College Football Rankings: B/R's Preseason Top 25

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVAugust 17, 2022

College Football Rankings: B/R's Preseason Top 25

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    PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 01: C.J. Stroud #7 of the Ohio State Buckeyes awaits the snap against the Utah Utes during the first half of the Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
    Ohio State's C.J. Stroud. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    After a long offseason overflowing with realignment chaos, actual college football is finally at our doorstep. It's only a few more days until Nebraska and Northwestern square off in Ireland to get the season underway.

    And with the exception of the Sun Belt adding James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss, nothing has changed yet. You still have at least another 12 months to prepare for seeing Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and BYU in the Big 12; Texas and Oklahoma in the SEC; and UCLA and USC in the Big Ten.

    To celebrate the return of pigskin on Saturdays, B/R college football experts David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard each submitted a ballot of their Top 25 teams, resulting in this consensus poll:

    1. Alabama Crimson Tide
    2. Ohio State Buckeyes
    3. Georgia Bulldogs
    4. Clemson Tigers
    5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    6. Utah Utes
    7. Texas A&M Aggies
    8. Michigan Wolverines
    9. Oklahoma State Cowboys
    10. North Carolina State Wolfpack
    11. USC Trojans
    12. Michigan State Spartans
    13. Oregon Ducks
    14. Baylor Bears
    15. Oklahoma Sooners
    16. Arkansas Razorbacks
    17. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
    18. Wisconsin Badgers
    19 (tie). Houston Cougars
    19 (tie). Penn State Nittany Lions
    21. Ole Miss Rebels
    22. Texas Longhorns
    23. BYU Cougars
    24. Kentucky Wildcats
    25. Pitt Panthers

    We'll discuss which teams have moved the most since our Top 25 that ran while confetti was still raining down on Georgia, explore what the preseason ranking of that reigning national champion could mean and then finish up with highlighting some of the can't-miss games coming up in the first month of the regular season.

Who's Hot: North Carolina State Wolfpack and USC Trojans

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 23: Devin Leary #13 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack throws a pass during pregame warm ups prior to the game against theMiami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on October 23, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
    NC State's Devin Leary. Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

    For the most part, the teams that were in our Top 15 seven months ago are still the teams in our Top 15. They're not in the same order, of course, but there were only two in/out changes in the top 60 percent of our poll.

    The "in" portions are NC State at No. 10 and USC at No. 11.

    We did at least have the Wolfpack in our Top 25 at No. 21 but perhaps didn't fully appreciate in January just how good this team was in 2021, nor how much of its talent would be returning in 2022.

    NC State went 9-3 with a one-point loss at Miami and a three-point loss at Wake Forest among the three missteps. The defense was rock solid, allowing just 19.7 points per game in spite of quite a few injuries to key players. And that's the side of the ball where the returning cast is loaded.

    The linebacker corps of Payton Wilson, Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas should be one of the nation's best, and free safety Tanner Ingle is an ever-present menace for opposing offenses.

    The run game is a big question mark for the Wolfpack. But with Devin Leary (35 TD, 5 INT) returning at quarterback along with two of his favorite targets (Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter) and the addition of Maryland graduate transfer Darryl Jones, NC State could have an aerial assault on par with what it had in Ryan Finley's senior season in 2018, when it led the ACC at 313.2 passing yards per game.

    Clemson is still the ACC favorite, so that Oct. 1 showdown in Death Valley looms all sorts of large. But if NC State can win at Clemson for the first time since 2002, it will immediately become a top candidate to reach the College Football Playoff.

    And on the Trojans front, Lincoln Riley did all of his transfer portal pillaging after January 10.

    We all kind of assumed USC is where former OU quarterback Caleb Williams would end up, but that wasn't official until Feb. 1. Riley also added Travis Dye, Jordan Addison, Mario Williams, Brenden Rice, Shane Lee, Eric Gentry, Romello Height, Mekhi Blackmon and others since last year's national championship game, so this team looks nothing like it did seven months ago.

    As with NC State, there is a higher-ranked team in USC's division (Utah) whom it has to face on the road, so that Oct. 15 tilt has massive Pac-12 and CFP implications. But skyrocketing straight from 4-8 to 10-2 or better is possible in SoCal.

Who's Not: Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Iowa Hawkeyes

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 04: Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Riley Moss (33) lines up on defense during the Big 10 Championship game between the Michigan Wolverines and Iowa Hawkeyes on December 4, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Iowa's Riley Moss. Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    In our way-too-early rankings, Wake Forest and Iowa checked in at Nos. 16 and 17, respectively. But with the season about to begin, they've both slipped into the "others receiving votes" range.

    For the Demon Deacons, the justification is equal parts obvious and unfortunate: QB Sam Hartman is out "for an extended period" while dealing with a "non-football-related medical condition," per the school.

    First and foremost, we wish Hartman a speedy recovery from whatever is ailing him, but we kind of have to assume from the nature of the news release that he won't be back anytime soon. And that's a massive loss for the Deacs, as Hartman was the first runner-up to NC State's Devin Leary for ACC Preseason Player of the Year less than a month ago.

    Wake Forest was already likely to take a sizable step backward from last season's 41.0 points per game with wide receivers Jaquarii Roberson and Donald Stewart and running back Christian Beal-Smith all out of the picture, but it's hard to put any faith in that team with its gigantic question mark at quarterback—especially considering an already mediocre-at-best defense also lost three of its five leading tacklers.

    And with Iowa?

    I guess we felt obligated to throw the Hawkeyes a bone after a 10-2 regular season, a Top 20 finish in the CFP rankings and a ninth consecutive winning campaign. But then we remembered that both center Tyler Linderbaum and running back Tyler Goodson were leaving what was already a moribund offense. Receiver/kick and punt returner Charlie Jones' transfer to Purdue in June only made us less optimistic about the Hawkeyes' big-play potential in 2022.

    The defense led by Riley Moss, Jack Campbell and Seth Benson should still be great, though, so not a single one of us will be surprised if the Hawkeyes allow something like 16 points per game en route to a 9-3 campaign. It's just a question of whether the offense can manage 17 points per contest.

Fun Fact: Reigning National Champion Food for Thought

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    ATHENS, GA - APRIL 16: Stetson Bennett #13 during the Georgia Bulldogs Spring game at Sanford Stadium on April 16, 2022 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
    Georgia QB Stetson Bennett. Photo by Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images

    Georgia won the national championship last year, which naturally means the Bulldogs are one of the top candidates to win it all this year.

    Both in our Top 25 and the preseason AP Top 25, Georgia checks in at No. 3. It's the 23rd time in the past 24 years that the winner of the previous season's national championship game opened the following season ranked No. 7 or better in the AP poll. (The lone exception was Auburn winning the BCS championship in 2010 and starting out the 2011 campaign at No. 23.)

    Here's the thing, though: The reigning national champion almost always finishes the season with a worse ranking than where it starts.

    In many cases, it's still close. 2002 Miami, 2005 USC, 2016 Alabama, 2018 Alabama, 2019 Clemson and 2021 Alabama all started out at No. 1 and ended up at No. 2. And of the 17 previous national champions to open the following season in the AP Top Three, the only one to finish the season outside the Top 10 was Texas, which won it all in 2005, opened 2006 at No. 3 and finished at No. 13.

    However, since the beginning of the BCS era (1998), the only instances of a reigning champion finishing the season ranked better than where it began were 2012 Alabama (started at No. 2 before repeating as champion) and 2017 Clemson (started at No. 5 and finished at No. 4).

    By no means are we suggesting that Georgia is destined for some painful fall from grace. It's just a poll-based observation that has nothing to do with this year's roster. Frankly, you could easily view the research from a slightly different angle and conclude that we are overdue for a repeat champion as we approach a full decade without one.

    The Dawgs did lose 15 players who were selected in the 2022 NFL draft, though, including five defensive players in the first round. If they do repeat as champs, it will be with a whole new host of stars leading the way.

Looking Ahead: Every Head-to-Head Top 25 Showdown in September

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 10: Alabama Crimson Tide QB Bryce Young (9) throws downfield during the Alabama Crimson Tide versus the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff National Championship, on January 10, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Alabama's Bryce Young. Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Now that we've got our Top 25, let's peek ahead to the first few weeks of the season to see where the guaranteed shake-ups will take place.

    Naturally, unranked-over-ranked upsets are always a possibility, but here are the games in which we are guaranteed to see one of our Top 25 squads bite the dust.


    Week 0 (Aug. 27): None

    There's not a single B/R Top 25 team playing during this "soft open," let alone a clash between two of them. It's regular-season college football, so we'll gobble it up. But it won't impact the rankings.


    Week 1 (Sep. 1-5): No. 13 Oregon at No. 3 Georgia (Sep. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET); No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State (Sep. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET)

    Week 1 isn't messing around. Oregon immediately gets a chance to make a massive, long-overdue statement in the Pac-12 against the reigning national champions, followed by Notre Dame starting out with the colossal opportunity that was lacking from its strength-of-schedule arguments last season. If either road team pulls off the upset, it is going to set an early tone for a tumultuous season in the sport.


    Week 2 (Sep. 10): No. 1 Alabama at No. 22 Texas (Noon ET); No. 14 Baylor at No. 23 BYU (10:15 p.m. ET)

    We may never learn who blessed Texas with a first-place vote in the coaches poll, but one plausible theory was that Alabama's Nick Saban cast it as some combination of a vote of confidence in former assistant Steve Sarkisian and a ploy to get his Crimson Tide ready for this big game.

    A ranked BYU lost at unranked Baylor last October, but best of luck to the Bears in the rematch in Provo, Utah, where the Cougars have gone 16-3 with three wins over ranked opponents in the last three seasons.


    Week 3 (Sep. 17): No. 23 BYU at No. 13 Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET); No. 17 Miami (FL) at No. 7 Texas A&M (9 p.m. ET)

    Both BYU and Oregon enter the season outside the Top 10, but they each face ranked opponents within the first three weeks of the season. If either one emerges from this matchup with a 3-0 record, that whole "outside the Top 10" thing will change in a hurry.

    And in the Week 3 nightcap, let's see how long Miami's quest for a 10-0 start to the year can last. The 'Canes will wrap up the regular season with two tough games against Clemson and Pittsburgh, but this trip to Kyle Field might be the only time before mid-November that they aren't favored by at least a touchdown.


    Week 4 (Sep. 24): No. 18 Wisconsin at No. 2 Ohio State (TBD); No. 16 Arkansas at No. 7 Texas A&M (TBD)

    Surely the rankings will have been thrown for a loop by this point, but Week 4 is where conference play begins in earnest with these headliners in the Big Ten and SEC. In addition to those two big ones, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 6 Utah, No. 11 USC, No. 13 Oregon and No. 14 Baylor will all play true road games.

    Translation: Cancel all of your non-football plans for Sep. 24 and strap yourselves in for a day fraught with chaos.

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