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Wayne Staats | NCAA.com | August 15, 2022

College football preseason rankings: Predicting the AP Top 25

Preseason college football preview with B/R's Adam Kramer

Let's not wait for the games to have some fun. Ahead of the AP Poll's release today for the preseason top 25, we've made predictions about how we think the poll could look. Alabama remains a favorite, as are defending champion Georgia and Rose Bowl winner Ohio State — among many others.

Below is how we predict the AP Poll could look. This is not how we would rank the teams going into the season, or how good these teams could end up being. In other words, we're predicting preseason predictions.

Historical data is from collegepollarchive.com.

1. Alabama (13-2, lost to Georgia in CFP National Championship)

If Alabama were to open No. 1, it would be the Tide's seventh time in the top spot to start under Nick Saban. Alabama even began No. 1 three years in a row from 2016-2018. With Heisman winner Bryce Young (4,872 passing yards, 47 TDs) back along with star Will Anderson, Alabama will again be the target. Can there even be an undefeated battle with Georgia for the SEC title? The SEC last had two unbeaten teams meet for the conference championship in 2009 (Alabama and Florida).

2. Ohio State (11-2, beat Utah in the Rose Bowl)

The Buckeyes don't win the Big Ten every season, but they certainly make it seem that way. So after falling to rival Michigan for the first time since 2011 and having to "settle" for a thrilling Rose Bowl win, Ohio State will be expecting to return to the top of the conference in 2022. OSU's three-headed monster on offense of QB CJ Stroud, RB TreVeyon Henderson and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba will dare rivals to try and outscore them.

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3. Georgia (14-1, won CFP National Championship Game)

The Bulldogs are coming off their first national championship since 1980 — and got there by solving the Alabama Problem (the Tide had won the last seven in the series, including the 2021 SEC Championship Game). This would be UGA's fifth consecutive season starting in the top 5.

4. Clemson (10-3, beat Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl)

It says a lot about what Dabo Swinney has accomplished here that a 10-win season and a bowl win is considered a disappointment. But after a 4-3 start (gasp) and even dropping out of the AP rankings (another gasp!) the Tigers finished by winning their last six. Yes, star coordinators OC Tony Elliott (now Virginia head coach) and DC Brent Venables (now Oklahoma head coach) are gone, but Clemson is much more experienced this season.

5. Texas A&M (8-4)

The Aggies could end up being one of the top teams in the nation, but only second best in their division. That's what happens when you're with Alabama. But A&M did upset then-No. 1 Alabama last year. The next step is for the run of ridiculously talented recruiting classes to lead to a more consistent run — the Aggies lost to Mississippi State before beating Alabama and later lost two of their final three games.

6. Notre Dame (11-2, lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl)

Marcus Freeman takes over for Brian Kelly, who left for LSU. But the Irish should have the talent to compete for a CFP spot, thanks to an experienced defense and an offensive line that will be one of the nation's best. The biggest obstacle will be the schedule, as Notre Dame visits Ohio State, North Carolina, USC and gets a visit from Clemson.

7. Michigan (12-2, lost to Georgia in the CFP semifinals)

What can the Wolverines do for an encore? Jim Harbaugh's bunch finally beat Ohio State, rallying from a loss to rival Michigan State in October to win the Big Ten and make the CFP. Can Michigan end another long OSU skid this year? The Wolverines haven't won in Columbus since 2000. The QB situation is something to watch, as are the new starting faces on defense. But Michigan should be elite again — and safely in the top 25.

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8. Utah (10-4, lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl)

Utah is likely the Pac-12's top playoff contender, but the Utes aren't on their own tier. The Utes won the last six regular season games, including a 38-10 romp of Oregon for the conference crown. Only a wild loss to Ohio State in an all-timer Rose Bowl kept the Utes from finishing ranked in the top 10. It's likely Utah will start just there, with QB Cameron Rising and what should be a typically strong defense.

9. Oklahoma (11-2, beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl)

Despite losing Lincoln Riley to Southern California, Oklahoma is Oklahoma and will compete for the Big 12 title. That also means OU will be in the CFP hunt...again. QB Dillon Gabriel should be a strong performer, while new coach Brent Venables could spark noticeable defensive improvement. OU could be the Big 12's highest-ranked team to start.

10. Oklahoma State (12-2, beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl)

The Cowboys had some tight wins to begin last season but surged to a 12-2 mark, an appearance in the Big 12 title game and a comeback vs. Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. QB Spencer Sanders should help get the offense going if it takes time for a new start to emerge at running back or receiver. The defense may also take a step back as well (only 18.1 points per game allowed), but Oklahoma State will still start the season ranked — unlike 2021.

11. USC (4-8)

The Trojans should have one of the more dramatic turnarounds this season under new coach Lincoln Riley. Voters are likely to be on board right away with a preseason ranking — the Coaches Poll ranked USC No. 15. Transfer QB Caleb Williams from Oklahoma should have fun in the Pac-12 with Pitt transfer WR Jordan Addison, who won the Biletnikoff, and Oregon transfer RB Travis Dye.

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12. Michigan State (11-2, beat Pitt in the Peach Bowl)

The Spartans started 8-0 and handed rival Michigan its only regular season loss last year to charge to a 11-win season. Mel Tucker has a more experienced Spartans team going into this season, but MSU was out gained on the season by about 15 yards per game. Still, Michigan State will start this season with something it didn't have in 2021: a preseason ranking.

13. Baylor (12-2 , beat Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl)

The Bears were one of the biggest surprises a year ago, going from 2-7 in 2020 to a Big 12 championship and top-5 finish. Another big season will be need to be led by the veteran offensive line and a tough defensive line (44 sacks — 10 in the Sugar Bowl) should. But Baylor will have to get the job done on the road in 2022 (at BYU, at Iowa State, at Oklahoma and at Texas).

14. NC State (9-3)

The Wolfpack have reached nine wins three times since 2017 and should expect a top 25 spot to begin the search for double-digit wins — that hasn't happened since 2002. QB Devin Leary (3,433 yards, 35 TDs) may be asked to do even more due to new looks at running back, but the defense should be powerful.

15. Oregon (10-4, lost to Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl)

The Ducks hit the top 5 twice last year thanks to an upset of Ohio State. Another eye-opening non-conference win this season would mean beating...defending champion Georgia. Even if Oregon falls in that one, the Ducks — and Auburn transfer Bo Nix at quarterback, or one of the redshirt freshmen — will be a Pac-12 favorite.

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16. Pitt (11-3, lost to Michigan State in the Peach Bowl)

The Panthers weren't even ranked in the AP poll until getting to 5-1. They ended up winning the ACC title and picking up 11 wins. They do lose some stars (Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett, WR star Jordan Addison), but USC's Kedon Slovis will take over at quarterback. Defensively, after allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground each of the last two seasons, a stout line should star again.

17. Wisconsin (9-4, beat Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl)

After a slow 1-3 beginning, the Badgers almost won the Big Ten West. They'll likely to be ranked in the top 25 again, only this time Wisconsin has a manageable schedule before going to Ohio State to close September. It's Wisconsin, so the offensive front and defense (despite losses) will be good.

18. Miami (Fla.) (7-5)

The Hurricanes started in the top 15 last year but a 2-4 start was too much to overcome. But new coach Mario Cristobal will have some fun with QB Tyler Van Dyke and an improved defense. After a bunch of close losses in 2021, Miami would love to open in the top 25 this fall and then stay there throughout.

19. Texas (5-7)

The Longhorns should be ranked even coming off a losing season. It's not too unusual for Texas to start ranked even when coming off 5-, 6- or 7-win seasons. Texas does face Alabama in the second week, but Bijan Robinson will be a star for the running game. However, to remain in the top 25, the defense will have to get better (allowed 30+ points per game).

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20. Kentucky (10-3, beat Iowa in the Citrus Bowl)

Mark Stoops has led UK to 10-win seasons twice in the last four years. The schedule won't be easy and the defense may drop a bit, but QB Will Levis (2,826 passing yards, nine rushing scores) and RB Christopher Rodriguez (1,379 rushing yards) are back. Don't ever count out Stoops.

21. Wake Forest (11-3, beat Rutgers in the Gator Bowl)

Wake Forest and not Clemson is the defending ACC Atlantic champion. The Demon Deacons may not peak in the top 10 again, plus star QB Sam Hartman is out indefinitely with a non-football-related medical condition. But Dave Clawson should have the group prepared to surprise again.

22. Ole Miss (10-3, lost Baylor in the Sugar Bowl)

The Rebels returned to the polls after a handful of years away, with QB Matt Coral piloting an offense that had to deal with injuries. USC transfer Jaxson Dart (or Luke Altmyer) should have a good time scoring points. If the Rebels are to stay in the polls, it'll depend on a brutal stretch that begins in the middle of October.

23. Cincinnati (13-1, lost to Alabama in the CFP semifinals)

Luke Fickell has done so much with Cincinnati that the Bearcats will be an assumed contender in the AAC and beyond until proven otherwise. The Bearcats won't duplicate their historic 2021 that included a CFP appearance, but a veteran offensive line will help growing pains there. Ivan Pace, the MAC DPOY at Miami (Ohio), and brother Deshawn will anchor the defense at linebacker.

24. Iowa (10-4, lost to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl)

The Hawkeyes got to No. 2 but were out-gained on the season and scored only 34 points in four losses. Still, a lot of key pieces are back for a bunch that could be 4-0 when Michigan visits in early October. Kirk Ferentz will have Iowa competing for another Big Ten West championship.

25. Arkansas (9-4, beat Penn State in the Outback Bowl)

The Razorbacks went 2-10 in both 2018 and 2019. In Year 2 with Sam Pittman, the program jumped to a top 25 ranking. With a rather difficult midsection of this year's schedule (Texas A&M, Alabama and BYU over a four-week stretch), Arkansas may need to pull an upset or two to remain in the top 25 through the season.

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