The hotline’s 15th annual ridiculously early top-25 ranking – or maybe it’s 16th (we’ve lost track) – is the first of three such projections set for 2022.
Our not-so-early-top-25 rankings will be published after spring practice, followed by the hotline’s preseason top-25s during training camp.
Revisions will be based largely on free agent signing in college football… Mistake, sorry: Revisions will be based largely on the results of Transfer Portal decisions.
Also considered (alphabet): Air Force, Appalachian State, Arizona State, Army, Boise State, Central Michigan, Coastal Carolina, Iowa, Iowa State, Louisiana, Miami, Minnesota, NC State, Northern Illinois, San Diego State, Tennessee, Texas, UCF, UCLA, Utah State, UTSA and Washington State
1. Alabama (with 13-1 remaining): Expect loads of departures for the NFL Draft as usual, but two players deserve to leave: quarterback Bryce Young and unstoppable edge Rush Will Anderson. You can fill the other 20 starting places with schmoes from the frat row, and Bama will have a shot at the playoffs.
2. Ohio State (11-2): The offense we saw in the Rose Bowl should be good enough to take the Buckeyes back to the playoffs. And we suspect new coordinator Jim Knowles (hired from Oklahoma State) will make an immediate impact on that side. 2022 Season Opener: Notre Dame in the Horseshoe.
3. Georgia (13-1 with one remainder): The Bulldogs would lose their entire starting defense, or close to it, as well as coordinator Dan Lanning (for Oregon). However, the overall drop in performance should be negligible, thanks only to Alabama’s recruitment of rival classes.
4. Clemson (10-3): Regression was substantial but faster in the post Trevor Lawrence era. Quarterback DJ Uigalelli must play at the level of his Southern California teammates from Alabama (Bryce Young) and Ohio State (CJ Stroud) to get the Tigers back into the playoff stage.
5. Texas A&M (8-4): If Jimbo Fisher can finally break into the SEC West, maybe he’ll have a chance to make money off Mel Tucker.
6. Utah (10-4): Several key pieces return, including quarterback Cam Rising and tailback Tavian Thomas, making Utah the clear early favorite in the Pac-12. As for the Utes’ playoff chances, a lot depends on the result of the ’22 opener in Florida.
7. Florida (6-7): A sleeper chooses to the extent that a program with multiple national titles can be considered a sleeper. First-year coach Billy Napier has inherited some top-12 recruiting classes and should turn the gators on quickly.
8. Notre Dame (11-2): First-year coach Marcus Freeman isn’t in need of a rebuild – the roster is well sounded. But the schedule, which includes Clemson and Ohio State, could prove to be a limiting factor.
9. Michigan (12-2): The Wolverines have not recruited enough to fully offset the loss of personnel (to the NFL draft and eliminated eligibility) that they are experiencing this off-season.
10. Oklahoma (11-2): We have doubts about Sooners in the year under coach Brent Venables, with a solid substitute in quarterback in UCF transfer Dylan Gabriel.
11. Cincinnati (13-1): The quarterback and cornerback lose key personnel but the team has to beat the American. The Bearcats aren’t going away with Luke Fikel in charge. Note: The ’22 season opener is in Arkansas.
12. Boiler (12-2): Senior-fought Big 12 champions will lose ground relative to their competition, at least in the short term.
13. Houston (12-2): The Cougars should remain the second-best team in the AAC – until they become the best, which is a distinct possibility.
14. Oklahoma State (12-2): The Cowboys’ success season was driven by an experienced defense with a top-flight coordinator. Defense is hit by an accident while the coordinator leaves for Ohio State.
15. Brigham Young (10-3): The Cougar has more than enough returning talent to compete for a second consecutive Pac-12 title.
16. Wisconsin (9-4): We begin our evaluation of badgers every year in the same way: Is there a compelling reason why they shouldn’t be ranked in the top-15 or 20. Usually, the answer is no.
17. Oregon (10-4): A series of top recruit classes seemingly provided a strong base for new coach Dan Lanning, whose first game would be against his former team (Georgia). Auburn isn’t guaranteed to play higher-level quarterback than transfer Bo Knicks or redshirt freshman Ty Thompson, though.
18. Mississippi (10-3): The lane train doesn’t stop moving as the starting quarterback jumps into the NFL. no no no. The rebels will remain relevant.
19. Pittsburgh (11-3): The biggest question – who will replace star quarterback Kenny Pickett? – Has been resolved. His name is Caydon Slovis, and he has thrown a touchdown or two in his time.
20. Fresno State (10-3): Jeff Tedford’s in charge of the program and Jake Hainer’s in charge of the crime. The Bulldogs may be the second best team in the West.
21. LSU (6-7): Brian Kelly should immediately maximize personnel, which this season was better than he showed. Expect the new coach to boom in Baton Rouge.
22. Wake Forest (11-3): Demon Deacons were not a one-time wonder. Coach Dave Clausen has created a program that can sustain success in a mediocre conference.
23. Arkansas (9-4): The SEC West is crazy. In addition, there are a lot of good teams in the division.
24. USC (4-8): Lincoln Riley’s plans must mask shortcomings along the lines of scrimmage enough to make the Trojans immediately relevant. But in ’22 the roof is second to the Pac-12 South.
25. Kentucky (10-3): Football School.
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