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For the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting the key information I need to put together my 2021 college football power ratings. This typically involves analyzing returning players and coaches, making adjustments based upon last year’s finish and the current perception of teams, then ensuring I have not assumed anything out of the realm of normalcy for each team’s recent history or conference strength.
For example, Alabama topped out at over 80 in my 2020 end-of-season ratings. I rarely have a team over 72-74 at the start of a season. The Tide’s loss of several NFL-bound players, including quarterback Mac Jones and Heisman-winning wide receiver Devonta Smith, combined with fewer losses for other teams due to eligibility rule changes has me figuring Alabama as still the country’s best team but at a rating of 70.5.
This is going to be an interesting season in that regard because while the perennial powers — Alabama, Clemson and Georgia, etc. — have lost a typical number of players to the NFL, the teams on the next level won’t be nearly as affected and should even benefit from the extra year of eligibility granted to players due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This experience difference has the potential to close the gap to some degree this season. You’ll see that this perception is reflected in my summer power ratings.
I will continue to monitor teams and happenings across the country and will tweak the numbers again before opening week. For now, though, I’ve run my adjusted 2021 power ratings against the complete schedule to project the season standings. You can see these on the accompanying chart. You will also find a listing of all 130 FBS teams and their 2021 schedules with my projected power ratings lines.
Use these numbers as a foundation for determining your favorite season-win total bets. For reference, I have included all of the teams’ win total props available at DraftKings on the season standings chart.
Before unleashing the projections, let’s look at some of the highlights from the analysis:
• According to my figures, Arkansas faces the nation’s toughest schedule. The Razorbacks are ranked just ahead of Nebraska and Kansas in that regard. Besides their typically tough SEC West opponents, they will take on Georgia out of division and Texas in nonconference play. Second-year coach Sam Pittman’s program is stuck in a rut, winning just 11 games over the last four seasons, however, my projections show Arkansas finishing with a 5.4-6.6 record against a DraftKings win prop of 5.5, even against the tough slate.
• After two straight seasons with UAB atop the easiest schedule list, the Blazers cede that title to UTEP. The Miners lead a group of five Conference USA teams that field schedules ranked Nos. 126-130 in the country. It seems that C-USA isn’t challenging itself outside of conference like MAC or Sun Belt teams. For instance, UTEP’s toughest nonconference game is at Boise State, while most teams in those other leagues are taking on SEC and Big Ten opponents in nonconference play. Despite the easy schedule, my projections show UTEP going just 3.8-8.2. As for UAB, the Blazers’ schedule jumps up 30 spots to No. 100. After a four-year run of 34-16, coach Bill Clark has challenged his team with non-league games at Georgia and home versus Liberty.
• For the third straight season, Clemson has the highest win projection of any team, with 11.2, a bit better than Alabama (10.9), Oklahoma (10.8) and Ohio State (10.7). The only other double-digit win projection is on Coastal Carolina, which had an incredible season last year after being projected at the bottom of the Sun Belt standings. Clemson, of course, loses four-year starting QB Trevor Lawrence to the NFL along with running back Travis Etienne. Those two have been the heart of the Tigers’ offense in recent years, so a lot of the pressure of maintaining the incredible level of success they attained falls on new QB D.J. Uiagalelei, who did gain some valuable work in a couple of big-time games last season. Of the other double-digit projected winning teams, only Oklahoma and Coastal Carolina return their quarterbacks.
• Assuming the projections play out accurately, besides Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma, the other Power 5 conference teams that should contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff are Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa State and Texas A&M. Notre Dame, predicted to go 9.3-2.7, could also be in the mix should it overcome the loss of starting quarterback Ian Book and navigate the country’s 12th-most difficult schedule.
• Coastal Carolina (10.1 wins), Appalachian State (9.0), Louisiana (8.9), Liberty (8.8) and Toledo (8.8) have the highest projected win totals among Group of 5 teams, although each faces a test or two that might prevent them from going undefeated. The Chanticleers’ toughest games figure to be at Buffalo and at Appalachian State. ASU would have to survive at Miami and at home against Marshall.
• In terms of teams expected to improve over last season, Houston is showing 8.2 wins after going 3-5 last season. Wisconsin is projected to go 8.9-3.1 after going 4-3 last year. Mississippi State is another team to watch in the second year of the Mike Leach era, as the Bulldogs are expected to go 6.4-5.6 by my conservative calculations after a 4-7 season. Finally, there’s an interesting coaching situation at Louisiana-Monroe, where the school turned to Terry Bowden and new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez to take over an 0-10 team. I’m showing the Warhawks at 2.4-9.6 on a DraftKings win prop of 1.5. Could be a hidden gem there.
• No team is expected to drop off more than BYU, which loses quarterback Zach Wilson to the NFL after an 11-1 season. My power rating drop for the Cougars is a full 12 points, and as a result, my win projection for them is 7.3. Other teams that figure to be off the pace for this fall due to key player losses include Florida, which lost QB Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts among others, Northwestern, Stanford and Tulsa. UCF also has a new coaching staff after slipping to 6-4 last season. The mega-talented teams like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Texas A&M all will replace quarterbacks with highly-rated players, so while a total decline isn’t expected, it may be an underreaction to think these teams won’t be challenged much this fall.
In the chart, you will find my projected standings for each of the conferences. The teams are sorted by conference wins. You will also find their season win total from DraftKings, their 2021 Steve Makinen Power Rating, Home and Road Field Ratings, Schedule Strength and National Ranking, plus their overall and conference record projections.
After that, you’ll find all of the team schedules with projected lines based on my power ratings. Use these to find betting options on the Games of the Year lines that have been released at several books, including South Point. You’ll surely find some distinct differences when analyzing the numbers. Keep in mind, I’ve been doing this for over 10 years and tend to find myself a bit more conservative than the books, as again, I try to stay within normalcy groupings for both team and conference when setting up my ratings.