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College Football 2021: Overrated, Underrated teams in the AP Top 25

Jan 2, 2021; Glendale, AZ, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) against the Oregon Ducks during the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Preseason AP Top 25 dropped on Monday. And, as always, there are some agreements and disagreements with the list of ranked programs.

Here are three overrated and underrated programs in the preseason rankings.

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3 OVERRATED TEAMS

Iowa State Cyclones (Rank: No. 7)

Iowa State may have made it to the Big 12 championship game before capping off the year with a Fiesta Bowl win and a top-10 ranking in the AP poll in 2020, but it’s no secret that Brock Purdy was underwhelming under center. He did lead an efficient passing attack over the year, but he took a step back instead of leaping to the elite tier at the position. The Iowa State QB posted a 74.2 passing grade on the year, a career-low by eight grading points.

Meanwhile, the Cyclones defense was among the top defenses in college football, finishing eighth in PFF grade and 13th in successful play rate allowed among Power Five units. The team returns its seven most valuable players on the defensive side of the ball since 2019, according to PFF WAA.

There are no two ways about it: Purdy will decide the fate of the Cyclones in 2021. He has proven to be a great passer when in rhythm, and he can make some of the best anticipatory throws you’ll ever see, but he has to stop trying to do too much when the play breaks down. Iowa State can play its way into the top 10, but Purdy has to be the player he was early in his college career.

Oregon Ducks (Rank: No. 11)

The talent is there for Oregon to field an elite defense this fall. Thibodeaux returns as the headliner, as he's the highest-graded edge defender in the Pac-12 since his 2019 true freshman campaign. Behind him, the Ducks appear to have a star on the rise with off-ball linebacker Noah Sewell, who finished as the conference’s second-most-valuable player at the position as a true freshman in 2020. At the back end, the talented secondary is anchored by Mykael Wright, one of the three most valuable corners in the Pac-12 since 2019.

The question is: Can the offense do its part?

Last year’s remade offensive line held up just fine, as did the rushing attack, but the week-to-week performance at quarterback was cause for concern. However, former starter Tyler Shough transferred this offseason, leaving former Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown as the likely leader of the offense. Brown earned a 57.5 passing grade as the Eagles’ starter in 2019 before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 6.

Arizona State (Rank: No. 25)

Arizona State's offense earns the program a spot on the overrated list heading into the 2021 season.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels has yet to prove he can successfully execute a downfield passing offense, as the 2019 No. 35 overall recruit has led the program to the third-worst passing grade in the Pac-12 over the last couple of years. Yes, he is a dangerous weapon on the ground, but that can only get this team so far, especially with its lackluster receiving room.


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3 UNDERRATED TEAMS

Miami Hurricanes (Rank: No. 14)

Miami should have been a top-10 team in the AP Poll.

The Hurricanes are poised to field one of the most explosive offenses in college football thanks to quarterback D’Eriq King. The Miami quarterback is fresh off an elite-graded season in his first year with the program and will replicate that during 2021. On 111 runs — 85 designed and 26 scrambles — King totaled 26 rushes of 10 or more yards. He produced more than 10 yards after contact on 13 of those attempts, the most at the position.

The 5-foot-11, 202-pound quarterback also rarely put the ball in harm’s way, ranking No. 3 in the FBS in turnover-worthy play rate (1.7%). King did tear his ACL in The U’s final game, but he has made a speedy recovery and will be ready to roll come Week 1.

Another key area to monitor is the performance of wide receiver tandem Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley. Rambo was a big-play threat for Oklahoma in 2019 before suffering a drop in play during 2020. But back in 2019, with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, Rambo ranked third in the Big 12 in the percentage of targets that resulted in a 15-plus-yard gain (28.6%).

As for Harley, something clicked in the middle of his senior year. From 2017 through Week 7 of last year, Harley had produced a 56.5 receiving grade, 1.14 yards per route and 19 catches of 15-plus yards. From Week 8 on in 2020, he produced an 83.6 receiving grade, 3.08 yards per route run and 16 catches of 15-plus yards. There’s a lot of potential with the quartet of offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, King, Rambo and Harley.

Ole Miss Rebels (Rank: N/A)

Offensively, Year 1 of the Lane Kiffin era at Ole Miss could not have gone much better than it did, and it’s that side of the ball that’s powering this ranking. Kiffin’s passing offense was masterful and ended up being the second-most-efficient unit in the Power Five, behind only the Crimson Tide.

Along with that, Ole Miss saw the eighth-largest year-over-year improvement in passing efficiency among all Power Five programs in the PFF College era. Quarterback Matt Corral had a couple of hiccups against Arkansas and LSU but still finished with an elite PFF grade on the year and is a top-10-graded player at the position.

The notable concern on offense as they enter 2021 has to do with replacing star slot receiver Elijah Moore, the third-highest-graded receiver in the FBS last year. Western Kentucky transfer Jahcour Pearson is a suitable replacement, but he still has massive shoes to fill.

The defense may be on shaky ground, but the offense is too strong not to be inside the top 25.

Nevada Wolf Pack (Rank: N/A)

It wasn’t a surprise to see Nevada outside of the top 25, but the three-headed monster they have leading the offense — Carson Strong, Romeo Doubs and Elijah Cooks should have at least got them close.

Strong fits like a glove in this Air Raid attack. Last year, the big-armed quarterback sported an 85.8 passing grade, a 1.7% turnover-worthy play rate (fifth in the FBS) and a 12.9% uncatchable pass rate (tied for second). The Wolf Pack are in prime position to take home the top spot in the Mountain West Conference West division and secure a double-digit win total for the second time in the program’s history.

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