Ranking CFB Conference Champions Most Likely to Repeat in 2021
In college football, the only thing more difficult than winning a championship is winning a championship in back-to-back years. Thanks to incredible roster turnover from one year to the next and so much that can go wrong, the odds of repeating as national champion are quite long.
Even when it comes to winning a conference championship, repeating is difficult. Last year, we saw both expected and unexpected conference champions that will now embark on the task of retaining their league crown in 2021.
Let’s take a look back at the conference champions in 2020 and look at each team’s chances of winning their conference title again in 2021.
10. San Jose State, Mountain West
The Spartans winning the Mountain West title last year might have been the biggest surprise in college football. We’re talking about a program that was 1-11 two years earlier and went 3-22 in Brent Brennan’s first two seasons at the helm.
The question is whether or not Brennan and the Spartans have staying power. The good news is that an excellent defense returns 10 starters while the offense will continue to be led by former Texas A&M and Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel.
However, the Mountain West has long been dominated by the likes of Boise State and San Diego State. Nevada also looks good heading into the 2021 season, so the Spartans will face plenty of competition from most established programs, making a repeat a little tricky.
9. Ball State, MAC
Year after year, the MAC is just utterly crazy, and it’s not as if the Cardinals have established themselves as one of the league’s more consistent programs. But Ball State will get Drew Plitt back under center and has 13 other players who made one of the All-MAC preseason teams.
The biggest competition will likely come from Buffalo, the team that Ball State beat in the MAC title game last year. But the MAC West Division is always tough with the likes of Toledo, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan.
Keep in mind that four of Ball State’s five conference wins last season were by a touchdown or less. They won some wild and crazy close games last year. Repeating that good fortune won’t be easy.
8. Oregon, Pac-12
Even by 2020 standards, last season was an odd one for the Pac-12. Nevertheless, the Ducks deserve some credit for winning the championship.
If the Ducks can find consistency at quarterback, they could be a top-10 team this year. But Oregon isn’t likely to get the same breaks they got last season. Washington should be a threat after an unusual 2020 season while Stanford could give the Ducks even more competition in the North Division. Meanwhile, USC is lurking in the South Division with perhaps the best quarterback in the conference.
Utah, who Oregon plays on the road late in the season, could also be a contender in the Pac-12 this year, so the Ducks will surely face more competition in winning the conference than they did a year ago, even if they are the favorites to repeat.
7. Alabama, SEC
In the last 12 years, Alabama has won the SEC title seven times. As the reigning national champs, it goes without saying that the Crimson Tide are betting favorites to win the conference title again in 2021. However, nothing is guaranteed in the SEC, not even for Alabama.
Both Georgia and Texas A&M are projected to be top-10 teams. The Aggies could potentially trouble the Tide during the regular season and win the West Division. The Tide play Florida, Texas A&M, and Auburn on the road, so a loss or even two during the regular season is possible. Meanwhile, Georgia could potentially match up well with Nick Saban’s team in the SEC title game.
The only time Alabama has repeated as conference champs under Saban was the Tide’s three-peat from 2014 to 2016, so it’s not written in stone that Alabama wins the SEC in 2021.
6. Oklahoma, Big 12
It’s now been six straight Big 12 titles for the Sooners, so why should anything stand in their way of winning a seventh? There were some rough moments for Spencer Rattler last season, but he came on late in the year and could be poised for a Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray-type season in 2021.
This could also be the best OU defense we’ve seen in Norman for several years. The caveat is that Iowa State is also a top-10 team heading into the season. The Cyclones have are +250 to win the Big 12 compared to Oklahoma at -170. It’s also fair not to discount Oklahoma State and Texas from making some noise.
While the Sooners are undoubtedly the favorites, Iowa State could prove to be a worthy challenger.
5. UAB, Conference USA
Since they returned from their brief hiatus, the Blazers have been to the Conference USA Championship Game three times in four years, winning the title twice. Bill Clark has built a program with impressive consistency, positioning UAB to be a contender again in 2021.
The Blazers will return several key pieces from an excellent defense and will likely have the best offensive line in the conference. On paper, the West Division doesn’t have a team that should be able to keep pace with UAB while the only team in the East Division that’s on the same level is Marshall.
In all likelihood, we get a rematch in the Conference USA Championship Game between UAB and Marshall with the Thundering Herd being the only team that can keep the Blazers from winning another conference title.
4. Cincinnati, American
There’s no doubt that Luke Fickell has the Bearcats rolling. They will open as a top-10 team and actually play a non-conference schedule that could allow them to crash the College Football Playoff if they can go undefeated. That being said, there are reasons why Cincinnati didn’t win the AAC title in 2018 or 2019 despite finishing the season with 11 wins.
Those reasons are teams like Central Florida and Memphis, which are also high-level programs that could upset Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game. Tulsa, SMU, and Tulane are also quality teams that the Bearcats will face during the regular season that could potentially trip them up.
3. Louisiana or Coastal Carolina, Sun Belt
Unfortunately, we never got to see the Sun Belt Championship Game between Louisiana and Coastal Carolina last season, which surely would have been memorable and a milestone game for the conference after both teams had such an impressive season.
Of course, there is now an increased chance that one of them will win the league title this year. Both teams are returning a vast majority of their starters and have what it takes to be a top-25 team again. However, there’s a chance that Appalachian State will throw a wrench into those plans and prevent Louisiana and Coastal Carolina from meeting in the conference title game this year.
The Mountaineers aren’t as highly rated as the Ragin’ Cajuns or Chanticleers but they did win at least a share of the Sun Belt title every year from 2016 to 2019, so they will be a factor in the title race.
2. Ohio State, Big Ten
As usual, the Buckeyes are favored to win the Big Ten with a -220 moneyline. The next closest team is Wisconsin at +600, so oddsmakers believe strongly that Ohio State will win the conference title again. But that comes with the caveat of Ohio State having to replace Justin Fields at quarterback, where there is no obvious heir apparent with experience.
The Buckeyes will also have a few holes to plug on the defensive side of the ball. The good news is that Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State all look to be heading toward down seasons. That means the East Division could be easier to win than usual, leaving Ohio State’s biggest obstacle being the conference title game where they’ll face Wisconsin or another team coming out of the West Division.
1. Clemson, ACC
The gap between Clemson and the rest of the ACC remains massive. The Tigers have won the conference in each of the last six years with the last four ACC Championship Games being decided by an average of 34 points.
With Notre Dame’s one-year fling as a full-time member over, the Tigers are listed at -900 to win the ACC with Miami being the next closest team at +1000. With Florida State and Louisville rebuilding, the strength of the ACC has shifted away from the Atlantic Division, which Clemson calls home, and moved toward the Coastal Division. That means the Tigers can more or less sleepwalk their way to the ACC title game, where they will likely meet Miami, North Carolina, or Virginia Tech.
With the way Dabo Swinney recruits and restocks Clemson’s talent year after year, losing Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and three other NFL draft picks isn’t going to stop the Tigers from winning another ACC championship in 2021.
Photo: Getty Images