Fresno State Bulldogs (Mountain West Conference)
Aside from dramatically improving their recruiting rank (29) slots this year, the Bulldogs had (14) players opt to utilize the pandemic blanket waiver, including RB Ronnie Rivers, who should be among the nation’s top all-around players as a super senior in 2021. HC Kalen DeBoer gets a bit of a redo for his rookie year, as (20) starters return. The most important being quarterback Jake Haener, who started every game last season. The Washington transfer improved as the season went along, throwing nine touchdown passes to two interceptions over the final three games while completing (65.7%) of his passes. Haener will have back his top eight receivers, top three rushers and eight offensive linemen with starting experience, giving Fresno State an insanely high ceiling on offense. Pair that with a defense that brings back (10) starters and this team might have enough to navigate a winning season.
Georgia State Panthers (Sun Belt Conference)
This team is experienced and dangerous. The Panthers ran the ball on (68%) of standard downs (18th) nationally. Fifth-year coach Shawn Elliott has brought GSU to three bowls in four years. Elliott has patiently built the program, targeting this season as the potential payoff. He has practically everyone back, including all (11) starters on offense, from last fall’s bowl winner that scored better than (33) ppg. The roster is now loaded with experienced upperclassmen. Look for Brown to be a bit more comfortable with the passing game this fall with all of his targets still in the fold.
Nevada Wolf Pack (Mountain West Conference)
Mountain West champion Nevada welcomes all (22) starters back. The Wolf Pack should have a dynamic offense once again engineered by the conference’s returning offensive player of the year, Carson Strong, who has thrown for almost (5,200) yards in two seasons in Reno. The the return of QB Strong gives Nevada one of the best potential offenses in the Mountain West and a very good shot at a BIG TIME Bowl Game. The defense is also trending in the right direction after holding teams to (23.3) points a game last season. HC Jay Norvell’s team has won at least seven games in each of the last three seasons.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (Atlantic Coast Conference)
HC Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack returned to stability last season after a down 2019. NC State’s (8-4) mark was its sixth winning season in seven years. The Pack is loaded with returning starters. Coordinator Tim Beck improved the offense by over (8) PPG in his first season last year, and this group should improve even more. The offense returns nine starters, including its entire RB corps. The defense returns (10) starters. The Wolfpack’s last three recruiting classes have been improved and this will be a bowl team again.
Rice Owls (Conference USA)
For the first time in years, genuine excitement abounds at Rice. HC Mike Bloomgren and the Rice Owls football program appears ready to take flight this season behind the best class of recruits and out of state transfer talent in school history. The Owls return eight starters from the stingiest Rice defense in two decades, ranking (12th) nationally in scoring defense. The Stanford-type power offense by David Shaw disciple Mike Bloomgren is starting to pay dividends. Be Wise and take the Rice Owls.
Toledo Rockets (Mid-American Conference)
Sixth-year head coach Jason Candle is counting on big things from his returning starters as all (22) are back and this includes six All-MAC players. The offense averaged (35) points per game, so it should be one of the better units in the MAC again. All five offensive linemen return as do other standouts in RB Bryant Koback, WR Isaiah Winstead and WR Matt Landers. Recruiting rankings of the last four years suggest this is the best team in the MAC and will rebound. This team is solid and the defense should also rank among the MAC’s best.
Good Luck this Season,