Take a look at the major changes that college football underwent in the offseason, from conference realignment to NIL rules. (3:16).
Week 1 is here. Let's jump right in.
Which coaches are already feeling the pressure? What players are we confident will be the stars of this season's college football? Are there any chances that an underdog could reach the College Football Playoffs.
Our college football reporters breakdown what they expect this season and which games they are most excited to see:
Which coach is most under pressure?
Clay Helton could be in trouble if USC has a rough start. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
David Hale: Clay Helton is the obvious choice here. His reputation has been tarnished for many years. The fan base won't be patient any longer, especially if USC starts off with a poor start and lofty expectations. In a smaller scale, Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente lives on the edge with key supporters eager for change after the worst season in decades. AD Whit Babcock gave a tepid endorsement of the season's conclusion, and if the Hokies fail early (they get North Carolina and West Virginia in the first five week), then change could be inevitable.
Chris Low: Chip Kelly's acclaimed return to the Pac-12 is not as successful as his success at Oregon. He went 33-3 against Pac-12 rivals from 2009-12, and led the Ducks to a BCS National Championship game appearance. Also, he won the Rose Bowl (and Fiesta Bowl) games. He is currently only 10-15 in Pac-12 play, and has yet not had a winning season. Good news is that many of the Bruins' starters are back from last year, and Kelly has all these players. The second week of the season offers a fantastic opportunity to set the tone in 2021 with the home game against LSU. Kelly in Westwood would be very unhappy if there was no bowl game for the fourth consecutive season.
Alex Scarborough: We will have to question whether Scott Frost is the right person to bring Nebraska back to prominence. He was a Husker national champion in 1997 and will be remembered in Lincoln as a legend. That was over 20 years ago. Although he was a great coach at UCF and Florida, the AAC isn’t the Big Ten or Nebraska. Three seasons in, he's still leading his alma maternity. The results are not good: 12-20, three consecutive fifth-place finishes divisionally and not one bowl game. The NCAA is now investigating whether Frost knew that consultants and analysts were being misused improperly, and that exercises were being held off-campus. Frost could lose his job if he isn't fired for this alone. However, he may be facing a sub-.500 season.
Tom VanHaaren : Alex is right that it's likely Frost. But, to add another name, I'll vote for Jim Harbaugh. Although I don't consider the most pressure the hot seat, he is under a lot of pressure after the 2-4 season. He also has to deal with more coaching changes and uncertain future. Michigan players are raving about their renewed enthusiasm and energy. Harbaugh looked and sounded refreshed at Big Ten media events. However, with Washington, Wisconsin and Penn State on the schedule, the Wolverines will need to prove that their talk is translating into the field. If Michigan isn't getting off to a quick start, Harbaugh will be asked many questions.
Bill Connelly: Bryan Harsin? It's not hard for Auburn to go sour, and Harsin's offseason has been particularly bizarre. To get SEC experience, he hired coordinators who would have made more sense in 2013 than 2021. He did not prioritise high vaccination rates until recent -- much less than his new rivals Nick Saban or Kirby Smart -- and ended-up testing positive for COVID-19 during fall camp. It is possible to overcome a difficult first offseason, but it was very troubling.
Ryan McGee: Connelly, I'm with you. My high school friend who failed to graduate halfway through his freshman year was the only Auburn student I know who had a worse semester.
Mark Schlabach Rolovich's comments on COVID-19 vaccinations have left many people scratching their heads. Edwards' team has the talent to win the Pac-12 South. But, I don't think they can ignore the NCAA investigation that has hung over the program for the past few months. Three of Edwards' assistants are currently on administrative leave. That's not a good sign going into the season.
Who is your breakout star?
Bijan Robinson ran for 703 yards in nine games while a true freshman. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Hale: Does Alabama QB Bryce Young qualify as a breakout star even though he has already earned more than $1million in endorsements? Young, however, will have the biggest stage and most responsibility as he assumes the role of Alabama's next hotshot quarterback. Young must live up to his five-star expectations and help Alabama continue its historic offensive season. Uiagalelei, JT Daniels on their way to a national title. No biggie.
Low: Texas runningback Bijan Robinson is not an unknown quantity after running for 703 yards in nine games last year as a true freshman. Don't be surprised if Robinson doubles his production in 2021. First, he is healthy, having recovered from a back injury that he suffered in his freshman season. He also had 220 rushing/receiving yards during his two previous games. Robinson, who is 6'4" and 214 lbs, will make explosive plays again this season after recording a team-leading 14 plays over 20 yards as a freshman. Steve Sarkisian, the first-year coach, will use Robinson in the same way that Sarkisian used Najee Harris at Alabama.
Scarborough: Lane Kiffin, his former USC office colleague, knows how to use a star running back. Jerrion Ealy is exactly that. Ealy, who scored touchdowns on kick returns, receiving, and running, is a huge play in the making. Kiffin will be moving Ealy around, and getting him more involved in passing the ball. Elijah Moore is now the go-to receiver. You can find a way for a guy like Elijah Moore to receive the ball.
VanHaaren - Ohio State has a new quarterback. Star receivers Chris Olave (left) and Garrett Wilson (right) are back. Wide receiver Jaxon Smith–Njigba, who is a wide receiver, has a chance to make big numbers with the defense's attention on them. He is a former top 100 Texas receiver who signed in 2020. He was a top-100 receiver last season with 10 receptions for 49 yards. However, he should be playing a larger role in 2021. C.J.'s new quarterback will be helped by the presence of three talented wide receivers and tight end Jeremy Ruckert. Stroud should keep the passing game as a strength in the offense this season, and Smith-Njigba should remain a major target.
Dave Wilson: Stroud is mine. It's hard to refuse a quarterback with Ryan Day calling plays and the keys to a loaded offense.
Connelly: Haynes King's prospects this year at Texas A&M are fascinating to me. He was a legend in high school and was a top 100 recruit. In just 16 snaps, he managed to put together a touchdown pass and an interception. Kellen Mond set the bar high in College Station but it wasn't impossible. It's not the worst job to inherit. If King is the real deal A&M is also.
Andrea Adelson: Miami receiver Charleston Rambo. It has nothing to do his last name. It may have a little to do his last name. Rambo is a potential player who can make big, explosive plays like those that Miami was lacking last season. Rambo, who transferred in after a disappointing season with Oklahoma's final team, impressed everyone with his performance in the spring game. Miami decided to make it a priority to improve its deep-ball play. To do that, Rambo must be a force. Since Allen Hurns (2013), Miami hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver. With D'Eriq King back in Year 2, the offense is more familiar, the Hurricanes have a great opportunity to reach that mark.
Adam Rittenberg. I have always been a fan of Iowa running back Tyler Goodson and I believe this season will be his best. This Hawkeye team is known for its emphasis on the run game. He's had two similar seasons, but he will be Iowa’s featured runner behind a strong Rimington Trophy nominee Tyler Linderbaum. Goodson has averaged more than five yards per run over his career. He also serves as an effective receiver from the backfield. Iowa is my pick for the Big Ten West championship, and Goodson should have an impressive junior year.
Which true freshman do you feel most excited about?
Agiye hall could be Alabama's next great wide receiver. Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports
Hale: Clemson's RB Will Shipley earned high praises in the preseason. Players praised his physical abilities, as well as his leadership qualities. Shipley, a star recruit, was versatile as a runner, pass catcher and plays a position that Clemson is in real need of after the departure from Travis Etienne. The Tigers are likely to open with a backfield-by-committee approach, but don't be surprised if Shipley quick grabs the lion's share of the snaps, because he's just too good to keep on the sideline.
Low: Make sure to have plenty of Kool Aid when Alabama plays in the fall. Kool -Aid McKinstry is the Crimson Tide’s next star cornerback. McKinstry, who is 6-1 and 190 lbs, has been an electrifying presence on campus since he arrived in spring. While it's not easy for a true freshman cornerback to play every-down and take over as a cornerback, he has all the attributes (size, speed, and physicality) necessary to be one the Tide's top defensive backs this season. A sweet NIL endorsement deal has also been signed with the Kool-Aid brand. "Oh yeah!"
Scarborough: Have you seen Agiye Hall's Alabama spring game? Did you witness the all-around acrobatics and one-handed catch? Although he doesn't have a clever nickname, he is the next great Bama receiver after Jaylen Waddle, DeVontaSmith and Jerry Jeudy are gone.
Connelly: USC's edge rusher KoreyForeman is in a very perfect spot. Foreman was the No. He was the No. 3 prospect in the nation and has college-ready size (6-5 and 265). Because the Trojans have an experienced front seven and a star in Drake Jackson, Todd Orlando can help Foreman succeed early. Jackson and Foreman could quickly form one of the most efficient pass-rushing tandems in America. If the USC defense makes another stride overall, the Trojans could be the favorite in the Pac-12.
McGee: It's not one man in Columbus. It's a group of people and they all work together to defend the city. Five freshmen could be starting on D now, and they might soon. In Ohio State's spring game, defensive end Jack Sawyer was the only kid to shine. He's a kid at 6-4 and 240. His name is Jack Sawyer. He looked 30 years older when he was born here in Pickerington.
Who will make an immediate impact transfer?
McKenzie Milton was transferred from UCF into Florida State. Melina Myers USA TODAY Sports
Low: Henry To'o To’o To’o made an immediate impression at Alabama, after leading Tennessee last year with 10 tackles. To'o Too was not only one of Alabama's most prolific players at his inside linebacker position in the preseason but he also showed remarkable speed in learning the Crimson Tide defensive scheme. His leadership and work ethic are highly valued by the Alabama coaching staff. They expect him to continue to be a key part of what will be Nick Saban's most successful defense in recent years. To'o To’o will help the Tide make more defensive plays in 2021.
Wilson: Eric Gray will be a key player at the running back position for Oklahoma. This is a position in which the Sooners are somewhat thin. Gray, a 5-9, 226-pound transfer from Tennessee, averaged 5.1 yards per run in his two seasons with the Vols. He also rushed for 1,311 yards in 22 games. He also caught 43 passes. The OU offense will give him the chance to showcase his versatility.
VanHaaren - Penn State's acquisition of defensive end Arnold Ebiketie was a significant addition to their roster. Staff lost Shaka Toney and Odafe Oweh to the NFL. Defensive end Adisa Isaac may be out for the season due to injury. Ebiketie was a Temple defensive end who had 42 tackles, four passes and three forced fumbles. Because of the loss in production and depth at the position, Ebiketie will be required this season.
Connelly: Derrick Tangelo, Penn State's defensive tackle, could be a key disruptor. But let's take a look at Mike Jones Jr. at LSU. He looked like a tailor-made Isaiah Simmons successor at Clemson 2020. He did well with four TFLs and two interceptions. But he could also be a focal point in an LSU defense that has a lot of experience, but must replace JabrilCox. Although he has increased to full linebacker size (234 lbs) rather than being a nickel linebacker (234), he is still very versatile and LSU would do well to deploy him in many different ways.
McGee: McKenzie Milton is a better college football story than McKenzie Milton. This question will not even be raised if the ex-stud UCF can get FSU on track.
Adelson: Milton is without a doubt the player that everyone wants to see again. Jermaine Johnson II, a Georgia defensive end, will be on the other side. Apart from his size (6-5, 265 pounds), Florida State has been bullied up front over the past few seasons. This is not typical of a program that has produced many outstanding defensive linemen. Johnson has been a standout since spring and his ability get after the passer will be crucial in setting the tone for this defense.
Rittenberg: I'm going to Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer. He played 39 games at Baylor in the past three seasons. Brewer was concussed and left the team in 2020. However, he still managed to put up impressive career numbers in passing yards (6700) and passing touchdowns (65). Utah's defense is strong enough to challenge for the Pac-12 title. The key is to get more from the offense as well as the passing game. Brewer had a great offseason and could be the missing link in Salt Lake.
Schlabach: What about the quarterback at Notre Dame? This was once the most famous position in the game. Jack Coan got Wally Pipp’d at Wisconsin. He led the Badgers' to a 10-4 record, and they reached the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl in 2019. He sustained a foot injury in preseason camp last season. Graham Mertz took over the job and did a great job. Coan transferred to Notre Dame where he was offered a scholarship for lacrosse. Brian Kelly, the Irish coach, has been searching for a ball-handler who can move the ball downfield. He might have found it in Coan.
Which game do you get the most excited about?
play 0:57 Kirby Smart - More intense preparation with Clemson opener Georgia's head coach Kirby Smart talks about his team's opening matchup against Clemson as well as the improvement in quarterback JT Daniels.
Hale: Georgia-Clemson. It's more than a season opener between teams ranked among the top five. It would be easy to call it the biggest regular-season match of the year, but there is so much more. It's a battle of two Heisman-titling QBs, Uiagalelei and Daniels. It's an historic rivalry between two schools that are located within an hour of each other and tend to compete for the exact same recruits. The ACC and SEC are in an early battle, with both leagues trying to build a playoff narrative that they can sell throughout the season. It's unlikely that the loser will be eliminated from playoff consideration. However, it will increase the importance of each game the team plays throughout the season.
Low: Jimbo Fisher's comments from this summer's Houston Touchdown Club speaking event (and Nick Saban also remembers them) when Fisher was asked about what it would take to beat Alabama. Fisher's defense is that he was not supposed to answer the question with an Aggie crowd. "Well, let us just hope that he retires soon." The smiley Fisher assured the Aggie-loving audience that Texas A&M would "beat his ass when it's there." Fisher will have another chance to take on his former boss when Alabama hosts Texas A&M Oct. 9, in a possible top-5 showdown. This could be Fisher's best team in College Station yet, and a victory over the Tide would make history. Saban is now 23-0 against his former assistants. Only twice in 23 games has a team stayed within 13 points of Alabama.
Scarborough: Week 2 will see Oregon play Ohio State. It's going to be a lot of fun. Two potential playoff teams are on the cards, as well as two new quarterbacks (Anthony Brown Jr. & Stroud), in one of the best college football environments in the Horseshoe.
McGee: I'm so excited about the return to big cross-conference games. Labor Day and Thanksgiving were the most pandemic-like weekends last season. We didn't have any rivalry or big throwdowns. My eye is on October 2, when Texas takes on TCU and Oklahoma takes on Kansas State. This will be their first Big 12 road game since they both left the conference. The atmospheres there should be a lot less hostile than Wrestlemania.
Wilson: On the other side, McGee. The next weekend (Oct. 9) will be A&M-Bama at College Station and Texas-OU At the State Fair of Texas. Two huge SEC matchups in one single day in one state. It's just a matter of getting some practice. It's going to take some time to get used.
Rittenberg: Liberty-Ole Miss. It's amazing that I am the only one advocating for this. What is wrong with you? Hugh Freeze is back in Oxford to meet Lane Kiffin. What more could you want? You can do it!
Who is your Heisman pick
Spencer Rattler could be the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in five years. AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter. File
Sam Howell: Hale The Heisman Trophy is won by three things. It helps to be a good quarterback, unless you are playing for Alabama. It's not necessary to be a quarterback to qualify for the playoffs, but your team must spend the majority of the season within the top 10. You must also put up impressive numbers. Howell ticks all the boxes. Howell enters the year as the nation's top quarterback. UNC is a preseason dark horses for the College Football Playoff and Phil Longo's offensive system means Howell will have every opportunity to slash his stats. Are 40 touchdown passes possible? If so, he would set the ACC's record for career touchdown passes.
Low: Nineteen of the 12 Heisman winners in the past have led their teams to a national championship, national semifinal game appearance or College Football Playoff appearance that year. A player who puts up huge numbers but plays on a team that only wins eight to nine games is unlikely to win the Heisman. In this age and time, not. I am backing Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. He is a phenomenal talent and has been surrounded by incredible talent in a College Football Playoff program. Expect Rattler to post even more impressive numbers in his second season of being a starter in Lincoln Riley’s offense. They should name the award the "Soonerman" Award if Rattler wins the bronze statue. He would become the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman in five years.
Scarborough: Have You Seen Oklahoma's Schedule? It's Charmin soft. Have you ever seen their talent as a receiver and running back? Rattler is blessed with a number of talented pass-catchers. Rattler finished last season with a great finish, torching Florida in the Cotton Bowl. I expect him this season to continue that feat, post monster numbers, and win the Heisman.
Wilson: Lincoln Riley's office has two Heismans and an impressive collection Air Jordans. Remember all the Twitter dudes who said "Yeah but Baker and Kyler are transfers." Let's hope he can make his own man. Rattler is the man.
Connelly: With all the fun weapons Rattler has, I cannot wait to see how he does this year. But I won't overthink it. "Starting quarterback for a prolific offense at the No. Young is a good choice for the Heisman race.
Adelson: The Heisman Trophy does not always have to go to a quarterback as it was shown last season. So, I'm going to pick Iowa State runningback Breece Hall who can run for 2,000 yards against a top-10 team.
Schlabach: Robinson just like Tom Herman, former Longhorns coach, can look even more ridiculous for having wasted his talents a whole year ago.
Who will be making the College Football Playoff Final?