This story is part of USA TODAY Sports’ 25 days to college football countdown.
Making predictions for college football in 2021 after one of the most unpredictable seasons in the sport’s history isn’t ideal. But after weighing players staying for an extra year, coach and player movements and the schedules, we’re ready to make the call on how this year plays out.
This year’s College Football Playoff championship game is in Indianapolis. The semifinals will take place in the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl. The race for the four spots in the field is going to be intense and uncertain. Among the main contenders, all but Georgia and Oklahoma have new starters at quarterback and substantial losses in other areas.
Could that open the door for Cincinnati or Iowa State, two teams returning most of their key players, including senior quarterbacks? Or maybe there are other schools capable of making a run, like Texas A&M or North Carolina.
For now, the expectation is that the chalk prevails with Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State taking the four spots. That quartet has occupied 20 of the 28 places in the playoff field since the system began and at least three of them have been in the last six iterations. But don’t be surprised if there is at least one surprise. The foursome has never been in the same playoff.
It should be fun to watch. The chase begins in full next week.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith