College football storylines to watch for in 2021


Week 0 of College Football is nearly upon us as Nebraska and Illinois will open the season on Aug. 28. Nearly 130 programs from all over the country will compete for a coveted playoff spot and a shot at the National Championship, which Alabama will look to defend after completing a perfect 2020 season (13-0) on route to their 18th title. Before the ball is kicked off in Champaign, let’s take a look at five notable storylines surrounding this upcoming season. 

COVID-19 and the Return to Normalcy 

The 2020 season was one of chaos and disarray as no one seemed to be on the same page, including the Big Ten playing a truncated conference-only season and the FCS moving the entirety of its schedule to the spring. There were also no fans to fill some of the 100,000 capacity stadiums. With vaccination rates higher than what they were a year ago, fans will be allowed back inside, and there will be fewer instances of forfeits over safety protocols. With the rise of the Delta variant, it remains to be seen how normal this season will be. 

A New Season for the Panthers

Speaking of COVID-19, the Panthers had some trouble with that in the spring as starting QB Will McElvain missed two weeks due to quarantine. Fortunately, he’ll be back in full force with a stronger receiving core and an offensive scheme with a more robust play-action selection. Since they finished with a disappointing 3-4 record in the spring, the Panthers start ranked No. 21 in the FCS preseason poll, which will produce an underdog mentality that they will need as they open the season against in-state rivals Iowa State on Sept. 4.

Can Iowa State Live Up to Expectations?

Coming off a 9-3 campaign that included a resounding Fiesta Bowl win over Oregon, the Cyclones are entering this season ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25, their highest preseason ranking ever. Often the underdogs throughout their 124-year history, Matt Campbell’s team is now the one to beat in the Big 12. The question will be how they react to the unfamiliar spotlight. With returning star players such as quarterback Brock Purdy, tight end Charlie Kolar and running back Breece Hall, they have a legitimate shot to break Oklahoma’s streak of six consecutive conference titles. 

Oklahoma and Texas Split from the Big 12

The Big 12 lost both of its top teams over the summer as Oklahoma and Texas will be leaving for the greener (financial) pastures of the SEC. The move won’t be official until June 2025, but there are some rumblings that it could happen much sooner. In response, the Big Ten, ACC and PAC-12 announced an alliance, although no details have been announced. This leaves the Big 12 in a tight situation as they will have to fight for relevancy or be forced to go the way of the dinosaur. One sure thing is that Big 12 fans will have their pitchforks ready when OU and UT visit town. 

Small Programs on the Rise

With the pandemic taking out some of the bigger teams in 2020, smaller programs such as BYU and Coastal Carolina made the most of their opportunity by each finishing with an 11-1 record and within the Top 15. Both of those teams have great expectations this season as they will play under brighter lights. The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns finished 10-1 in 2020 and seem poised to repeat that success in 2021 as they retained nearly every starter. And while not as small as those just mentioned, the North Carolina Tar Heels are entering this season ranked No. 10, their highest since 1997. They look to be Clemson’s biggest threat in the ACC.