Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with a some crazy scenarios that could play out this season. He also plays “Pick your program” again from each Power Five conference and continues the Mount Rushmore series with Minnesota football since 1980.
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Is it too early for the “What ifs?” of the 2021 college football season? It probably is, but that doesn’t stop my mind from wandering. Trying to fall asleep last night I kept thinking about these ridiculous scenarios and how they would impact college football.
Alabama loses four games — Imagine? With a new quarterback, running back and mostly new receivers, could it happen? The defense will be loaded, but even Nick Saban said you have to outscore your opponents or something like that. Miami, Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU all have a shot at beating them, right? This will never happen, but imagine if it actually did.
Ohio State doesn’t win the Big Ten East — Impossible, right? A new quarterback and running back and some losses on the offensive line and you never know. But who the heck could win it? Michigan? Penn State? Doubtful for either, but imagine if it happened?
Oklahoma loses the Big 12 to Texas — The Sooners are clearly the dominant team in the Big 12, and Iowa State is second, but what if new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian stuns the world and wins the conference in year one? Imagine the resurgence of the conference at that point.
Clemson doesn’t escape the ACC title game — Could Clemson, with a new cast of characters in many places, lose to UNC in the ACC title game with that North Carolina offense? This one actually seems less farfetched than the others.
USC runs the table in the regular season — What if Clay Helton shows the world and USC rolls through its schedule and goes undefeated? The Trojans have the weapons, and only Utah, at Notre Dame and at Arizona State seem formidable. What would Trojan fans do?
Let’s wrap up the head-to-head comparisons of teams in the same conference with some interesting debates here.
ACC: UNC (722-544-54) vs. NC State (614-587-55)
Head-to-head: UNC leads 68-36-6
These rivals have been going at it since 1894, and have played 110 times over the course of this series. The Wolfpack have more conference titles than the Tar Heels, but UNC leads in pretty much every other significant category in this matchup, including weeks ranked (258-156), bowl appearances (35-33), consensus All-Americans (15-9) and NFL draft picks (243-174). And although neither team has won a national title or has a Heisman winner, the winner here is pretty clear.
SEC: LSU (812-416-47) vs. Tennessee (857-409-56)
Head-to-head: Tennessee leads 20-10-3
Chalk up this big lead to the dominance of Tennessee much earlier in the century – UT won 10 straight against the Bayou Bengals between 1934 and 1959. The Vols claim six national titles – five of which came before 1970 – to the Tigers’ four, but three of LSU’s have come since the turn of the 21st century. LSU outranks Tennessee in terms of weeks ranked (639-588), Heisman winners (2-0) and weeks ranked No. 1 (38-19), but Tennessee has the upper hand in terms of bowl appearances (53-52), consensus All-Americans (40-39) and winning percentage (.671 – .655).
Verdict: Tennessee. I have to stay consistent, so in a close battle I’ll take six national titles over four, despite the fact that LSU has been the far superior program over the past 50 years.
Pac-12: Cal (678-546-51) vs. Stanford (657-467-49)
Head-to-Head: Stanford leads 60-44-10
The annual participants in “The Big Game,” these two programs have remarkably similar records. All of the national titles for these two came before World War II, with Cal winning five to Stanford’s two, thanks to a dominant run in the early 1920s that saw them win four consecutive titles from 1920 to 1923. While the Cardinal can lay claim to more NFL draft picks (272-241), consensus All-Americans (37-30) and weeks ranked (303-200) the Bears actually have more first-round draft picks (27-25) and weeks ranked No. 1 (4-0).
Verdict: Stanford. This is a tough one because Cal has a big lead in national titles, but so many of them are shared titles, which don’t quite count the same, in my opinion. Stanford has been so much better in the past 50 years that it’s hard to ignore.
Big 12: Kansas State (539-652-41) vs. Baylor (608-578-44)
Head-to-Head: Tied 9-9
These two Big 12 foes only played each other once before the formation of the Big 12, as Kansas State was in the Big 8 and Baylor was in the SWAC. And as consistent as the Wildcats were under Bill Snyder it’s hard to forget just how bad they were in the half century before Snyder’s arrival in Manhattan. They had only made one bowl in the history of the program before he took over in 1989, and had been one of the worst programs in the country. So despite neither team having a national title, Baylor leads this matchup in nearly every single category, including consensus All-Americans (17-12), bowl appearances (25-22), first-round draft picks (21-5), total draft picks (242-145) and so much more.
Big Ten: Iowa (667-563-39) vs. Minnesota (706-524-44)
Head-to-Head: Minnesota leads 62-50-2
One of the most played rivalries in college football history for one of the great trophies (the Floyd of Rosedale), these bitter rivals have two distinct eras of dominance – Minnesota was 26-9 against Iowa before World War II, but the Hawkeyes have gone 28-12 in their past 40 matchups. A lot of people forget just how good Minnesota’s teams were under Bernie Bierman in the 1930s and 40s – of the Gophers’ seven claimed national titles came during a span from 1934-1941. Of the Hawkeyes’ five national titles, three came under Forest Evashevski in the late 50s. Iowa has outpaced its rivals in bowl appearances (33-21), weeks ranked (341-174) and first round picks (23-18), but the Gophers have more consensus All-Americans (34-29), weeks at No. 1 in the polls (18-11) and conference titles (18-13).
Verdict: Iowa. This is another close one, but Iowa’s dominance in the polls really shows how consistent of a program its been, especially over the past 40 years.
Finally, I continue my Mount Rushmore series since 1980 with the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.
C Greg Eslinger — Arguably the best center in college football since the turn of the 21st century, Eslinger was a three-time All-American, three- time first-team All-Big Ten selection and the winner of both the Rimington and Outland trophies in 2005. A phenomenal run blocker, Eslinger paved the way for some of the greatest rushing attacks in school history, featuring Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney. Those guys would have never racked up the numbers they did without Eslinger.
RB Darrell Thompson — A four-year starter for the Gophers, Thompson was the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year in 1986, and was the first player in conference history to top the 1,000-yard mark as both a freshman and sophomore. Thompson is still Minnesota’s all-time leader in rushing yards (4,518), all-purpose yards (4,855) and total touchdowns (43). And he did all of this despite being basically the only source of offense his entire time on campus, consistently facing eight- and nine-man boxes.
S Tyrone Carter — A two-time first-team All-American as a junior and senior, Carter was a tackling machine from the safety position, racking up 528 tackles in his career, including three seasons with over 140. The Jim Thorpe and Jack Tatum Award winner as a senior, Carter was a three-time all-conference performer who also doubled as an excellent kick returner, racking up nearly 1,500 yards for his career while averaging more than 22 yards per return.
WR Tyler Johnson — This was a close call between Johnson and Eric Decker, and honestly you can’t go wrong with either guy. I went with Johnson because he had more yards and TDs than Decker, and he was a more consistent player overall. A two-time first team All-Big Ten performer, Johnson finished his career with 3,305 yards receiving and 33 TDs. He paired with Rashod Bateman for one of the best WR combos in the country, leading the conference in receptions, yards and TDs as a senior.