College Football Preseason Top 25 Rankings Post-2021 Early Signing Period

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2021

College Football Preseason Top 25 Rankings Post-2021 Early Signing Period

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    Bryce Young
    Bryce YoungBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Four teams remain in the chase for the national championship. Everyone else, however, is beginning to focus a little more on the 2022 season.

    And our eyes are wandering to the future, too.

    The three-day early signing period has concluded, and FBS programs are either preparing for a bowl or readying for offseason workouts. Either way, the message is the same for returning players: What you do today will define you in the fall of 2022.

    It's early. My goodness, friends, it's so early. This ranking is guaranteed to change in the offseason as transfers leave or arrive, players unexpectedly declare for the NFL draft, more prospects sign in February and any number of factors we cannot predict.

    The objective here is not to perfectly identify the Top 25 teams. Rather, it's to start thinking about key programs, how we'll likely perceive them in 2022 and separate them into suitable tiers.

Tier 7: Offseason Hype

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    Lincoln Riley
    Lincoln RileyAlex Gallardo/Associated Press

    25. Houston Cougars

    Every preseason poll has a token Group of Five program near the end, right? Houston finished as the AAC runner-up in 2021 and will be a respected teamas long as Clayton Tune returns. The fourth-year sophomore threw for 3,263 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, leading the Cougars to an 11-2 record.

               

    24. LSU Tigers

    Brian Kelly solidified Notre Dame as a consistent power, so expectations will be considerably high in his debut season at LSU. Although the Tigers are dealing with some turnover on the roster, Kelly certainly isn't inheriting a shortage of talent in Baton Rouge.

               

    23. USC Trojans

    Here's all you need to know: USC head coach Lincoln Riley. That'll kickstart an offseason hype train, even though national title contention is a couple years away at best.

Tier 6: Consistent Non-Contenders

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    Jordan Addison
    Jordan AddisonChris Seward/Associated Press

    22. Iowa Hawkeyes

    Pending some NFL decisions on defense, Iowa may have another dominant unit in 2022. The problem is a disastrous offense, which averaged the fourth-worst yards per play (4.6) among power-conference teams. Along with a 6-2 season in 2020, the Hawkeyes have six straight eight-win seasons. They should be fine, as always.

              

    21. Kentucky Wildcats

    Mark Stoops has built a high-quality program in Lexington, and a bowl victory in 2021 would give the Wildcats only the fourth 10-win season in their history. Kentucky nearly has a top-10 recruiting class in the current cycle, too. Excitement will abound, to say the least. But hold off on those championship dreams until Stoops and his staff can sustain that recruiting success for a couple more years.

             

    20. Wisconsin Badgers

    Defense is rarely, if ever, a concern for Wisconsin. Every year, though, the Badgers struggle to score against the best competition. Paul Chryst has six eight-win seasons in seven years, so Wisconsin will remain a favorite in the Big Ten West.

           

    19. Pittsburgh Panthers

    Pat Narduzzi arrived in 2015, and the Panthers had earned bowl eligibility in five of his first six seasons but never topped eight victories. Although they exploded for an 11-win campaign in 2021 and won the ACC, now they'll need to replace super-mega breakout quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett.

Tier 5: Reloading Teams

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    Lane Kiffin
    Lane KiffinThomas Graning/Associated Press

    18. Ole Miss Rebels

    This is a vote of confidence entirely in Lane Kiffin, who might as well recreate the final scene from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This offseason, the Rebels may need to replace offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, QB Matt Corral, five-plus key running backs and wide receivers and a heavy majority of the defense. We'll be keeping a close eye on Ole Miss over the next few months and hoping for a reenactment from Kiffin.

              

    17. Oklahoma State Cowboys

    Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is headed to Ohio State, and a senior-heavy unit will undergo a massive retool in the spring. However, the offense has plenty of young talent and an experienced quarterbackflawed though Spencer Sanders may beto keep the Pokes competitive in 2022.

             

    16. Cincinnati Bearcats

    Luke Fickell has also earned a strong benefit of the doubt. Strictly on a number ranking, the Bearcats could be higher. However, they best fit alongside Ole Miss and Oklahoma State because of a huge overhaul. At the very least, Cincinnati may need to replace quarterback Desmond Ridder, running back Jerome Ford and double-digit defenders, including AP All-America corners Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant.

Tier 4: Bounce-Back Candidates

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    Sean Clifford
    Sean CliffordBarry Reeger/Associated Press

    15. Penn State Nittany Lions

    Rebuilding the defense will be a challenge, and star receiver Jahan Dotson should be NFL-bound. However, sixth-year senior Sean Clifford will lead an offense that otherwise returns a bulk of its production, and the Nittany Lions have a star-filled incoming class. While we're not totally buying them, we're certainly not not, either.

           

    14. Oregon Ducks

    While it feels a little harsh to call a 10-win team a bounce-back candidate, two blowout losses to Utah ruined Oregon's year. And then, head coach Mario Cristobal bolted for Miami. Oregon should once again have a strong defense under Dan Lanning, but a new-look offense will determine the team's level of success in 2022.

            

    13. Clemson Tigers

    Clemson had a pretty miserable year, relatively speaking, and still finished as a Top 25 team at 9-3. Losing both coordinators in the same offseason is a major obstacle to overcome, and the offense is a whole lot more unsettled than we anticipated last year. Nevertheless, the Tigers have way too much young talent on this defense to see 2021 as the beginning of a dynasty's dramatic fall.

              

    12. Texas A&M Aggies

    Based on the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, expect to see Texas A&M higher than 13th in official preseason polls. Jimbo Fisher has four straight eight-win campaigns in College Station, too. The defense will have several marquee exits, and NFL departures may considerably impact the offense. But there's a better-than-decent chance this particular ranking will be reassessed in A&M's favor by April.

Tier 3: 2021's Breakout Teams

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    Tim Heitman/Associated Press

    11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

    Watch the NFL draft list. Does it include QB Sam Hartman? How about receivers A.T. Perry and Jaquarii Robinson? Any chance that fourth-year sophomore Rondell Bothroyd takes the leap? If Hartman comes back, Wake Forest is on the radar. If the others also return, the Deacs are easily a top-15 option.

               

    10. BYU Cougars

    The good news is BYU only had a handful of senior contributors as it ripped off a 10-2 record with a 5-0 mark against Pac-12 competition. The bad news is the 2022 schedule looks considerably tougher with trips to Oregon, Boise State and Stanford, a neutral-site clash with Notre Dame and home contests against Baylor and Arkansas. BYU is positioned for another good season, nevertheless.

            

    9. Baylor Bears

    Baylor is a very interesting case. Many of the Bears' top seniors have a year of eligibility remaining, so how many return? Those decisions will be awfully impactful to the Big 12 picture.

             

    8. Michigan State Spartans

    Running back Kenneth Walker III is headed to the NFL draft, and the offensive line was loaded with upperclassmen in 2021. After seeing Mel Tucker and Co. ace the transfer portal, though, we'll wait to see the Spartans' offseason plans.

Tier 2: Traditional Powers

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    7. Utah Utes

    Throw out the 2020 campaign, and the Utes have registered six nine-win seasons in the past seven years. Utah has also appeared in three of the past four Pac-12 Championship Games. Barring some shocking NFL departures, the Utes are basically only going to lose wideout Britain Covey, linebacker Devin Lloyd and a couple of other key players. Huge absences, but lots of experience coming back.

              

    6. Oklahoma Sooners

    No topic is more important than whether the Sooners can keep Caleb Williams. That question emerged immediately after Riley left for USC. But if Williams stays in Norman, new coach Brent Venables has a potential superstar at quarterback who can continue OU's offensive excellence with coordinator Jeff Lebby.

              

    5. Michigan Wolverines

    You can laugh at the notion of Michigan being a traditional power, but winning a Big Ten title only formally sealed it. Jim Harbaugh has five nine-win regular seasons in seven years. The Wolverines are always around; they're simply more respected now. Retooling the defense will be paramount for Michigan in 2022.

Tier 1: Usual Suspects

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Newly promoted head coach Marcus Freeman inherits a Notre Dame program that boasts five straight 10-win campaigns. Not only did the Irish manage an 11-1 record in 2021, but this was supposed to be a gap year. Similar to Baylor, ND has a bunch of return-eligible seniors. Considering how much Freeman is loved in South Bend, it wouldn't be surprising to see many of them exercise that option, too.

             

    3. Georgia Bulldogs

    Since ending 8-5 in Kirby Smart's first year, the Bulldogs have amassed a 56-10 overall record. No matter the number of NFL exits, a half-decade of elite recruiting will replenish the depth chart. They'll be here. Just be ready for another offseason full of quarterback musical chairs in Athens.

              

    2. Ohio State Buckeyes

    Same story as Georgia, only we know C.J. Stroud will be behind center for the Buckeyes in 2022. He'll lose Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson to the NFL, yet the receiving room will still feature three 5-star prospects. Seems helpful. Sharpening the red-zone offense and run defense should be primary goals this offseason.

             

    1. Alabama Crimson Tide

    Nick Saban. Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and record-setting edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr. aren't eligible to leave for the NFL draft, so they'll be back. Also, Nick Saban.

           

    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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