This article is part of our College Football Fantasy Five series.
Even though there's no college football currently being played, it doesn't mean that we can't start preparing for the 2021 fantasy college football season. I've scrubbed the current headlines and here's a countdown of the top five stories with significant fantasy implications.
5.) 'Tis the Season for Spring Football (Real New Mexico State Football)
Before we get ready for some spring exhibition football games from the major Power 5 Programs, we actually do have some division one football being played. The New Mexico State Aggies were one of three FBS teams to opt out of the 2020 season and they have decided to play a two-game season with the FCS this spring. It didn't start out so hot as the Aggies dropped their season-opener by the score of 43-17 to Tarleton State University. I wouldn't suggest taking any fantasy highlights from this game, but do take note that the Aggies will play the following teams on their 2021 schedule; UTEP, San Diego State, New Mexico, Hawaii, San Jose State, Nevada, Hawaii, Utah State, Alabama (WOW!), Kentucky, UMass.
4.) Indiana QB Michael Penix on Track in His Rehab from ACL Injury
It's easy to get excited about Malik Willis, Spencer Rattler, Matt Corral or even D.J. Uiagalelei for the upcoming 2021 season, but not every team will be able to draft these quarterbacks for their fantasy season-long teams. That is why I'm keeping my eye on Penix and his journey back from ACL injury as his Indiana team showed some offensive excellence when he was healthy. He had a three-game stretch that rivaled anyone in the country as he combined to throw for 1,153 yards and 10 touchdowns against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. If Penix can make his way back for the 2021 season, he'll have a couple of dangerous weapons in WR Ty Fryfogle and TE Peyton Hendershot which has me looking for Hoosier value in fantasy drafts for 2021.
3.) Guz Malzahn Hired at Central Florida and Players are Following
I already gushed over Tennessee's hiring of Josh Heupel from UCF earlier this year as I think it has huge fantasy upside in the SEC because he creates offense anywhere he goes. I'm not sure it's reciprocal on the other side as Malzahn is moving from Auburn to Central Florida. Malzahn's Auburn team went stale on the offensive end in 2020 at 89th (25.1 PPG in 2020) which was down from 28th (33.2 PPG in 2019) and 48th (30.9 PPG in 2018) the previous two years. While I do think UCF will have a better-than-average offense, it's possible their impact players are picked too high in fantasy drafts.
QB Dillon Gabriel and WR Jaylon Robinson are already considered top-level players for 2021 fantasy drafts, but the scary part is that former players such as WR Nate Craig-Myers and RB Mark-Antony Richards are following their old coach to the Sunshine State which has me questioning whether this will be a smooth transition right away. Don't get me wrong, adding talent to an already potent offense can be a good thing, but I'm not so sure in a new system with so many new faces and undefined roles.
2.) Too Much QB Talent at Louisville
The Cardinals made some big moves this offseason by adding Georgia Southern transfer Shai Werts and Nebraska transfer Luke McCaffrey. These two quarterbacks were added to the roster with Malik Cunningham and Evan Conley still on campus. This means that Werts will move to wide receiver where he is reportedly adjusting well. McCaffrey was a true dual-threat option at Nebraska as he racked up 530 rushing yards and four scores on 89 carries in 11 games. He wasn't so successful through the air while completing 57 of 88 passes (64.8 percent) for 608 yards, three touchdowns, and six interceptions. He will have four years of remaining eligibility, however, may need a waiver from the NCAA to play this upcoming season.
There are a couple of reasons that I'm bearish on the Louisville quarterbacks outside of the obvious observation that there are too many of them. Werts is a very talented player, but I'm not sure he can replace what they lost in Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick as NFL-caliber playmakers. I also liked what I saw from RB Jalen Mitchell down the stretch in 2020 as he averaged 6.67 yards per carry on 52 attempts and had three straight double-digit fantasy performances to conclude the season. With all of this talent in the QB room, I'm ticking down Cunningham's stock and trusting more in the Lousiville run-game when it comes to season-long formats.
1.) QB Tyler Shough Picks Texas Tech as Graduate Transfer
Shough recently took to his personal Twitter account to announce he's headed to Texas Tech where he will immediately challenge Henry Colombi for the starting position in what is consistently a fantasy-friendly offense in Lubbock. Alan Bowman's recent departure makes it a two-horse race and a job that Shough should realistically win. Texas Tech has a lot of incentive to give him the job as he has three years of eligibility remaining and they also shook up their offense on the coaching end by replacing offensive coordinator David Yost with Sonny Cumbie. Cumbie played quarterback at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2004 and coached there from 2009 to 2013, so he's well aware of what they are looking for on the offensive end.
This has some serious fantasy ramifications as Texas Tech returns some impressive offensive talent including RB SaRodorick Thompson and WR Erik Ezukanma. Shough could shine in this type of offense when you consider that he ranked atop the PAC-12 at Oregon and 15th in the nation in Passing Efficiency Rating. If that efficiency holds true in a Red Raiders offense which traditionally throws it more than most teams across the country, it should be an ideal match for fantasy owners. The best part about this move is that Shough will likely be available after the premier signal callers in fantasy drafts, so he could return excellent value if picked in later rounds.
Bonus: Arik Gilbert Decommits from Florida, Re-Enters Transfer Portal and Alan Bowman Picks Michigan (from John McKechnie)
The Gilbert news sent shockwaves through the college football world Sunday afternoon as the biggest transfer portal signee of this past cycle was suddenly available once again.
Gilbert was the composite top-rated tight end and No.5 overall player in the 2020 class and had a successful freshman season with 35 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns on 55 targets. He entered the portal before the end of the season and his decision to commit to Florida at the end of January got many excited that the Gators had just landed the Kyle Pitts heir apparent.
What changed between Gilbert's commitment date and Sunday is largely just message board fodder at this point. Verified facts behind the decommitment largely haven't been disclosed at this stage.
The bottom line is that a supreme talent in Gilbert is in the transfer portal yet again and his next step will be highly scrutinized. What fueled the decommitment? Does this Florida saga scare big programs away? Will he be eligible in 2021? These are important questions that should have answers before too long.
As for Bowman's commitment to Michigan, it doesn't make a ton of sense on either side. At least on its surface.
For one, Cade McNamara already looks to be the QB1 in Ann Arbor. Why else would Joe Milton have hit the portal before spring practice even began? It's fair not to be totally sold on a four-game sample for McNamara, especially when his one good game came against Rutgers in what was a near-disaster for the Wolverines. At the same time, it's hard to imagine him losing his grip on the starting job. Maybe I'm misreading the tea leaves here.
The next part might be even more important for Michigan's future. The Wolverines landed five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy in the 2021 recruiting cycle and he's already on campus. Five-star quarterbacks are a valuable but fragile commodity. McCarthy likely wasn't expecting to start right away, but he was probably expecting to at least be in the running. Bowman's presence might mean that McCarthy sits at third on the depth chart. Michigan, as with any program, has to walk a fine line between catering to its prized recruit without losing the locker room. I'm not saying this damages the McCarthy-Michigan relationship; it's far too early to make any big assumptions like that. But the fact remains that five-star quarterbacks sticking with their first schools is becoming increasingly rare. It would be naive to deny that. 247 Sports had a great article on this last spring.
As for Bowman and Michigan, it's an interesting pairing that makes a little more sense now that I've had time to think on it. Michigan, after losing Milton, likely prioritized bringing in a quarterback with starting experience. That way, you don't enter the season with a combined 71 pass attempts between the top two quarterbacks on your depth chart (McNamara and McCarthy). Bowman brings an established track record, having played in 19 games and completed 67 percent of his passes for 5,260 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. That's valuable when your quarterback room is inexperienced as Michigan's.
Suddenly this becomes an interesting quarterback competition to monitor as Bowman will be immediately eligible, although his arrival this summer will give McCarthy time to make an impression on the staff in spring practice.