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Now that the 2021 college football season is over, it's already time to start looking ahead to 2022.
We'll have a better idea of what teams will look like over the next few weeks as players declare for the NFL draft before the Jan. 17 early-entry deadline and coaches add transfers before shoring up their recruiting classes in February. But it's not too early to make our first guess at what the top 25 will look like ahead of the 2022 season.
As always, this is simply a first look. Things are going to change. And this is for entertainment purposes only. Polls always look significantly different in January than they did in August. Four of the teams ranked in the top 10 of the preseason AP poll finished outside of the top 10 on Monday night. Two of those teams — Iowa State and North Carolina — weren't even ranked in the final top 25.
1. Alabama (+200)
The Crimson Tide bring back the best QB in college football in Bryce Young and the best edge rusher in Will Anderson. Throw in a typically stacked roster and you’ve got a team that will be in the playoff mix again. A Heisman for Young in 2022 would make him the first player to win Heismans in consecutive seasons since Archie Griffin.
2. Georgia (+200)
The Bulldogs have been recruiting with the best of them and the talent on this roster departing for the NFL will be replaced with other NFL talent. Brock Bowers is one of the best receiving talents in football and we could be seeing a lot of the Brock to Brock connection in 2022 if Brock Vandagriff takes over as the Bulldogs’ starter.
3. Ohio State (+600)
C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba will be the best QB-WR combination in college football in 2022. Just look at the Rose Bowl. The defense should immediately get better with the addition of Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and TreVeyon Henderson is set to be one of the best running backs in college football again. Here’s the Big Ten favorite.
4. Clemson (+800)
It’s a great sign when your struggle of a season ends with a 10-3 record. Though 2022 has a lot of questions for Dabo Swinney, the consistency his program has had in Tony Elliott and Brent Venables is now gone as both are head coaches for the first time. D.J. Uiagalelei should get better in his second season as a starter (or they move to five-star freshman Cade Klubnik) and Bryan Bresee should be back from a knee injury. Clemson looks to be the class of the ACC again.
5. Texas A&M (+3500)
The Aggies bring back a lot of talent and will likely start either LSU transfer Max Johnson or Haynes King at quarterback. A young offensive line should get better after another offseason to pave the way for Devon Achane after he averaged seven yards a carry in 2021. A&M underachieved in 2021 under high expectations. The expectations aren’t getting any lower in 2022.
6. Utah (+6600)
QB Cameron Rising and RB Tavion Thomas return along with at least three starters on the offensive line. TE Brant Kuithe has also said he’s coming back for another season and the defense got key contributions from a bunch of underclassmen. That unit will need to replace Devin Lloyd, but it could be just as good as it was in 2021.
7. Notre Dame (+6600)
The Irish scored one of the first defensive transfer portal wins of the offseason with the addition of former Northwestern DB Brandon Joseph. Chris Tyree played well in the Fiesta Bowl in Kyren Williams’ absence, and Michael Mayer will vie with Bowers to be the best tight end in the country. Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner both got experience at QB in 2021 as well.
8. Michigan (+3500)
The Wolverines lose Dax Hill, Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Hassan Haskins but there’s little reason to think there will be a significant step back in 2022 barring some unexpected changes. Breakout WR Ronnie Bell should return after suffering a knee injury during the season and it’s not hard to see a stacked offensive line reloading.
9. Wake Forest (+8000)
Wake’s explosive offense could return nearly intact in 2022. That’s great news for a team that won 11 games in 2021 and went to the ACC title game. QB Sam Hartman could enter the season as a Heisman dark horse and the schedule is favorable. The Demon Deacons have both Clemson and North Carolina at home.
10. Oklahoma (+3500)
The addition of former UCF QB Dillon Gabriel after Caleb Williams said he was exploring his options likely foreshadowed Williams’ departure. Gabriel isn’t going to be much of a downgrade for the Sooners as Brent Venables takes over for Lincoln Riley. Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will call plays for OU; the offense shouldn’t slow down that much. And the defense should get better.
11. Baylor (+10000)
The Bears made a huge leap in Dave Aranda’s second season and are poised to stay near the top of the Big 12. Dillon Doyle is back for another season and quarterbacks Gerry Bohanon and Blake Shapen both return. Abram Smith was fantastic at running back but there’s plenty of depth behind him and the majority of a very good offensive line is back for another run in 2022.
12. Oregon (+5000)
Fresh off a national title, Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning takes the reins from Mario Cristobal as the head coach at Oregon. Cristobal left him a loaded roster. The Ducks won 10 games in 2021 despite a slew of injuries and mediocre quarterback play. Will the QB play improve? Auburn transfer Bo Nix joins the fray. If he wins the starting job, he’ll open the 2022 season in familiar territory as Oregon faces Georgia in Atlanta in Week 1.
13. Michigan State (+10000)
MSU was one of 2021’s surprise teams. Can Mel Tucker and the Spartans stay in the national conversation again in 2022? Kenneth Walker III is a big loss, as is Jalen Nailor, but QB Payton Thorne and WR Jayden Reed are back. Tucker also continues to replenish the roster with transfers. MSU won 11 games with a horrific pass defense. If the secondary improves, MSU has a chance to be very good once again.
14. Oklahoma State (+10000)
QB Spencer Sanders is back as he looks to establish some consistency in 2022. The Cowboys were powered by their defense in 2021 and a step back is probably going to happen with the departure of a lot of key contributors and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. But if Sanders finally finds that consistency, a young offense could be very good next season.
15. BYU (+20000)
BYU was expected to take a step back this year but turned in an excellent 10-win season. The Cougars are 21-4 over the past two seasons and Kalani Sitake has things rolling in Provo. Losing Tyler Allgeier to the NFL hurts, but a ton of production on defense is expected to return. Jared Hall also returns at quarterback, and the Cougars have quietly added some quality transfers in recent weeks. The schedule is tough, but this team is too.
16. Arkansas (+20000)
Arkansas is losing some big contributors on defense, as well as star receiver Treylon Burks. Still, Sam Pittman has turned this program around quickly and has the Razorbacks ready to compete once again in the rugged SEC West. K.J. Jefferson has all-SEC potential at quarterback and Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood is an excellent replacement for Burks at receiver.
17. NC State (+15000)
NC State is losing some key pieces on offense, including likely first-round tackle Ikem Ekwonu. However, the majority of the defense will be back, as will quarterback Devin Leary. Leary is one of the most underrated signal callers in the country and will have the Wolfpack back near the top of the ACC Atlantic once again. That division is going to be very competitive in 2022.
18. Iowa (+10000)
Iowa is one of the most consistent programs in the country. The Hawkeyes were underwhelming on offense for most of the year, yet managed to win 10 games for the second time in three seasons. Tyler Linderbaum and Tyler Goodson are big losses on offense, but Iowa always has quality depth on the line and at running back. Riley Moss, the Big Ten’s top defensive back in 2021, will return and should thrive yet again on another excellent Hawkeyes defense yet again.
19. USC (+3500)
Lincoln Riley replacing Clay Helton at head coach is a significant upgrade, and if Riley manages to bring Caleb Williams with him from Oklahoma to USC then the Trojans should find themselves higher in the rankings entering 2022. Even if Williams chooses USC, there are questions about this roster — particularly along the lines of scrimmage and in the back end of the defense.
20. Ole Miss (+10000)
Lane Kiffin just guided the Rebels to their first-ever 10-win regular season. Now he has to replace a lot of key figures. He’s been recruiting well, and that includes via the transfer portal. Ex-TCU running back Zach Evans figures to have a key role in the Ole Miss offense and it won’t be surprising if Kiffin finds an experienced QB via the transfer market as well. If not, Luke Altmyer could be running the show in 2022.
21. Wisconsin (+8000)
Can Graham Mertz take a step forward? Mertz was very good as a freshman and not good at all as a sophomore. But the Wisconsin offense will be a lot like it always is with another star rusher in the making in Braelon Allen. And until proven otherwise, there’s no reason to think that Wisconsin’s defense won’t hold opponents under 20 points per game for a fourth consecutive season.
22. Pittsburgh (+8000)
Kedon Slovis should be a suitable replacement for Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett at quarterback. Slovis will have Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison to throw to, as well as a strong group of running backs and an experienced offensive line. The defense is expected to return plenty of production, though that unit had issues defending the pass if the pass rush didn’t get home.
23. Cincinnati (+8000)
This low ranking could look foolish this time next year. It’s hard to expect another undefeated run through the AAC when Cincinnati is losing QB Desmond Ridder, RB Jerome Ford, star cornerbacks Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant, and a slew of others who made the last few seasons so special. At the same time, Luke Fickell knows how to identify and develop talent. We can learn a lot about the Bearcats early in 2022 when they travel to face Arkansas.
24. Kentucky (+15000)
Mark Stoops keeps churning out winners in Lexington. Kentucky got to 10 wins for the second time under Stoops and has plenty of returning talent, including QB Will Levis and RB Chris Rodriguez. Kentucky is waiting on some NFL draft decisions along both lines, but those units have been consistently strong no matter the roster turnover. The biggest loss, however, is receiver Wan’Dale Robinson.
25. Houston (+25000)
Can Dana Holgorsen and Houston dethrone Cincinnati in the AAC? UH’s defense was quietly very good in 2021, especially up front. The defense should be strong yet again and the offense brings back QB Clayton Tune, RB Alton McCaskill and WR Nathaniel Dell. Improved offensive line play would go a long way for this team.
Also considered: Coastal Carolina, Fresno State, LSU, Kansas State, Miami, Minnesota, Penn State, Texas, UCLA