJ Mangas can summon a few of that 2019 magic, anticipate LSU to affix Alabama and A&M in a struggle for the SEC West title.
10. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Jamey Chadwell and Grayson McCall are joined by a bunch of Chants that may repeat as Solar Belt champs with their hardest nonconference sport coming in opposition to Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., in 2021.
To be clear, I’m rating the Chants right here not as a result of I consider they will beat Iowa or Notre Dame, for instance, however as a result of their schedule factors towards one other double-digit win whole. Extra importantly, they need to have a possibility to show they will or can’t compete in opposition to these groups — in an expanded playoff.
11. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes averaged almost twice as many factors (31.8) as their opponents (16.0). Iowa’s solely losses had been to Purdue and a one-point defeat to a Northwestern group that completed in the Prime 25. Iowa’s hardest opponents in 2021 embody Indiana, Iowa State and Wisconsin. Kirk Ferentz’s males must win a minimum of 9 video games.
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Irish coach Brian Kelly added Wisconsin switch Jack Coan at quarterback and changed Clark Lea with Marcus Freeman at defensive coordinator. Nonetheless, the New 12 months’s Six ceiling for ND appears to get more durable to interrupt by way of every season. And there’s no convention championship to play for in 2021 to guarantee a spot within the Playoff. Security Kyle Hamilton goes to get early buzz on preseason watch checklist as among the finest defenders in 2021.
13. Indiana Hoosiers
The return of the Massive Ten’s greatest receiver, Ty Fryfogle, locks Indiana as a Prime 25 group. If quarterback Michael Penix comes again from harm trying like he did in 2020, the Hoosiers can problem for Massive Ten East supremacy.
14. Penn State Nittany Lions
The younger Nittany Lions took their lumps in 2020. However with offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich shifting into Blissful Valley, anticipate James Franklin’s squad to cope with Indiana and Ohio State for the Massive Ten East title.
15. Oregon Ducks
One of many youngest groups within the sport managed to win a Pac-12 title with out successful its division. However the motive to consider is Kayvon Thibodeaux, who’s the most effective pure move rusher within the sport. The Geese will have an opportunity to show the Pac-12 belongs within the Playoff with an early-season showdown at Ohio State.
16. Wisconsin Badgers
Pair Graham Mertz with working again Jalen Berger and tight finish Jake Ferguson for an additional 12 months, let Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard cook dinner, and the Badgers needs to be one of many two greatest groups within the Massive Ten West. The schedule options an enormous matchup in opposition to Notre Dame on Sept. 25 and a lure sport in opposition to Military on Oct. 16.
17. Miami Hurricanes
If D’Eriq King comes again from harm able to play initially of the season, the Hurricanes will contend within the ACC. And he’ll must be, as a result of Miami hosts Alabama in its season-opener Sept. 4, Appalachian State on Sept. 11 and Michigan State on Sept. 18.
18. North Carolina Tar Heels
Sam Howell’s return and UNC coach Mack Brown’s skill to hold on to sizzling coordinators Phil Longo and Jay Bateman provides the Heels a puncher’s probability in each sport in 2021. However there’s lots of manufacturing to switch on the talent positions, together with the most effective tandem backfield within the nation that was Michael Carter and Javonte Williams.
19. Army Black Knights
The Black Knights are able to beating any group, anytime, anyplace. Jeff Monken’s flexbone offense provides defensive coordinator’s matches, and his groups drive each opponent to be essentially sound. If the Black Knights are undefeated after their Oct. 16 date with Wisconsin, anticipate to listen to Military is a prime 10 group.
20. Texas Longhorns
Steve Sarkisian is taking up a proficient program with large assets — none of which is extra vital than working again Bijan Robinson. If he can get the identical manufacturing out of Robinson that he acquired out of Najee Harris, the Longhorns ought to win 9 video games in Sark’s first season in Austin.
21. SMU Mustangs
Ulysses Bentley IV averaged 5.4 yards per carry and was 87 yards wanting a 1,000-yard season in 2020. Add OU switch Tanner Mordecai to the combo, and the Mustangs might be again within the American title sport once more. The hardest sport on the nonconference schedule for SMU is TCU, and the Mustangs ought to compete for the convention title in 2021.
22. Ole Miss Rebels
The Rebels completed 5-5, however they put up extra yards on Alabama than every other group this season — a whopping 647 whole yards and 48 factors — and earned their fifth win with a victory in opposition to nationally ranked Indiana. With quarterback Matt Corral returning, the Lane Prepare continues full-steam forward. Ole Miss must show it’s an SEC asset and never a legal responsibility when the Rebels face Liberty late within the season, although, on Nov. 6.
23. Washington Huskies
Simply two UW gamers declared for the NFL Draft following the Huskies’ Pac-12 North title, they usually add five-star quarterback Sam Huard to the 2021 class. The Huskies ought to compete with Oregon in 2021 for the division title. UW can construct its résumé with a win on the Massive Home in opposition to Michigan on Sept. 11 earlier than making an attempt to repeat as North champs.
24. Tulsa Golden Hurricane
The Golden Hurricane will lose All-American linebacker Zaven Collins, however they’ll return defensive deal with Jaxson Player and defensive again Allie Green, who anchored a stout 2020 protection. If TU performs Ohio State in 2021 as tightly because it did Oklahoma State in 2020, it’ll have proved its rating.
25. Florida State Seminoles
McKenzie Milton was a adequate to be thought-about a Heisman candidate at UCF in 2017 and taking part in properly in 2018 earlier than injuring his knee. Jermaine Johnson was rated the No. 1 participant within the nation popping out of JUCO when he signed with Georgia in 2019. Operating again DJ Williams is a switch from Auburn. All three are Seminoles now. That bodes properly for FSU and Noles coach Mike Norvell in 12 months 2. We’ll discover out what the Noles are made from Sept. 5 after they face Notre Dame.
RJ Younger is a nationwide school soccer reporter and analyst for FOX Sports activities. Comply with him on Twitter at @RJ_Young. Subscribe to The RJ Younger Present on YouTube. He isn’t on a StepMill.
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