Sep 01, 2021

2021 College Football Primer: The Narwhal Capital Edition

2021 College Football Primer: The Narwhal Capital Edition

Intro: On a typical Wednesday afternoon, we would usually be posting informative finance and investing related blogs to our website, but this is no typical Wednesday afternoon. Week 1 of the 2021 college football season kicks off tomorrow night, and in the spirit of this wonderful time of year, we decided to offer some football related content for our readers. In this post you will hear from a few Narwhal employees about some themes they are looking forward to following this season, along with the details on the office pick’em contest that 12 Narwhal employees will be participating in over the course of the fall.

Three Storylines to Watch this Season:

What will college football look like in the (kind of) post COVID era?

“I think the post/semi-post COVID era is actually a big deal. We should, in theory, see the return of home field advantage in a meaningful way. And at the same time, we may still see players missing time due to COVID or protocol violations. I think the teams that are advanced in vaccination stage have a significant advantage. We also have a number of players back that wouldn't otherwise be back. Clemson LB James Skalski was part of the Tigers team that won it all back in 2016. He's still playing. That's pretty insane. I know everyone is tired of talking about COVID but that stuff is going to matter.” – Andrew Hall

How will new faces fare under center at major programs?

“It’s hard to quantify how valuable returning a starting quarterback is for a team’s overall success. The continuity that it provides an offense is incredibly impactful. Historically speaking, most experts put a high premium on having a returning starter under center when considering a team’s chances of being success, but that is not the case this year. Four of the top six teams in the AP preseason poll are rolling out new full-time starters this season: Bryce Young at Alabama, DJ Uiagalelei at Clemson, CJ Stroud at Ohio State, and Haynes King at Texas A&M. While these four are no doubt talented players, it’s rare that you’d see the heavy title favorite with an unproven commodity at such a critical position. Throw in the fact that big time programs like Florida and Notre Dame are doing the same, and there are a lot of high-profile schools with new faces leading their teams. Could one (or multiple) of these players have similar first year success like we saw from Trevor Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa in recent years? Maybe. It will be fun to see how it plays out.” – John Grayson

Will anyone crash the party of college football’s elite?

“Heading into the 2021 season, questions about the future of the College Football Playoff have been picking up momentum. In the seven iterations of the four-team playoff, Alabama and Clemson have both participated six times; Ohio State and Oklahoma have each made the field four times. Outside of those four teams, Notre Dame is the only program to make it more than once (twice), and, more importantly, only six other teams have ever made the field and a group of five team has never been chosen. The predictability of college football is largely due to the structure of the sport where schools with more money and better coaches have inherent advantages that can be hard to overcome. The 2021 season provides a chance, however unlikely, of this to change. Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State are all replacing first-round quarterbacks which provides some uncertainty about just how their offenses will look, despite those being 3 of the top 4 teams in the preseason rankings. Programs like Texas A&M, Iowa State, and North Carolina are all ranked in the top ten and return playmakers and stout defenses that they hope will propel them into college football’s elite. Additionally, Cincinnati has a strong start for a Group of 5 team being ranked 7th. Failure of any of these teams to dethrone college football’s kings will only accelerate talks of an expanded playoff.” – Jason Seeb

Office Pick’em:

Format:

The format for this pick’em is unique. In essence, each Narwhal employee has picked a team that they would like to have included in the pool. Each of these teams will have their matchup as a part of each week’s slate of games to be picked. Each pick’em participant will pick the winner of each weekly matchup for every team in the pool.

Example:

Say three people want to participate in the pick’em: Sam, Ben, and Jason. Sam chooses Alabama as his team he wants to follow, Ben chooses Washington, and Jason chooses Vanderbilt. Each week Sam, Ben, and Jason will pick the winner of each team’s (Alabama, Washington, and Vanderbilt) weekend matchup. That would mean that for week 1, each participant would pick the winner of Alabama vs Miami, Washington vs Montana, and Vanderbilt vs East Tennessee State.

Scoring:

Each week, every participant will predict the winner of every game on the weekend slate. Those picks will be recorded and posted to our blog every Friday so that everyone can see the predictions that each participant made. We will keep a running tally of correct and incorrect predictions and at the end of the year will determine who had the highest percentage of correctly predicted games.

Participants and teams:

Every corner of the Narwhal office is well represented, and the same can be said geographically for the teams selected. Below is a list of each employee participating and the team that they selected to be included in the pick’em. Keep in mind that what team each participant picked is meaningless once the pick’em begins, but selecting a team ensured that each of their games would be included in the contest every week.

Employee Insight:

We asked that each employee provide some insight as to why they selected the team that they did, and if they felt so inclined, to give some deeper analysis on the team’s 2021 season outlook.

Melissa Visbal on Georgia:

“I never followed UGA before I started going to school there, but I immediately became immersed in the football atmosphere and have enjoyed watching the dawgs ever since… even when we have those upsetting losses. I honestly have no idea how they will perform this year, but I know I will continue cheering on the Dawgs no matter what the circumstance! I’ve paid too much money not to… lol.”

Tom on “America’s team”, Tennessee:

There are a lot of questions for the beautiful boys in Orange this year. Coming off the disaster that was Butch Jones, who spent the last few seasons squandering an unbelievable amount of talent (ie Alvin Kamara) and the more recent Jeremy Pruitt debacle. Here are the big ones:

Coaching:

Josh Heupel has taken the helm at Rocky Top. Older clients may remember him as the 2000 Heisman runner-up and National Championship Quarterback of Oklahoma. It’s very likely that looking at him, it would be very hard to believe he played any organized sports. Heupel’s last stop was UCF where he took over for Scott Frost and had a relatively lackluster run taking after going 12-1 in 2018. He is known as a quarterback whisperer and I hope that’s true as Tennessee has had a terrible run of quarterback play since the Manning/Martin days of the late 90s.

Quarterback:

Jarrett “the shame of Knoxville” Guarantano departed for Washington State after years of excruciating incompetency under center and left a huge question mark for the Vols. Joe Milton III (an Orlando native) who was heavily targeted by Josh Heupel at UCF has transferred in from Michigan after spending a few years riding the bench only to sustaining a season ending thumb injury in 2020. Milton secured the starting position at the end of camp and there are high hopes that this could be his year to shine. Backing up Milton will be Harrison “the prince of Marietta” Bailey who saw limited action towards the end of 2020 with limited success and Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker. Both are listed at QB2 on the depth chart. I would expect to see both in action should Milton get off to a rocky (pun intended) start.

SEC Play:

The current 2021 SP+ rankings have the Vols projected at 6.9 wins., with an implied 3.5 SEC wins. Given that UT will play Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss…They would have to sweep the rest of their SEC play to hit the over on 3.5 wins…which given the run they’ve been on the last 10 years seems pretty unlikely to me. The Vols are returning only 60% of their production from 2020 which puts the 117th out of 129 college football teams. Unless Heupel can identify the playmakers within the squad it could be another very rough season for America’s team.

Natalie Rogers on KSU:

“I am picking Kennesaw State University Owls as my team. Not just because I graduated from KSU, but also because I had to pay for the football team each year I attended even though it wasn’t in fruition yet. And also slightly because they would make us sing the fight song at our concerts after it was commissioned and it’s difficult to get out of your head.”

Jonathan Hicks on TCU:

I have a lot of faith in head coach Gary Patterson and have high expectations for the Horned Frog offense. They have a favorable early schedule and I believe they will dominate the Big 12.

Andrew Hall on Ole Miss:

“This pick has nothing to do with the fact that Melissa chose Georgia and everything to do with head coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Corral. These two guys have two things in common: 1. They’re both the kind of guy you hope your daughter never brings home for Thanksgiving, and 2. They’re both the kind of guy you’d be totally cool with your son growing up to be like. Kiffin was offensive coordinator at USC during the whole “paying players before it was allowed” era and parlayed that into becoming an NFL coach at the age of 31. After coaching the Oakland Raiders he did something I’ve always admired: he spent one season building hopes and dreams at the University of Tennessee before bolting and breaking every heart in Knoxville. He got fired (probably) prematurely from his next stop as the head coach at USC when he was still in his 30s. He won a bunch of games as OC at Bama before a pit stop at FAU and returning as an SEC head coach at Ole Miss. Somehow, he’s still a young head coach. As for Matt Corral, he can do a little bit of everything. And by that I mean, he can throw for 500+ yards in a single outing (like he did against South Carolina last year) or he can throw 5 interceptions in a single game (like he did against LSU last year).”

Andrea Walker on Oklahoma:

“My husband is on OU alum and dedicates an absurd amount of time reading, thinking about, and talking at me about college football. Choosing Oklahoma gives me the opportunity to leverage those heartfelt conversations and pretend I know what I’m talking about. My weekly analysis will most likely consist of a few google searches, players’ names that have been repeated multiple times, and very obvious facts. Boomer!”

Jason “The Oracle” Seeb on Texas:

“Horns Up or Horns Down? Is Texas back? These are the questions that have plagued Longhorn fans ever since the departure of Mack Brown in 2013. Since then, they have gone through two hot shot coaching candidates in Charlie Strong and Tom Herman to little success. Herman actually led the team to a .620 winning percentage, but his inability to put the Longhorns into the national title picture led to his early termination (the 2018 Sugar Bowl was not enough for the most profitable college football program in the country). Now, with a move to the SEC alongside rival Oklahoma on the table in the near future, can former Alabama and Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian lead Texas back to the promised land?

The biggest hole in the Texas offense is at quarterback following the departure of Sam Ehlinger to the NFL. Casey Thompson is the frontrunner after his impressive performance in last year’s Alamo Bowl where he was 8-10 with 4 touchdowns. However, redshirt freshman Hudson Card may have supplanted him, as he is listed at the top of the depth chart. Despite this, Sarkisian has stated that Thompson will start week 1 against Louisiana; for a coach who has sold himself as a straight shooter, this confusion is a questionable way to start the season. Elsewhere on offense, Bijan Robinson returns at running back after setting a school record for yards per carry with 8.2. In the trenches, Texas returns depth at 4/5 positions, with two juniors and two seniors. This is promising for a quarterback and skill positions without much experience and should provide a high floor. On the defensive side of the ball, the major theme is experience. The team lists 8 seniors and 4 juniors (don’t ask me when the number of players on defense became 12). This experience should give Texas an advantage within the offense-oriented Big 12.

Looking through Texas’s schedule, the team will face three preseason top 25 teams in #23 Louisiana, #7 Iowa State, and #2 Oklahoma. The Longhorns themselves come in ranked 21st in the AP poll and 19th in the Coaches poll. Other notable matchups include Arkansas week 2 in a future SEC matchup, Oklahoma State who received the most votes of any team not in the top 25, and road games at Baylor, West Virginia, and Hicks’ beloved TCU. Going through the schedule, best case scenario is 11-1, beating one of the two top ten teams, while a disaster season probably looks around 7-5. For my official prediction, I will forego the easy 9-3 prediction and plant my flag at 10-2. Texas is … almost … back.”

Don Skola on Clemson:

“The Clemson Tigers are my selection for this season. I wanted to make sure that people were aware that college football is played outside of the SEC and that championships are not the exclusive property of the SEC West. I think Dabo Swinney is the best coach in football today. How he was able to take over a perennial mediocre team and transform them into a national championship contender overnight and keep them there for the past decade is amazing. Projection for the Tigers this season 12-0 then win the ACC Championship on their way to the playoffs.”

Ben Nye on Washington:

“In Head Coach Jimmy Lake’s second year in charge of the University of Washington football team, it will be the first in front of fans and will also include the first away game (last year, the Huskies were 3-1 with all games played at home). Lake is a top-notch defensive coordinator so although the team lost Pete Kwiatkowski to Texas in the off-season, the scheme should remain very much intact.

The team will be characterized by a powerful running game behind the best O-Line in the conference, and one of the top O-Lines in the country. The passing game should be serviceable but QB Dylan Morris is young and his receivers have not shown big-game mentality yet. Interestingly, Lake blamed UW’s woes in recent bowl games (Ohio State and Penn State) in part due to a weak receiving corps. You can’t say that unless you think it’s improving now.

On the defensive side, the secondary should be one of the top in the conference. I have some questions on the linebackers. We need to see them step up this year. If the linebackers don’t step-up, then we could see a 10-minute drive from Washington running the ball followed by a similar drive from their opponents. The loss of All-American Zion Tupuola-Fatui (ZTF) in April to an Achilles injury is a big blow for the pass rush. However, by all accounts, his progress is better than expected and he could be back by mid-season for the Oregon game (or before…).

The schedule sets up nicely for the Huskies. They don’t face USC or Utah and they have UCLA and Oregon at home. The trip to Palo Alto at the end of October could cause them some issues. The Michigan game early in the season is a toss-up. The first away game in Morris’s career as a college QB and Lake’s career as a head coach come at the Big House. That’s a big challenge. But if anyone has the moxie to do it, it’s these two.

Players to keep an eye on:

Dylan Morris – The QB, he is a gamer and wants to put his team in a position to win. He isn’t going to go out to win games on his own but he can step up when he needs to (e.g. Utah comeback from 21 points down last year as a true freshman). He wasn’t supposed to be the starter last year but stepped up after Kevin Thomson’s injury. But don’t let his size (6’0”) fool you – he can spin it and he’s a hard worker. Expect him to be a top half PAC-12 QB with more upside than people give him credit for.

Cade Otton – The top TE in the country. His blocking is top-notch, making the O-Line even more formidable and he will be Morris’s top target in the passing game as well.

O-Line – The line is comprised of 300lb+ seniors and super-seniors. In the PAC-12, Morris will be given ample to throw and the line will carve out big holes for the running back committee to exploit.

ZTF – He is a freak. Take a look at some of the highlights from last year’s season. In 4 games, he posted 7 sacks and 3 forced fumbles coming off the edge. He is a difference maker and he might come back sooner than we think. If he’s back for the Michigan, that is must-see TV.”

Tucker Griffith on Michigan:

“Michigan is an outlier team in an outlier conference at Narwhal. We have no one who is a fan of a Big 10 team and I wanted to pick a team that would give some attention to the conference. I picked Michigan because every game is a toss up, rather than a team like Ohio State where they will most likely win every game or at least win most of them.”

John Grayson on Auburn:

“2021 marks the end of a rollercoaster era on the plains. It’s hard to say goodbye to a coach that brought so many magical moments over the last 8 seasons, but that is what Auburn did this past December. Being consistently inconsistent season after season and struggling to keep games competitive with your biggest rivals on a regular basis will quickly erode any fond memories of magical runs in years passed.

What direction does a program with sky-high expectations from a passionate fanbase and the most daunting of competitive landscapes take in order to keep up with SEC powers that seem light years ahead of where the Tigers find themselves? In steps Bryan Harsin, an atypical hire for a school like Auburn that rarely ventures out of its network to bring in coaching candidates. After 7 years and a 64-17 record as the head coach of Boise State, Harsin takes on the task of trying to elevate a program to the level of consistency that national powers enjoy. That’s a big ask.

Harsin inherits an interesting 2021 roster. It is extremely deep and talented at some positions and inexperienced and thin at others. On the offensive side of the ball, OC Mike Bobo will have the opportunity to build around Tank Bigsby, who I believe to be the best back in college football. Question marks at wide receiver and offensive line remain, but there are capable players at those positions, and I think Bobo’s scheme will do a great job getting the most out of them. Defensively, Derrick Mason will field a group that has the potential to be a top 3 unit in the conference in my opinion. A pair of all-SEC linebackers will finally have some playmakers in front of them, and Mason’s scheme should allow them to play free and fast. On the back end, while Auburn doesn’t have a Derrick Stingley caliber player, they are 2 deep with high quality SEC starters at all 4 spots, allowing for plenty of scheme versatility. The single factor that will ultimately determine the trajectory of this season is what Auburn will get out of third year starting quarterback Bo Nix. After showing promise his freshman year, he seemed to take a step back in 2020.

Is this the year that Nix takes the next step and leads Auburn to an SEC title and CFB birth? Probably not, but I think Bobo and Harsin will get more out of him than Malzahn ever did. Pairing that with an all-American running back, a defense loaded with talent, and the fact that the two big rivalry games are in Jordan-Hare, I think it will be enough to keep the Tigers in SEC West contention. Ultimately, I see 9 regular season wins: a heck of a start for the first-year head coach.”


John Grayson

Account Executive

John started at Narwhal as an investment intern in the summer of 2019 while working to complete his MBA at Auburn University. After finishing his schooling, John joined the Narwhal team in a full-time role as a client service associate in the summer of 2020. John has been tasked with servicing a portion of Narwhal’s younger client base as well as expanding the company’s management of outside 401k plans. Along with his MBA, John holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Auburn.

Let’s start the conversation.

At Narwhal Capital Management, you’re more than just a portfolio, and it’s not all about the numbers. Let’s start with a meeting about your needs and future goals.