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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Top five teams face uncertainties in 2021

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Top five teams face uncertainties in 2021

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Peach Bowl Football

Georgia quarterback J.T. Daniels (18) works against Cincinnati during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game on Jan. 1 in Atlanta. The Bulldogs will face Clemson in the season-opening game in 2021.

For those fans who are a tired of the same teams gobbling up the College Football Playoff spots and finishing near the top of the AP Top 25, here is reason to hope next season could be different.

The first five teams in the final AP Top 25 released Tuesday are very likely to be breaking in new starting quarterbacks next season, saying goodbye to a group that includes three Heisman Trophy finalists and two other multiyear starters and school record-breakers.

Of course, before you start celebrating a changing of the guard, remember that in the case of the top three teams — Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson — waiting in the wings are blue-chip recruits who have a chance to be the next big things in college football.

The last six seasons have begun with either Alabama (three), Clemson (two) or Ohio State No. 1. Even with the turnover at quarterback that is likely to be the case in 2021.

To help turn the page, here's look at the final rankings of the strange 2020 season with an eye toward how the top 10 teams will head into 2021.

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(Note: Players have until Jan. 18 to declare for the draft, and that means underclassmen and upperclassmen after all players received a free year of eligibility for playing through a pandemic.)

No. 1 Alabama (13-0)

Open: vs. Miami at Atlanta, Sept. 4.

Key losses: WR DeVonta Smith; QB Mac Jones; RB Najee Harris; CB Patrick Surtain.

Key returnees: QB Bryce Young; OT Evan Neal; OLB Will Anderson; TE Jahleel Billingsley.

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Reality check: Young draws comparisons to Kyler Murray, and Nick Saban always seems to have blue-chippers ready to step up. No reason to think Alabama won't start next season No. 1. Maybe two?

No. 2 Ohio State (7-1)

Open: at Minnesota, Sept. 2.

Key losses: QB Justin Fields; RB Trey Sermon; DT Haskell Garrett; QB Wyatt Davis.

Key returnees: WR Garrett Wilson; DE Zach Harrison; OL Paris Johnson; QB Jack Miller; QB C.J. Stroud.

Reality check: The Buckeyes were upperclassmen heavy this season, but mostly sitting on a freshman class with huge potential. They will be top five to start next season.

No. 3 Clemson (10-2)

Open: vs. Georgia at Charlotte, Sept. 4.

Key losses: QB Trevor Lawrence; RB Travis Etienne; WR Amari Rodgers.

Key returnees: QB DJ Uiagalelei; DT Bryan Bresee; DE Myles Murphy; WR E.J. Williams.

Reality check: The Tigers should be fine at quarterback, but what could make them preseason No. 1 for a third straight years is a defensive line with enormous upside.

No. 4 Texas A&M (9-1)

Open: vs. Kent State, Sept. 4.

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Key losses: QB Kellen Mond; LB Buddy Johnson; OT Dan Moore.

Key returnees: RB Isaiah Spiller; RB-WR Ainias Smith; CB Jaylon Jones; DE DeMarvin Leal.

Reality check: The Aggies looked primed to build on their breakout season if a good replacement for Mond emerges. Figure they will start rankings Nos. 4-6.

No. 5 Notre Dame (10-2)

Open: at Florida State, Sept. 5.

Key losses: QB Ian Book; LB Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah; OT Liam Eichenberg; OG Aaron Banks.

Key returnees: RB Kyren Williams; S Kyle Hamilton; CB Clarence Lewis.

Reality check: Wisconsin transfer QB Jack Coan could be Book's replacement, but significant losses along the offensive line and defensive front seven could nudge the Irish out of the preseason top 10.

No. 6 Oklahoma (9-2)

Open: at Tulane, Sept. 4.

Key losses: C Creed Humphrey; RB Rhamondre Stevenson; DE Ronnie Perkins.

Key returnees: QB Spencer Rattler; DT Perrion Winfrey; OLB Nik Bonitto; WR Marvin Mims.

Reality check: The Sooners will bring back most of their best defense in years and a quarterback with first-round talent. Easy top five to start 2020.

No. 7 Georgia (8-2)

Open: vs. Clemson, Sept. 4

Key losses: LB Azeez Ojulari; CB Eric Stokes; OG Ben Cleveland.

Key returnees: QB J.T. Daniels; WR George Pickens; DT Jordan Davis; LB Nolan Smith.

Reality check: There will be a case to be made for the Bulldogs as preseason No. 1 in 2021, though they will probably have to settle for three or four.

No. 8 Cincinnati (9-1)

Open: vs. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 4.

Key losses: S James Wiggins; DT Elijah Ponder; OT James Hudson.

Key returnees: QB Desmond Ridder; CB Ahmad Gardner; RB Jerome Ford.

Reality check: Ridder's return makes the Bearcats a strong contender for top-10 preseason.

No. 9 Iowa State (9-3)

Open: vs. Northern Iowa, Sept. 4.

Key losses: DE JaQuan Bailey; S Lawrence White IV.

Key returnees: QB Brock Purdy; TE Charlie Kosar; RB Breece Hall; LB Mike Rose.

Reality check: Cyclones are coming off the best season in school history and will bring most of the team back. Iowa State will get strong top-10 consideration heading into 2021.

No. 10 Northwestern (7-2)

Open: vs. Michigan State, Sept. 4.

Key losses: CB Greg Newsome; LB Paddy Fisher; QB Peyton Ramsey.

Key returnees: DB Brandon Joseph; RB Cam Porter; OT Peter Skronski; DE Adetomiwa Adebawore.

Reality check: The Wildcats could lose a ton from a very good defense, but have some quality pieces to build around. That could get them preseason ranked for the first time since 2013.

The remainder of the Top 25 for 2020 is:

No. 11 BYU (11-1)

No. 12 Indiana (6-2)

No. 13 Florida (8-4)

No. 14 Coastal Carolina (11-1)

No. 15 Louisiana-Lafayette (10-1)

No. 16 Iowa (6-2)

No. 17 Liberty (10-1)

No. 18 North Carolina (8-4)

No. 19 Texas (7-3)

No. 20 Oklahoma State (8-3)

No. 21 Southern California (5-1)

No. 22 Miami (8-3)

No. 23 Ball State (7-1)

No. 24 San Jose State (7-1)

No. 25 Buffalo (6-1)


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