8 Top NCAA Teams That Will Miss the 2021 College Football Playoff

By Dan Vasta in College Football
| July 16, 2021 6:12 am PDT

The College Football Playoff has been fun thus far, and many want an expansion for the 2021 NCAA football season. However, we can all remain patient until it potentially passes soon down the road.

We are hopeful for different teams, but I would not complain if we continue to see Clemson and Alabama give us virtuoso performances. The other competition is where we need to see improvements made.

We are entering the eighth season of the College Football Playoff era, and we are hopeful we receive better matchups in the national semifinals. The average margin of victory is 21 points per game in the semifinals, and the hope is we have more competitive games.

Having a three-touchdown spread on average is brutal to watch because the fans want games that come down to the wire. That is an issue if we expand down the road. If we add more games that continue to turn into massacres, then that could hurt the sport.

The regular season of college football is the most entertaining because nearly every game matters. Barring your team being Alabama or Clemson, a loss more times than not puts an end to your title hopes.

Without further ado, here are the top college football teams that will miss out on the 2021 College Football Playoff.

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Golden Domers are coming off a tremendous year in which they had a remarkable regular season. Going into their ACC Championship appearance against Clemson, they were undefeated. The Tigers exacted their revenge, and the game was never close. Still, those two were a treat to watch last season.

The coaching staff has been tremendous for the Irish, and they will miss defensive coordinator Clark Lea (now Vanderbilt head coach).

Their 2021 outlook is a bit different after losing their winningest quarterback in program history. Ian Book was a gamer that showed out in all of the biggest matchups and was worthy of his draft selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. His lack of arm strength was made up for by his pocket presence and ability to escape pressure. Great programs like Irish must move on.

There is a chance that former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan will be the new player under center. He was respectable when allowed to start despite a lack of passing options that most signal-callers expect. Something in common with the Badgers will be a dominant offensive line with impressive running backs.

Coan will need to win the battle for the quarterback position over Drew Pyne, who would be a reliable backup if he ends up losing the gig to Coan. The team has lost some key pieces over the years, but their offensive line and tight end group remain elite.

The addition of Marshall grad transfer Cain Madden was one of the better pickups this offseason. The return of Jarrett Patterson in the trenches should give them a top 10 offensive line, and the biggest winner of them all might be Kyren Williams.

Williams burst on the scene last year, toting the rock 211 times for 1,125 yards. He is one of the better game-breakers in the country and will be leaned on even more heavily with Book no longer on campus.

Opposing defenses will try to take away the big-play ability from Williams.

Williams had a quick house call against Clemson in their regular-season matchup at South Bend. Williams was hitting his head on goalposts a lot in 2020, ending up with 13 rushing scores on the season.

The downside this season will be the brutal schedule they have to endure. There will be a handful of matchups against Top 25 competition, and there is a potential to be a few against other College Football Playoff contenders.

The first Saturday of October against Cincinnati might be the biggest game of the Golden Domers’ entire season. The Bearcats will be in the preseason AP Top 10 for the first time in program history. Many are also expecting the Irish to make an appearance in it as well.

The last top 10 matchup for Notre Dame at home was their 2020 thrilling overtime victory over the then top-ranked team in the nation, Clemson.

Notre Dame will also be hosting North Carolina and USC, both at the end of October. If you have time to check out Irish football, the month of October would be the chance of a lifetime.

Sam Howell and Kedon Slovis are two potential Heisman contenders this season, and they could both turn into first-rounders.

Both the Tar Heels and Trojans will be potential contenders going into the season, and picking up a major non-conference win at Notre Dame could propel their seasons towards great success.

The Irish have had four consecutive top 12 finishes in the AP Poll. Will they make it five straight and appear in their third College Football Playoff under Brian Kelly? They will have a solid shot, but this schedule is about as daunting as they have ever seen.

A season opener at Florida State may not be a walk in the park despite devouring the Seminoles their last two meetings (both were at ND). A non-conference showdown at Soldier Field against Wisconsin and a road trip to Blacksburg against Virginia Tech will be early tests that tell us right away whether they have the goods to remain as national contenders.

I view this top 10 preseason team as having one of the most challenging schedules in America, and most teams would suffer a blemish or two. Notre Dame has easily been a top 10 program in the country recently, but a slight drop in success is in store for 2021.

  • My Projected Record: 9-3

7. Cincinnati Bearcats

Thanks to a few key players returning, the preseason has a ton of hype in favor of the Bearcats.

Desmond Ridder is one of the more successful players in college football. He has improved over the years as a pure passer, but he is at his best when he is on the move and escaping pressure.

He’s so talented that he makes the initial cut when looking to who will be the #1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Ridder has come through in critical spots for head coach Luke Fickell, and there will be some key showdowns early in the season. The first six games will decide the fate arguably for the Bearcats.

Ultimately, a conference title game will be a goal for the program, but they have UCF, Indiana, and Notre Dame all before Halloween. Any losses would likely end their hopes and dreams of an appearance in the College Football Playoff.

We have seen the likes of UCF and Boise State dominate the group of five, and now the Bearcats are on the brink of stealing the show and being the first non-power five team to appear in the College Football Playoff.

One of the main reasons they have reached the status right below the elite ranks is their stellar defense. Myjai Sanders is a matchup nightmare at the defensive end due to his elite quickness off the edge. He may play linebacker at the next level but has his hand in the dirt for now as a tremendous pass-rusher.

Their defense hung in there against Georgia in a great Cotton Bowl. Their inability to run the ball against the best run-stuffing defense in the land was apparent by the second half.

The Bearcats need to improve their passing game to keep defenses honest, and early season non-conference games will determine their fate. The Bearcats will have a tough time running the table this season.

I will play it safe and call for the Bearcats to represent the American Athletic Conference in the NY6 (New Year’s Six) again but have confidence they have a blemish next to their record.

  • My Projected Record: 11-2 (Conference Title Loss)

6. USC Trojans

The Pac-12 has been praying for a national contender for about a decade now, and they are not close. Having an entire season certainly increases their chances of winning more games and getting featured on national television (full 12-plus games with bowl games).

Clay Helton enters the season as one of many 2021 college football coaches on the hot seat, and a banner season perhaps would allow him to keep his job. More importantly for the Trojan faithful, a great season would keep them in the running for a trip to the College Football Playoff.

Kedon Slovis is one of the premier signal-callers in the country and just may have a shot at winning the 2021 Heisman Trophy.

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Slovis came out of nowhere two seasons ago, and here he is as one of the premier passers in the nation. Bru McCoy and Drake London are the two players to keep an eye out for excluding Slovis.

USC is considered one of the ten best programs in the history of the sport. The team is attempting to become nationally relevant once again. They were dominant in the trenches with Pete Carroll, and life was easy on them that many took it for granted.

It was nearly flawless at how easy it was for any quarterback to take a drop back and throw a pass after a few seconds. Nowadays, Trojan passers are under too much duress. That needs to change if they want to win the conference and beyond.

There is a strong possibility that both tackles will be freshmen (one is a redshirt; the other is a true frosh). Those are not the bookends you want protecting Slovis, but they should have more success running the ball. Former Longhorn Keontay Ingram will look to get the starting gig at running back. He had impressive games and needs to mature as a collegiate performer as there are ups and downs. The talent is there to be a solid back, but the depth behind him will need to rise to the occasion.

College football is at its best when their most historic and successful programs are at least newsworthy. USC has had way too many spurts of hot and cold, and the boosters have taken notice.

Clay Helton should be ranked in the top 20 to start the season. USC will be picked by many to win the South division, as well. If not, an axing will likely occur.

They are among the favorites to win the Pac-12 and should have as good of a chance to win as any other contender.

Ultimately, road games against Notre Dame and Arizona State will be a challenge. Running the table will likely be required to reach the College Football Playoff, especially given the lack of success the conference has had.

I foresee them returning to relevancy with more consistent play, but a trip to the CFP is not in the cards yet.

  • My Projected Record: 11-2 (Conference Title Loss)

5. Iowa State Cyclones

Matt Campbell has done a tremendous job in Ames, and the entire state of Iowa has been impressive these past few seasons. Their matchup early in the season against the Hawkeyes will be crucial for their chances of remaining a College Football Playoff dark horse.

Iowa State deserves more national recognition. They thumped Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl in their best season ever. Not long ago, Iowa State was this middling program that attempted to make any bowl game.

Brock Purdy and Breece Hall are some of the more experienced and talented backfield tandems in the entire country. The Big 12 only has a few solid defenses, and the Cyclones should have their way with most of them. The way they whooped so many teams in the trenches last season made it apparent that they have officially arrived. Grown man football still wins at the ability to win games in the trenches is apparent just as much as it was in the BCS era.

The defense comes into the 2021 season with a ton of experience. There are not many weaknesses on that side of the ball. Star-studded linebacker Mike Rose is a heat-seeking missile on the gridiron, but the entire defense plays so well together. The schedule sets up nicely, and that is where all the excitement begins.

Here are the key battles that await them on their schedule.

  • Iowa
  • Baylor
  • Kansas
  • Kansas State
  • West Virginia
  • Texas tech
  • Oklahoma

Iowa in Week 2 will be pivotal, but the non-conference against Northern Iowa and UNLV should be enjoyable games. Baylor and Kansas before the bye week will also allow them to gear up for Big 12 play.

On the road against Kansas State could be a test since Manhattan has given issues to other highly-ranked teams in years past. The final six games will determine just how amazing of a season they will have.

Hosting Oklahoma State, Texas, and TCU are all winnable home games. The road matchups against West Virginia, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma will be challenging, but there are lots of winnable matchups to be had. The only game they will be an underdog in will be against the Sooners.

Oklahoma will be favored, so that is a loss in my preseason book, especially since Oklahoma will want to exact revenge from their defeat in the regular season. The Cyclones will try to pull this upset off after suffering a grueling loss in the Big 12 title game.

I am banking on another great season, and a return trip to the conference championship is in store. They are a serious contender to be a College Football Playoff contender if they win the Big 12. I will have them coming up just short, but they have the goods to shock the nation and get it done.

  • My Projected Record: 11-2 (Conference Title Loss)

4. Texas A&M Aggies

The Aggies came close last season under Jimbo Fisher, and they were just one statement victory away from making the College Football Playoff. They were beaten up well by Alabama in the regular season. Had they not been decimated by the Tide, they may have jumped the likes of Notre Dame for that final spot.

They still capped their season off with a top 5 finish by winning their first-ever Orange Bowl over North Carolina.

Kellen Mond is gone, but they bring back a ton of star talent in the trenches that will make life easier for whoever ends up under center on Labor Day weekend. The backfield is deep, and they have one of the better tight ends in the entire country in Jalen Wydermyer.

One of the better parts about the Aggies this season is that the schedule sets up nicely once again. Lady luck must love College Station because the vital games are once again at Kyle Field.

Upsetting the Gators at home last year (the game was a toss-up) was one of the better atmospheres and games we had seen the whole season. It may be similar when they host Alabama this time around.

They will need another bonkers crowd to show up for that one because it more than likely will decide their fate in the SEC West.

Life will be tough to make the College Football Playoff without winning your division. I suggest they win that game if they want to head to Atlanta over the likes of Alabama. I will call for them to fall short once again, but they will have a great chance to break through shortly.

  • My Projected Record: 11-1

3. Wisconsin Badgers

This program had a disappointing 2020 season, and they should be ready to step back up to the plate and go yard. Their dominant defense and heavy ground attack are lethal weapons that most programs cannot maintain.

The grind and the physicality in the Big Ten have taken their toll on many opponents over the years. Wisconsin is about as well-coached of a program as it gets. Lacking the four and five-star recruits can be difficult. Yet, the Badgers have thrived and found new ways to win. They have been winning about as much as any non-top five programs have in the past decade or so.

Running the football with authority is their identity, and it has opened up the passing game when they have needed it against the Top 25 foes. The amount of returning talent is bright news for the faithful in Madison. Wisconsin ranks No. 14 in returning production from last season, and the schedule sets them up for great success.

In fact, their win total looks like one of the best to target within the Big Ten in 2021.

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The season opener at home against Penn State could dictate what type of season the Badgers will have in store.

We know their defense has been fantastic under Jim Leonhard, but the health of its offensive weapons will be a determining factor. Quarterback Graham Mertz and wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor missed a ton of time last season. Once Mertz dealt with COVID and missed the majority of the season, the losses piled up and sent the Badgers from a potential College Football Playoff club to one that limped into a bowl game.

Running back Jalen Burger should be the next big thing.

The Badgers have a long line of backfield studs to post gaudy numbers behind a premier offensive line. If you load the box up, tight end Jake Ferguson can expose you over the middle to keep the chains moving.

After a likely victory over Penn State in the opener, the next tall task would be against Notre Dame at Soldier Field just three weeks later.

The Badgers have Eastern Michigan and a bye week before the Irish await in a pivotal non-conference game. A loss there would derail the playoff hopes for either team, but the experience for Wisconsin should be the difference in that matchup.

Hosting Michigan the following week could be difficult, but the Wolverines have never beaten an AP Top 15 team on the road in the tenure of Jim Harbaugh.

The only other game that should be within single-digit points is Iowa, and that comes on homecoming for Wisconsin.

They will be two or three-plus touchdown favorites in the majority of their games this season. It may come down to their Big Ten title game against Ohio State as the winner likely gets into the College Football Playoff. Both the Badgers and Buckeyes are solid favorites to win their divisions and meet up in Indianapolis.

As long as both teams enter with fewer than two losses, the conference title likely would turn into a de facto College Football Playoff quarterfinal.

The Badgers have not fared so well against the Buckeyes in their three Big Ten championship meetings thus far. Wisconsin is 0-3 with two close losses and one major blowout. The average margin of victory due to that blowout is 26 points per game.

Even if Wisconsin fails to win the conference crown, they must be more competitive and show the nation they were worthy of being on the same field as Ohio State.

  • My Projected Record: 12-1 (Conference Title Loss)

2. North Carolina Tar Heels

The ACC Coastal should be an entertaining division this season. Due to the elite passers, points will be flowing. There may not be a better one in the country than Sam Howell.

He has the faithful overly excited for his final act in Chapel Hill. A potential superstar at the next level, Howell will look to lead the Tar Heels to consecutive premier bowls.

Howell is even in contention for the 2021 Heisman.

Appearing in their first-ever Orange Bowl was quite the season last year, but the Tar heels have higher expectations this time around.

They will need to replace the most productive one-two punch that their backfield has ever seen. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams were unstoppable in several games last year, most notably against Miami.

They each had virtuoso performances, with Carter rushing for 308 yards compared to the impressive 236 that Williams had. That rushing attack was so dominant that Sam Howell only attempted 19 passes in that game. UNC thumped Miami in their own house, 62-26. The Miami faithful hopes there will be a role reversal this time around, but the Heels should be potent enough on offense to avoid such a lopsided score.

The biggest game of their season before any bowl or ACC championship will likely be that home game against Miami. The Tar Heels cannot suffer a loss to either Virginia Tech or Miami. The head-to-head tiebreaker with the Canes would come into play if the two remained tied.

There could be an argument made for another matchup to key in on. North Carolina is at Notre Dame in the middle of October. That could be an exceptional non-conference battle between a pair of Top 10 teams. The loser could still be a threat on the national level, especially if they were to win out, so I side with the Coastal matchup earning more attention.

Neither game could matter if the first game does not end well for Mack Brown. Going to Blacksburg at Lane Stadium with Metallica blasting is never a stroll in the park. A night game to start the season will test the experience and poise of Howell.

The only other game on paper that could spell doom would be the season finale at North Carolina State. Raleigh can be a dangerous place to play, but Howell has owned the Wolfpack thus far in his career.

This is how UNC did the last two times he’s faced them.

  • Won, 41-10
  • Won, 48-21

Winning 41-10 as a true freshman and then 48-21 last season was impressive. That might be the best word to describe this program under Mack Brown. They have been so productive that they will have plenty of chances to become elite.

I will call for them to fall short of a berth in the College Football Playoff, but they are among my favorite teams going into the season.

  • My Projected Record: 12-1 (Conference Title Loss)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Well, this prediction feels a bit odd. Picking against Alabama does not happen often, but here we are.

The schedule in the regular season is not more difficult than usual. I just am not over the moon with this particular team. The main reason is due to all the offensive firepower they have lost. They reload better than anybody, but are they going to score against the best defense in the nation?

It’s worth noting they’re set up to have one of the best QB-WR duos in college football, of course.

That said, I believe their season comes down to what they show us in Atlanta.

The season is simple by my standards. An 11-1 or 12-0 regular season is almost a lock to happen if they avoid catastrophic injuries. Winning the SEC championship game would solidify them back in the College Football Playoff.

While everybody will pick Alabama to get back to the CFP, I foresee a stumble to Georgia in Atlanta. The Bulldogs defense continues to get better, and they finally seem to have an offense that can match it.

Add that all up, and the SEC will only get one team in the playoff, in my opinion.

I am going with Georgia over Alabama and probably will regret the pick. I am going to be the oddball here. I will reluctantly fade Nick Saban against Kirby Smart due to team defense.

Trends don’t last forever, and a former Saban assistant is going to win (currently 0-23) eventually.

  • My Projected Record: 12-1 (Conference Title Loss)

Betting on the 2021 College Football Playoff

I cannot wait for the 2021 college football season to get underway. Salute to all of the fans who have remained patient during these telling times. We are in for an exciting season that we may never forget.

If you’re planning on betting on the 2021 College Football Playoff, consider the breakdown above.

Obviously, betting against Alabama in any capacity is pretty bold, but the other teams discussed could miss the College Football Playoff.

Of course, only a handful of teams get in. But with the ability to bet on which teams will make the 2021 College Football Playoff, I felt this breakdown would be helpful.

Hopefully, this leads to some winning bets or bad bets avoided. Whatever you do, just make sure you use the best sites for betting on college football in 2021.

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