Welcome back full stadiums. Welcome back menacing stadium environments. Welcome back uniform schedules. Welcome back normal, exciting, vibrant college football. With the uncertainty and malice of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on college football (hopefully) in the past, it’s time to take a look at 2021 college football win totals.
In this article, you’ll find who the biggest projected movers are in terms of 2021 college football win totals. What teams are expected to make the biggest jump forward? Which teams are expected to take the biggest step back? What factors are setting those expectations? We’ll take a look at it all.
However, due to the inconsistency in schedules and number of games played, we’ll be utilizing 2020 win percentages as opposed to straight up win totals and comparing those to 2021 implied win percentages.
We’re also excluding a handful of teams who fell under certain criteria:
- Teams whose conferences did not schedule at least six games
- Teams whose seasons were battered with cancellations were removed, even if their conferences played enough games (those teams include Michigan, Purdue and Houston)
- Teams whose rosters were decimated by COVID-19 protocol.
A full listing of each team’s projected winning percentage vs. 2020 winning percentage can be found in a table at the bottom of the article.
Here are 10 teams projected for big changes in 2021.
College football win totals: 5 biggest gainers
The bottom line here for Wyoming is their strength of schedule. The out of conference slate includes FCS Montana State, Northern Illinois on the road (104 in ESPN FPI), UConn (129 in ESPN FPI), and their toughest non-conference game, a home game against Ball State. They also handle two of their three toughest conference games (San Jose State, Boise State) coming off a home game and play just one back-to-back road series. With just two wins last year, Wyoming is expected to make the biggest jump in the nation.
Implied 2021 record: 8-4; 2-4 record in 2020
Penn State: +0.306
The list of disappointments bigger than Penn State in 2020 wasn’t long. The Nittany Lions finished below 0.500 (4-5) for the first time under James Franklin and under any coach for the first time since 2004. They began the season ranked seventh in the AP Poll, Penn State was the biggest faller of any team in college football. With Sean Clifford returning and hopefully some normalcy to the program being restored, oddsmakers project nine wins this coming season for Penn State. The Nittany Lions also have odds of to win the College Football Playoff.
Implied 2021 record: 9-3; 4-5 record in 2020
Regression for LSU after one of the most successful seasons in college football history came as a surprise to none. The level of falling off in 2020, though, was expected by few– LSU went from No. 6 in the preseason AP Poll to unranked at season’s end. After finishing 5-5 in 2020, Ed Orgeron and the Tigers are projected to see a step forward. Despite an imminent QB competition this summer, Myles Brennan will have another year in the Orgeron system, which should benefit the senior signal caller. Their national championship odds sit at .
Implied 2021 record: 9-3; 5-5 record in 2020
The story annually for the Vols since 2018 has been Jeremy Pruitt and his production (or lack thereof). In three seasons, Pruitt finished with a 0.457 win percentage before he was canned amid allegations of recruiting violations. Tennessee then looked to Josh Huepel, who led UCF to a 22-4 record in his first two seasons before going 6-4 last year. Along with allegations and a coaching change also came a mass exodus of Tennessee players, with eight starters leaving for greener pastures. So, why the projection forward? Three wins in 2020 was a low point, even for Tennessee. The Vols also landed talented quarterbacks Hendon Hooker from Virginia Tech and Joe Milton from Michigan in the transfer portal.
Implied 2021 record: 6-6; 3-7 record in 2020
Josh Huepel may have left for the aforementioned Volunteers, but UCF went and landed a splash head coach: Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. Malzahn led the Tigers to a BCS Championship in his first year and two other New Year’s Six bowl games in his tenure at Auburn. Dillion Gabriel enters his third year at UCF after filling in for an injured McKenzie Milton for two seasons. In those years, Gabriel lit up the stat sheet, passing for 314 yards per game and throwing 61 touchdowns. There’s no steps back taken for this Golden Knights team.
Implied 2021 record: 10-2; 6-4 record in 2020
North Carolina: +0.167
The room for improvement is clear in Chapel Hill. Two of their three 2020 regular season losses were by a field goal. They return a Heisman hopeful in Sam Howell, who combined for 36 touchdowns in 12 games last year. The Heels landed grad transfer running back Ty Chandler from Tennessee who should thrive in the UNC spread run attack, but Howell will need to find a new WR1 after Dyami Brown left for the pros. The promise shown in 2020 is enough for oddsmakers to heavily favor UNC this coming year. Feeling bullish on their chances? Their odds to win the College Football Playoff are .
Implied 2021 record: 10-2; 8-4 record in 2020
College football win totals: 5 biggest losers
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone; BYU was led by breakout star Zach Wilson (who’s now gone for the NFL) and finished second in average point margin in 2020 at +26.0. The Cougars also pick up a heavy schedule in 2021 that includes seven Power 5 opponents– a departure from their standard four and the most they’ve ever scheduled. 2020’s 11 wins were aided by an all-Group of 5 schedule (ranked 61st in strength of schedule) and this year, oddsmakers foresee a big step back for BYU.
Implied 2021 record: 7-5; 11-1 record in 2020
The defending Big Ten West champions and conference runners-up aren’t expected to repeat that performance in 2021. In comes Ryan Hilinski from South Carolina, who is expected to compete with Hunter Johnson for the starting quarterback spot. The biggest concern for this team is losing Rashawn Slater and Greg Newsome II, who became the Wildcats’ first players drafted in the first round since 2005. The 6.5 projected win total could be a product of Northwestern stigma; Pat Fitzgerald has led them to seven or more wins nine times (in 15 years), including five times in the last six years.
Implied 2021 record: 6-6; 7-2 record in 2020
Gone is Shane Buchele but in steps former-Oklahoma Sooner Tanner Mordecai, a former four-star QB. However, will Mordecai be able to fill the 30.5-per-year touchdown void left by Buchele? Apparently, oddsmakers have their doubts. Coming off a 7-3 campaign, the Mustangs are projected for just 6-6 this coming year, the average record for SMU since joining Conference USA in 2005. The Buchele bump appears to be real; SMU hasn’t eclipsed a 0.700 win percentage since 1984 outside of the two Buchele seasons.
Implied 2021 record: 6-6; 7-3 record in 2020
Texas A&M: -0.108
This is where win percentage is important when comparing 2020 to 2021; the Aggies won nine games in 2020 and are projected for 9.5 this coming season. At the very least, that sounds like maintaining the status quo, right? Texas A&M posted a 9-1 record in 2020, their best win percentage since 1994 (10-0-1). For 2021, they are projected at 9-3, a mark last achieved in 2016 and before that 2012. The quarterback position will needed to be sorted this offseason. It’s the first time in four seasons that A&M won’t be led by Kellen Mond. Their futures odds sit at +2500 at DraftKings Sportsbook and +4000 at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Implied 2021 record: 9-3; 9-1 record in 2020
2021 Projected Win Percentage Vs. 2020 Wins
|Team||Win Total||Projected W%||2020 Wins||2020 Losses||2020 W%||Projected W% Change|
|New Mexico State||2||.167||0||0||n/a||n/a|
|San Jose State||7.5||.625||7||1||.875||-.250|