This week we ranked coaches, players, and even games ahead of the 2022 college football season. Now for the most important rankings of all, the Top 25 Preseason Poll going into the 2022 season.
The final list of Rankings Week!
— Harrison Vapnek (@harrisonvapnek) July 9, 2022
The story of the season will be about Alabama’s defense, not their offense. The Crimson Tide have an elite defense led by the best defensive player in the sport in Will Anderson. He’s surrounded by talented players like Dallas Turner, Henry To’oto’o, Eli Ricks, Jordan Battle, and Malachi Moore who will all be All-American caliber players. Offensively, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is the top story for the Crimson Tide. He’ll have to get familiar with a new set of receivers and running backs fast, ahead of Alabama’s huge week two game against Texas. Georgia transfer wide receiver Jermaine Burton is the name to watch out for to have a massive season.
2- Ohio State
Here’s the thing. I’m not sure when Ohio State will trail for the first time this season. There is a good chance that their offense will break basically every single Big Ten record when it comes to total offense and scoring. Quarterback C.J. Stroud is back coming off his First Team All-Big Ten season. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the conference’s single best player, and spoiler alert… my Heisman Trophy pick for 2022, is back. His iconic Rose Bowl performance saw him have the most receiving yards in bowl game history with 347 on 15 catches and three touchdowns. The other receivers of the group are Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, and Emeka Egbuka (all five-star recruits). This is the best wide receiver room in America, and they will torch every defense they face. The offensive line is intact with returners such as Paris Johnson Jr., Luke Wypler, and Matthew Jones, so no issues there. There were some issues on the defensive side last year, but the addition of former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will make an impact. Especially with returners Zach Harrison, Steele Chambers, and Josh Proctor leading the way at their positions. I like their addition of Oklahoma State safety Tanner McCalister, who started every game for the Cowboys in 2021.
The defending champions will not be out of the picture in 2022. Despite losing so many important pieces on their championship defense, the Bulldogs will still likely have one of the best units on that side of the ball in the country. Kelee Ringo, Nolan Smith, Jalen Carter, Tykee Smith, and Christopher Smith are All-SEC caliber players. On offense, Stetson Bennett IV was spectacular in the fourth quarter of the National Championship Game and has a plethora of weapons with Brock Bowers, Kearis Jackson, Ladd McConkey, Arik Gilbert, Darnell Washington, Adonai Mitchell, Kearis Jackson, and Dominick Blaylock. This team has the championship pedigree still and it’ll take them a long way in 2022.
I am set to return as the mayor of Utah, as portrayed on TWSN Tailgate with Matt Levine and Anthony Ravasio after predicting the Utes before the season to win the Pac-12 and be in playoff contention. Now, 2022 will be the season for Utah. Quarterback Cameron Rising is leading the way for Utah, with the talented weapons of Tavion Thomas, Dalton Kincaid, Brant Kuithe, and Devaughn Vele alongside him. The Utes lost a few linebacking pieces but added well in the transfer portal and retained basically everyone else, including star cornerback Clark Phillips III. This is coach Kyle Whittingham’s best team ever and there is a golden path to repeat as Pac-12 champions and make the College Football Playoffs.
I am not as much of a believer in Clemson as many others in 2022, but I cannot ignore how talented most of their roster is. The defense is going to be outstanding. The defensive line of Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, Tyler Davis, and Bryan Breese is the best in the sport. The linebacking core is strong, led by the super athletic Trenton Simpson, and the secondary is above average to round up the defense. On offense is where the questions arise. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei was blatantly bad last season for the Tigers, and incoming five-star freshman Cade Klubnik will have a chance to steal the starting job. The receiving core is strong with veterans Joseph Ngata, E.J Williams, Brannon Spector, and Beaux Collins, who will provide hope to what was a disappointing offense last year.
6- Texas A&M
The Aggies brought in the nation’s best recruiting class for the 2022 season. Even though many of those players won’t have an immediate impact, the team is set for what should be their most successful season under Jimbo Fisher. The quarterback competition will be decided between LSU transfer Max Johnson and last year’s initial starter Haynes King. Running back Devon Achane is one of the conference’s top returners, alongside receiver Ainias Smith. It’s been 83 years since the Aggies won the National Title and if their defense can take another jump and they can upset Alabama again, it might be in play.
7- Notre Dame
New head coach Marcus Freeman is going to have his work cut out for him in his first season as the head coach, but there’s strong reason to believe he will pick up where Brian Kelly left off. Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne will compete for the starting quarterback job, as both played briefly last season in relief. Tight end Michael Mayer is one of the best in the sport at his position and will have another big season. Safety Brandon Joseph transfers in from Northwestern where he was an absolute ballhawk and will have an immediate impact on the Irish back-end. If Notre Dame can get unexpected production from the quarterback position, they will be right back in the playoff discussion.
Baylor might be the most underrated team in college football for 2022. On offense, quarterback Blake Shapen is back and other productive assets. On the defensive side, defensive coordinator Ron Roberts will have work to do after losing key starters across the board. The Bears return their entire defensive front, led by last year’s Big 12 First Team nose tackle Siaki “Apu” Ika. Matt Jones will take Terrel Bernard’s linebacker role and former LSU linebacker Josh White, a former four-star recruit, will also be added to that core. In the secondary, cornerback Al Walcott and free safety Christian Morgan are the lone remaining starters, but keep an eye on Lorando Johnson to be a future star safety in the back end. Baylor has an elite defensive system and it will be enough to win them games that would usually be difficult to win in the Big 12.
I am probably higher than most for USC going into 2022. I think they are going to be an offensive highlight heaven team from the jump. With Caleb Williams now at quarterback, and with Jordan Addison, Travis Dye, Brenden Rice, and Mario Williams Jr. at his disposal it will make for a lethal offense under Lincoln Riley’s scheme. I do think there is a major concern on defense and that will be the reason the Trojans won’t win the Pac-12. They were unable to consistently get stops last season, and despite adding a few big names in the transfer portal, there is still doubt that they will not let down their offense a couple of times this year.
Coming off what was by far Jim Harbaugh’s best season in Ann Arbor, I think the Wolverines take a bit of a step back next season. The quarterback situation would be scary if I were a Michigan fan. Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy will battle it out for the second straight season and neither were ultra-impressive last year. The weapon crew is elite with Ronnie Bell, Donovan Edwards, Blake Corum, Erick All, Andrel Anthony, and Cornelius Johnson, so that could make up for the quarterback play. The defensive side loses a lot in the front seven but returns plenty in the secondary, including senior defensive back DJ Turner. It won’t be the magic carpet ride of 2021 but should be a nine or 10-win season for Harbaugh and the Wolverines.
11- Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy and the Cowboys came as close as you can get to winning the Big 12 Championship Game without actually winning it. One yard away, three straight plays. Now they’re coming back for redemption, and oh yeah… they also beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. A strong young receiving core of Brennan Presley, Blaine Green, and Jaden Bray will surround the conference’s most experienced quarterback in Spencer Sanders, who was stellar late in the season. The defense loses defensive coordinator Jim Knowles but returns strong production, including Brock Martin and Tyler Lacy. There’s reason to believe the Cowboys will be back in the Big 12 Championship Game in 2022.
12- N.C State
I’ll admit to it. I am absolutely drinking the N.C State Kool-Aid for 2022 and think they will be in the mix for the College Football Playoff. They’re a team returning the fifth-most defensive production, including stud linebacker Payton Wilson, four out of five starting offensive linemen, an All-ACC caliber quarterback in Devin Leary, all of their starting weapons outside of one receiver, and a top 25 coach in the sport in Dave Doeren. They lost two games in the ACC by a combined four points and really could’ve easily won both of them. They got a taste of the success last year and will now be back for more.
If Brett Venables is half of what Lincoln Riley was, Oklahoma will be fine for 2022. The problem is I think Sooner fans underestimate how important Riley was for them. Venables was an amazing coordinator, but it might take a year or so to figure things out as a head coach. I do like Dillon Gabriel at quarterback AND Drake Stoops and Marvin Mims Jr. at receiver, but the rest of the roster has plenty of holes following Riley’s departure. I think this team has a nine-win ceiling.
Oregon is a team that’s going to fly under the radar in 2022. Noah Sewell and a healthy Justin Flowe are elite players on the defensive side. Bo Nix is likely to be the starting quarterback and he’s reunited with his former Auburn offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. They play a favorable Pac-12 schedule and could cruise to nine wins.
Mario Cristobal comes from Oregon and along the way put together one of the most hyped-up staffs that the sport has ever seen. He inherits the ACC Freshman of the Year and one of the best quarterbacks in the sport in Tyler Van Dyke, and a core of young receivers to pair with him. Tight end Will Mallory will also be one of the best tight ends that Cristobal and new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has worked with. There is a lot of excitement in Coral Gables that Miami could have another stellar season.
16- Wake Forest
Wake Forest took home the ACC Atlantic in 2021 and if you ask them, there’s a strong belief that they will repeat. The offense only lost three starters and retained quarterback Sam Hartman and wide receiver A.T. Perry. They’ll still be one of the best scoring offenses in the sport, but that’s not their issue. The defense wasn’t amazing last year and relied on the offense to win games via shootout. Last year was an ‘everything going right’ season for the Demon Deacons and will regress to the mean in 2022.
17- Michigan State
One of the biggest questions in college football is if last year for Michigan State was a fluke or not. I lean to believe that they will have similar success, but it’s still hard to rank them higher than this. The Spartans have one of the better quarterbacks in the conference in Payton Thorne and worked the transfer portal really well adding running back Jalen Berger from Wisconsin, tight end Daniel Barker from Illinois, defensive end Khris Bogle from Florida, linebacker Jacoby Windmon from UNLV, and cornerback Ameer Speed from Georgia. If they can recreate a fragment of what Kenneth Walker brought last season, they can win nine or 10 games again.
Jaren Hall isn’t Zach Wilson, but we also were not talking about Wilson ahead of the 2020 season much. He’s a quarterback with a ton of raw talent and a strong offensive core surrounding him. BYU plays a ton of huge games against Baylor, Oregon, Arkansas, and Notre Dame that if the Cougars can win a bunch of those, their resume will be at the top of any teams in the nation.
I’ve seen people rank the Razorbacks as high as inside the top 10. I’m not quite there with them but think they’re an alright team in a tough conference. KJ Jefferson was the second-best quarterback in the SEC last season and despite losing most of his weapons (outside of the addition of Oklahoma transfer WR Jadon Haselwood), he will have another successful year. This feels like another eight or nine-win season for Sam Pittman as the program is still on the rise.
Texas is back, folks. Ok, fine maybe they’re not all the way back yet but they’re getting there. They were two different teams pre-Red River and post-Red River and with Quinn Ewers taking the reins at quarterback now and all the talented weapons they have (Bijan Robinson, Xavier Worthy, Isaiah Neyor, etc.) this is going to be a must-see team. They play Alabama in week two in what is the most hyped-up college football game of the year and their offense could give them a “puncher’s chance”.
Houston is my pick to be the Group of Five team to make a New Year’s Six bowl and they could do it with ease. Coach Dana Holgerson took the Cougars to a 12-2 season in 2021 and a bowl game win against Auburn. They did it with the coolest college football quarterback name in Clayton Tune and his top target Nathaniel Dell. The Cougar offense shouldn’t miss a beat (ha.. get it) in 2022 and with their schedule could rattle off a perfect season.
I’ll be honest: I’m all over LSU this season. Brian Kelly has had success with so much worse teams than this. Something right that former head coach Ed Orgeron did in Baton Rouge was recruit and now Kelly inherits those guys and the second-best wide receiver in the sport in Kayshon Boutte. I anticipate Arizona State transfer, Jayden Daniels, to start week one, who was most successful when he had two NFL-caliber wide receivers at his disposal. The Tigers will be in the New Year’s Six mix this season, book it.
I had to give some credit to the defending ACC champions. They did lose Kenny Pickett to the draft and Jordan Addison to USC but retained a lot of what was a very good defense. Last year was mostly lightning in a bottle for the Panthers but there’s no reason they shouldn’t win eight or nine games in 2022.
Tennessee had one of the most electric offenses in college football and they’re running it back this year. Hendon Hooker was fantastic after taking over for Joe Milton. They’ll continue to run their seven seconds or less fast-tempo offense with receivers Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt. Last year was just an appetizer of what they could be, this year could be the entree if everything goes right.
There’s a big clump in the Big Ten West and I side with Wisconsin in that group just because of Braelon Allen, one of the most talented backs in the sport. The Badgers have one of the best defensive coordinators in the sport in Jim Leonhard and another talented defense in my opinion makes them the favorite in the division.
In the Hunt: Ole Miss, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Penn State, Fresno State, Purdue, Kansas State, Florida.