It’s always a guess to project the top 25 for next season’s college football this early, but now it’s messier than ever. The shakeup of coaches and quarterbacks (not to mention other players) has made this offseason a festival of fluidity.
Twenty percent of Power 5 coaching positions have changed hands, and Jim Harbaugh may still unleash a ripple effect in January. At least a third of the 65 starting quarterbacks will be different, and more transfers are likely in the coming weeks.
So, with that as a backdrop, here is Way-Too-Early, Way-Too-Unsure’s top 25 for the 2022 season.
Shocking, I know. But when you start with the current Heisman Trophy winner (quarterback Bryce Young), the nation’s best defensive player (linebacker Will Anderson Jr.), and the GOAT (Nick Saban), that’s a pretty good point guard. The rest of the team will be ridiculously talented as well, as usual.
The last time we saw the Buckeyes, quarterback CJ Stroud was throwing for 573 yards and six touchdowns, Jaxon Smith-Njigba was breaking a bowl record with 347 receiving yards and Marvin Harrison Jr. was catching three touchdowns. They will all return in 2022, and Jim Knowles arrives from Oklahoma state to beef up the defense. The Buckeyes must be charged.
The NFL will have a huge influx of Bulldogs this offseason, especially because of their fierce defense. But a wealth of talent remains, thanks to Kirby Smart’s accumulation of monster recruiting classes. Will quarterback Stetson Bennett really start next season as No. 1 on Georgia’s depth chart, or will he be demoted once again?
This will be a fascinating season for the Tigers, with Dabo Swinney reviewing his previously very stable coaching staff after losing coordinators and others. But the player roster is chock full of guys who got some valuable experience in 2021 and should improve in 2022. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei must move on after a disappointing season, but there’s an intriguing plan B in freshman Cade Klubnik. .
The Utes lose some key contributors to their Rose Bowl team, but they are coming back more. Running back Tavion Thomas returns after a 21 touchdown season, as is quarterback Cameron Rising. The defense should be unpleasant again. They open with a winnable game in Florida that could be a stepping stone to a great season.
With the return of Haynes King and the arrival of Max Johnson from LSU, the quarterback position should be in better hands. Most of the rest of the lineup is in good shape, thanks to several years of recruiting from Jimbo Fisher. How quickly will the nation’s # 1 freshman class make an impact? The non-conference schedule is manageable, with Miami coming to College Station.
The 2021 Playoffs team losses are significant, especially on defense. And again, we’ll see if Harbaugh continues to coach the Wolverines in the days to come. But if it is, there is a good core of talent in a skill position to build on, starting with the QB tandem of Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy. The conference-free schedule should generate little opposition.
8. Awakening of the forest
The Demon Deacons return with a loaded roster after just the second 11-win season in school history. Quarterback Sam Hartman should start the season as a Heisman candidate leading what could be the most explosive offense in the country outside of Alabama and Ohio State. If the defense improves, this could be the non-traditional revelation team. Clemson, Wake’s annual problem, is due to arrive in Winston-Salem in 2022.
Marcus Freeman faces a tough schedule, with a game opener at Ohio State and games against Clemson, BYU and USC. He’ll need a quarterback to step up, with Tyler Buchner as the leading candidate as of now. But there is talent on the entire list after years of excellent recruiting.
10. State of Oklahoma
The Cowboys tend to be a program that does its best work when little is expected of it, so perhaps this is an inflated ranking. But Spencer Sanders played like a superstar at the Fiesta Bowl by leading a thrilling comeback to beat Notre Dame and he could be ready for a great season. It’s going to have to be that good in 2022, because Oklahoma State will likely take a step back defensively after losing Knowles and many of its best players on that side of the ball.
Losing production to Kenneth Walker III hurts, but there are other weapons available. Payton Thorne had a terrific sophomore season at QB, and Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger comes with the opportunity to fill in for Walker and reinvigorate his career. Defense returns many of its key parts and let’s face it, the secondary can only get better.
The Bears had a veteran team in 2021 and will have to reorganize in some areas, but trust Dave Aranda, whose second season was material as National Coach of the Year. Your defenses will always be strong. Gerry Bohanon should go one step further in his second season as a starting QB. Key opening game: A trip to Provo to face BYU.
The Lincoln Riley effect should be immediate. With the transfer of Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart, the door is wide open for mega talent Caleb Williams to follow Riley to Norman to Los Angeles and assume the quarterback position. (Fellow Oklahoma evacuee Mario Williams might as well come with him as a great receiver.) Beyond the infusion of talent, Riley should have a cleaner team in terms of penalties and turnover margin than what we saw from Trojans in the Clay Helton era. .
If Sam Pittman keeps this program on its current growth curve, the Razorbacks could finish even higher. There are some big shoes to fill on defense, but linebacker Bumper Pool will be back for a fifth year. Double threat KJ Jefferson returns as QB and mighty Raheim Sanders could be a 1,000-yard running back. The problem could be the schedule: The Hogs open at home against Cincinnati and visit BYU in mid-October, in addition to the usual chaos from the SEC.
Brent Venables finally takes on the head coach role and has put together a very good staff. It should dramatically improve the defensive product. But the offensive losses are significant. Dillon Gabriel Arrives to Replace Caleb Williams at QB; while he was good at UCF, there would be some decline in that position. Gabriel’s passing efficiency rating has ranged from 156 to 159 in three college seasons, while Williams posted 170 as a freshman and is a top running back. Two receivers have been traded and running back Kennedy Brooks is turning pro.
Josh Heupel started running, posting a winning season in his first year on the job and rejuvenating an oppressed fan base. Transferred quarterback Hendon Hooker flourished with Heupel and should have another great season with the return of 1,000-yard receiver Cedric Tillman. The running game is in good hands too. A defense that allowed 29 points per game needs to advance in 2022.
The Badgers tend to reload defensively rather than rebuild, and running back Braelon Allen is a star in the making. But they need a lot of progress from QB Graham Mertz if they want to win the Big Ten West again after two years of seeing someone else from that division go to Indianapolis.
Dana Holgorsen got her career back on track in a big way in 2021, leading the Cougars to 12 wins. He should have the roster to win the American Athletic Conference in ’22, although there are some defensive holes to fill. In QB Clayton Tune, running back Alton McCaskill and wide receiver Nathaniel Dell, Houston has star power that should light up the scoreboard.
19. State of North Carolina
Dave Doeren has built a consistent winner, with last year’s 9-3 team among the best. Many key parts of that group are returning, starting with quarterback Devin Leary (3,400 passing yards and 35 touchdowns in 2021). Linebacker Payton Wilson, who missed most of 2021, is also returning to anchor the defense. Between Clemson, Wake Forest, and NC State, the ACC will lean heavily toward the Atlantic Division again.
The Ducks are losing a lot from their Pac-12 North championship team, including head coach Mario Cristobal. But Cristóbal signed three consecutive top-10 recruiting classes between 2019 and 2021, so there is talent available waiting for an opportunity. Noah Sewell could be the best inside linebacker in the nation and will be the centerpiece of Dan Lanning’s defense. Mercurial quarterback Bo Nix arrives from Auburn, where he made a lot of things happen (some good, some bad).
With two 10-win seasons in the past three, the Wildcats have come in as consistent contenders. They should maintain that momentum in 2022, with the return of quarterback Will Levis and leading running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. is expected to do the same (big-plays receiver Wan’Dale Robinson declared for the draft). There will be some changes in defense. Kentucky has been active on the transfer portal, both in terms of who is coming and who is leaving, but Mark Stoops is bringing in the highest-rated recruiting class in school history and some of those freshmen could make an impact. righ now.
The Hawkeyes are here because they are simply too consistent to write off, racking up winning seasons year after year under Kirk Ferentz. They need to improve as a quarterback and lose the best center in college football, but the defense should get strong again, especially after safety Riley Moss announced that he will stay at the school.
The Bearcats eventually broke up the large group of seniors who turned the show into a power, but held on to Luke Fickell. (Until now. Again, we’ll see if there will be a vacancy in Michigan). As long as it’s there, Cincinnati will be good. But there are heavy personnel losses on both sides of the ball. Fickell has always said he wants a line-driven offensive program, and this is the chance to prove it. That is where the greatest experience lies.
We got a glimpse of what the Boilermakers will be without NFL talents David Bell and George Karlaftis at the Music City Bowl, and it was pretty good. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell (over 5,700 career passing yards) is making a comeback, and Jeff Brohm is never without receivers. Losing defensive coordinator Brad Lambert is a hit, but Brohm has become more involved on that side of the ball and should maintain the same style of play defensively.
25. Carolina Coast
With quarterback Grayson McCall declaring, “I orin teal,” in announcing his return for another season, expectations remain high for the Chanticleers. They are 22-3 in the past two seasons, since McCall became a starter. However, there will have to be a lot of rebuilding work on the defensive end and on the receiver.
More college football coverage:
• Is SEC’s CFP Dominance Bad For The Sport?
• Saban showed remarkable adaptability in 2021
• Why have the southern teams dominated the CFP?
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.