Projecting College Football Preseason Top 25 at the Start of 2022 Fall Camp
Shortly after fall camp begins, anticipation for the preseason AP Top 25 only builds. We expect Alabama, Ohio State and reigning national champ Georgia will headline the rankings, but dozens of other programs will be strongly considered in the poll.
Our task today is pegging the proper 25 teams.
The following order is a projection of the preseason AP Top 25, not a personal list.
However, don't confuse this as a half-hearted dart throw. Last year, we correctly included 23 of the 25 teams—and our misses (Oklahoma State and Ole Miss) effectively ranked 26th and 27th.
25-21. Wisconsin, Miami, Kentucky, Tennessee, Houston
25. Wisconsin Badgers
The program has posted a winning record in 20 straight years, including nine-win campaigns in seven of the last eight full seasons. Wisconsin's run-first offense and stubborn defense are staples of that long-term success, and both should be present again in 2022. The issue, as usual, is the potential for an unimposing passing attack.
24. Miami Hurricanes
On the other hand, Miami has a highly respected quarterback in Tyler Van Dyke. He tallied 300-plus yards and three touchdowns in six consecutive games to close 2021. The challenge for new head coach Mario Cristobal will be strengthening a defense that was prone to missed tackles and coverage busts.
23. Kentucky Wildcats
The schedule does Kentucky few favors in 2022. After heading to Florida in early September, the 'Cats travel to Ole Miss and Tennessee in October. Throw in a home showdown with Georgia in November, and that's basically the worst possible split. Kentucky will be leaning on quarterback Will Levis to follow his respectable debut with a true breakout season.
22. Tennessee Volunteers
Given the turmoil of the previous offseason, Tennessee didn't spend much time on the national radar in 2021. Very quietly, Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker accounted for 3,558 yards and 36 touchdowns from scrimmage with only three interceptions. The key for UT is improving a defense that ranked 90th in scoring out of 130 FBS teams at 29.1 points allowed per game.
21. Houston Cougars
Cincinnati remains a prime AAC threat, but Houston is the early Group of Five darling. Clayton Tune is an emerging NFL prospect after throwing for 3,546 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. Trips to Memphis and SMU will most likely shape Houston's level of success in conference play.
20-16. BYU, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest
20. BYU Cougars
Although running back Tyler Allgeier is a major loss, BYU otherwise must replace few pieces from a 10-win squad. Tempering the hype seems wise, however, considering the Cougs take on likely Top 25 teams Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame and Arkansas by mid-October.
19. Ole Miss Rebels
The transfer-infused roster is talented enough for the program to record back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in 62 years. Plus, a reasonable soft September should keep the Rebels' margin for error intact as they adjust to new personnel. But a late-season gauntlet within the SEC West awaits them.
18. Arkansas Razorbacks
Sam Pittman has orchestrated a tremendous rise at Arkansas, which won nine games in 2021, Pittman's second year as head coach, for the first time in a decade. The main area to improve is the defense opposite top offenses. Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama alone accounted for nearly half (131) of Arkansas' points allowed (298)—and three of four losses—last season.
17. Pittsburgh Panthers
The transfer of All-American receiver Jordan Addison could be crushing for the reigning ACC champions, but Pitt should begin the season in the Top 25. The first two nonconference games—at home against West Virginia and Tennessee—are immediate tests for the Panthers, who are expected to start USC transfer Kedon Slovis at quarterback.
16. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Voters may be slightly more optimistic about Wake Forest, which returns dual-threat star Sam Hartman and key receiver A.T. Perry. Hartman accounted for 4,591 yards and 50 touchdowns from scrimmage as the Demon Deacons took full advantage of a favorable slate to win 11 games in 2021, including its bowl game against Rutgers. Wake has a similar ceiling this season.
15-11. Oregon, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oklahoma, NC State
15. Oregon Ducks
Oregon accomplished a bunch of good things under Mario Cristobal but had a crushing road loss in all four seasons. Can the Ducks reverse the trend in Dan Lanning's debut year? New quarterback Bo Nix endured a not-so-dissimilar performance split in his three seasons as Auburn's starter, throwing 14 of his 16 career interceptions and averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt in non-home games.
14. Oklahoma State Cowboys
One of the most intriguing debates within the preseason poll is where to slot Oklahoma State. The defense likely won't be as effective, but the offense can improve substantially if the offensive line is more reliable in front of fourth-year quarterback Spencer Sanders. Voters will probably have OSU anywhere from a single-digit ranking to the 20s.
13. Baylor Bears
Few programs in the FBS need to replace more production than Baylor. The good news is both the offensive and defensive lines are mostly all returning, and the defense has enough experience for well-founded optimism. Shifting to quarterback Blake Shapen and retooling the skill positions will be Baylor's main obstacles in 2022.
12. Oklahoma Sooners
Despite the massive transition ever since head coach Lincoln Riley scurried to USC, Oklahoma still has a solid roster. Are the Sooners a real national threat, though? They may need a couple of fortunate breaks to overcome a shaky offensive line, but this is a definite Big 12 contender on paper.
11. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Losing left tackle Ikem Ekwonu and top receiver Emeka Emezie leaves two huge vacancies on offense. Nearly everyone else is back, however, and the Wolfpack are undeniably built to withstand Vi Jones' departure at linebacker. NC State's upside is likely dependent on the outcome of the Oct. 1 showdown with Clemson. Quarterback Devin Leary and Co. clipped the Tigers in overtime at home last season, but Clemson will host the 2022 clash.
10-6. Michigan State, USC, Michigan, Notre Dame, Utah
10. Michigan State Spartans
Transfers fueled a nine-win ascension for MSU, which improved from 2-5 in 2020 to 11-2 last season. Head coach Mel Tucker is hoping for a repeat of the high transfer impact, especially on a defense that ranked 10th in points allowed per game within the Big Ten.
9. USC Trojans
Whether the transfer-happy approach will pay off for Lincoln Riley and the Trojans is a key storyline in 2022. And in the preseason poll, it's pretty safe to believe that a majority of voters will recognize USC's upside.
8. Michigan Wolverines
Because a shoulder injury limited J.J. McCarthy in spring practice, expect the QB storyline to get much louder in fall camp. Cade McNamara led the Wolverines to a Big Ten crown and College Football Playoff trip in 2021, but McCarthy made 11 appearances in a bit role. The 5-star signee is the future of the program; is he the now too?
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Marcus Freeman's first season as head coach will open with a bang. Notre Dame travels to Ohio State in Week 1, when the Irish will debut a new starting quarterback—likely Tyler Buchner. This would be Notre Dame's fourth straight year as a Top 10 preseason team.
6. Utah Utes
Development is not always linear. But if a majority of Utah's young defenders truly do improve, this roster could be fantastic. Dual-threat quarterback Cameron Rising already has a plethora of skill-position talent and experienced blockers around him, and the schedule is quite manageable. Marquee games are at Florida, home to USC and at Oregon.
5-1. Clemson, Texas A&M, Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama
5. Clemson Tigers
Last season, Clemson held top-three rankings nationally in both yards allowed per play and points allowed per game. Although coordinator Brent Venables left to coach Oklahoma, the Tigers are well-positioned to continue excelling on that side. The million-dollar question is whether DJ Uiagalelei or 5-star freshman Cade Klubnik can turn a below-average offense into a championship-worthy complement.
4. Texas A&M Aggies
While it's not exactly a copy/paste scenario, the Aggies face a similar outlook to Clemson. They upset Alabama in 2021, but low-upside QB play hampered the eight-win team. Haynes King or LSU transfer Max Johnson figure to lead the offense, and their efficacy will have the greatest impact on how A&M's campaign shakes out.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
The defending champions have 15 NFL draft picks to replace. That's nothing short of a monumental task, yet—and really consider this next statement—the Dawgs are built to weather the changes. Oregon is a tough opener, but UGA will be favored in that contest. That will probably stay true throughout the regular season; Georgia avoids Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M in crossover play.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Heading into 2021, defense looked like a concern. The high-powered offense atoned for that weakness until the finale at Michigan, and the letdown in Ann Arbor snapped OSU's conference title streak. The arrival of coordinator Jim Knowles and returning experience should lead to marked improvement on defense, but QB C.J. Stroud, wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba and the offense are still the backbone of the Buckeyes.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
What is there to say? The nation's best coach is Nick Saban. The nation's two best players—quarterback Bryce Young and edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr.—both suit up for the Crimson Tide. Alabama has been a Top Three preseason team for 12 straight years, which would be overkill if the Tide hadn't won six national titles and appeared in three more championship games during Saban's tenure. Bama is inevitable.