2021 College Football Teams Facing the Most Pressure
College football has been a joy to follow over the years. The number of die-hard fans that show up to game day with their face painted is astonishing. The pageantry adds to the appeal of the fall Saturday games, and the season ahead will be exciting.
Expectations with elite programs are a constant, and some of that comes with the territory.
Falling short of the expectations and struggling does not please the boosters and fans. It takes a collective team effort, but only the strong survive.
Many teams will step forward this upcoming season and many will falter. Here are the college football teams under the most pressure heading into the 2021 season.
Lincoln Riley has given everything to this national powerhouse thus far in the early stages as a head coach. There is only really one thing missing, and that is a national championship.
A victory in the College Football Playoff would be a start.
He has provided a bevy of offensive weapons for his star-studded quarterbacks. A ton of regular-season victories has helped. Six straight Big 12 titles are not too shabby either. Riley has been the head coach for the last four conference titles.
The program has been to four CFP’s in its seven-year era. The struggles are real, and folks in Norman will not remain patient forever.
Just look at the weak showing on the game’s biggest stage.
- 0-4 record in CFP
- 18 point average margin of defeat
Oklahoma is arguably one of the three best programs in the history of college football. Still, they are chasing their first national title since 2000.
For Oklahoma to live up to the hype and not set itself up for consistent disappointment in January, they need to win a semifinal game first.
Riley has given them a boatload of success, so this is a team that should live up to the preseason hype and breakthrough sooner than later.
This program has been craving national dominance for years. They have been so close. They are right there at the doormat and just have failed to knock down the door.
They have been a top-five program for a while now under Kirby Smart. Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have all competed and won national titles over the years. Georgia is the next best program.
They have only played for one national title, and they lost to Alabama on the final play in overtime. This team has all the pieces and talent in the world.
Executing and delivering in premier games is what is missing.
- Last national title – 1980
- Last win over Alabama – 2007
- Last time with 5 straight Top 10 finishes – NEVER
They will enter as underdogs in the opener against Clemson, but they have just as much talent as the Tigers do.
They are heavy favorites to win the SEC East and will likely head to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Knocking off Alabama will be mandatory.
If they get by the Crimson Tide, they likely will have the goods to deliver the program its first national title since 1980.
Clay Helton enters the season as one of 10 college football coaches on the hot seat, but there is enough talent to overcome the noise. The Pac-12 schedule is kind to the Trojans on paper.
Hosting Utah is an advantage, but trips to Tempe and South Bend will be great tests. Avoiding both Oregon and Washington until at least a potential Pac-12 title game could be what gives Helton a shot to retain his job.
USC has shown flashes of being a Top 20 team over the years under Helton, but they want to get back to winning conference titles.
They should make a return trip to the conference title game, but they have questions to answer at the line of scrimmage. That has been their issue in recent memory, and they will need to will their way to get over the hump.
If they fail to reach double-digit victories, a Pac-12 title, and Helton’s job could both be in jeopardy.
The Hurricanes have not returned to national prominence since the 2003 season. It was the first season of the post-Ken Dorsey era. It was also the Canes last season ranked in the final AP Top 10.
They have gone through four different coaches and are now on their fifth. Larry Coker had this program steamrolling opponents in the early 2000s, but Randy Shannon, Al Golden, and Mark Richt did not show enough consistency.
Manny Diaz has to have signature victories against the top ACC competition. They were embarrassed by North Carolina at the end of the season. That cost them a shot at finishing the year in the Top 10.
In a typical year, that would prevent them from playing Clemson. Notre Dame was in the ACC last season due to Covid and scheduling, but there is no reason why the Canes cannot compete and win the Coastal division.
Many argue that the biggest issue is the coaching staff. Diaz will ask his quarterback D’Eriq King to carry this offense under pressure moments.
The team has improved their skill players, specifically at wide receiver. The talent should be better on defense, but they have to go out on the field and execute.
Getting to the ACC title and appearing in a New Year’s Six bowl would put them back on track. Anything less will be considered another disappointment due to all the pressure in Coral Gables.
If you go back and watch the last five years of Wolverines football, you will see the program has fallen off the map.
Michigan was a national title contender a few seasons ago. They got as high as fourth in the nation during the 2018 season. They tried to end the drought against Ohio State and allowed 62 points, the most in their program against the Buckeyes.
A victory would have put them in their first-ever Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.
The loss to Ohio State dropped them from fourth to eighth in the polls (CFP), and they had a solid consolation prize. They appeared in the Peach Bowl against Florida and got obliterated by the SEC. They lost 41-15. It was the worst possible ending to a season, and the team has not recovered.
They lost to all the relevant Big Ten teams on their slate the following year and continue Jim Harbaugh’s dreadful streak of active droughts.
- 0-11 record as underdog
- 0-11 record vs. Top 15 on road/neutral
- 0-5 vs. Ohio State
Michigan needs to become a Top 10 team and show signs of improvement. They are a top 10 program in the history of the sport. Competing for national titles is expected, but they have come up well short of winning the Big Ten.
Beating and being a threat to Ohio State would be a start. The domination of Ohio State has been a driving force. Many point to their win in the Game of the Century back in 2006 over Michigan.
Had Michigan won that game in Columbus, they would have played for the national title.
Perhaps they would have lost any way to Florida. Who knows for sure, but appearing in a national title could have given them an edge over the Buckeyes for the time being.
Michigan has lost 15 of their last 16 contests against Ohio State. Beating any relevant squads would be a start.
I feel the amount of pressure the program has faced over the years has only hurt them. The expectations are so low that the hope is they will exceed their lack of hype.
The game they must win is at home against Washington. A loss there, and the wheels could fall off. It could be one of their lesser talented teams under Harbaugh, which means a long season could be ahead.
Until they put together a consistent season or at least several games in a row, I would not bank on Michigan returning to the glory days. This is likely the end of the Jim Harbaugh era.
Looking Ahead to the 2021 College Football Season
This is one of the more interesting college football seasons in some time. There are some obvious contenders for the 2021 College Football Playoff, as well as a few teams hoping to make noise behind them.
It’s probably coming down to the likes of Alabama, Clemson, or Georgia, but someone on this list could always rise and prove the skeptics wrong.
Of course, being under pressure isn’t always bad. It means you’re doing something right to begin with, and the best teams know how to respond, regardless.
The NCAA football teams facing the most pressure is just one piece to the 2021 puzzle. For more college football content, check out the posts below.