2022 college football top 25 rankings: Utah, North Carolina State crack the top 10

    With college football one month away, let's dive into the top 25 rankings and break down the programs that could shine the brightest in 2022.

    The return of college football is nearly here, so it’s time to update our 2022 top 25 rankings. Conference realignment news has taken center stage, but those moves won’t take effect for another couple of years. Thus, let’s focus our attention on the 2022 season and discuss the top teams that will light up television screens across the country.

    2022 college football top 25 rankings | 11-25

    No top 25 list can be taken seriously without Alabama and Ohio State battling for the crown, but the rankings beneath them are ever-changing. With the NFL draft, graduation, and transfer portal causing massive roster upheaval for many programs, new contenders can appear, and incumbent powerhouses may fall some slots.

    25) Fresno State Bulldogs

    Following a 10-3 campaign, Kalen DeBoer parlayed his success in the Mountain West Conference into an opportunity as the next Washington head coach. But the man replacing him at Fresno State is no stranger to Bulldogs fans. Jeff Tedford recorded back-to-back winning seasons (10-4 and 12-2) in his first two years with the program beginning in 2017. Then, a 4-8 record and health concerns led to Tedford’s resignation in 2019.

    Now reunited with his former program and seemingly in good health, Tedford hopes to rekindle his QB guru ways with Jake Haener under center. After flirting with the transfer portal, Haener decided to return to Fresno for another go-around. With Jalen Cropper and Josh Kelly catching passes and Dontae Bull and Co. protecting up front, FSU’s offense should put plenty of points on the board.

    24) Florida Gators

    It all starts and ends with redshirt sophomore QB Anthony Richardson in “The Swamp.” He is undoubtedly an electric runner and possesses a howitzer for a right arm, but can he consistently layer passes with touch and accuracy? That has yet to be seen, though we know the supporting cast around him is better than given credit for.

    Billy Napier takes the reins after three straight double-digit win seasons at Louisiana. He brings with him Sun Belt Freshman of the Year RB Montrell Johnson and star lineman O’Cyrus Torrence. With Gervon Dexter, Brenton Cox Jr., Ventrell Miller, Trey Dean III, and Rashad Torrence II solidifying the defense, Florida could surprise in 2022.

    23) Miami Hurricanes

    Can Mario Cristobal bring Miami just their third 10+ win season since 2003? Much like Florida, Miami’s success hinges on their QB: Tyler Van Dyke. While the receiving corps is filled with underclassmen, the Canes brought in Clemson transfer Frank Ladson Jr. to lead the unit. The running back room is loaded, with Ole Miss transfer Henry Parrish Jr. joining Jaylan Knighton and Donald Chaney Jr. The defense is a little less secure, though UCLA transfers LB Caleb Johnson and DE Mitchell Agude are Day 1 starters in the front seven.

    22) Tennessee Volunteers

    The Josh Heupel era began with a bang in Tennessee, as the Vols quickly turned a 3-7 record in 2020 to a 7-6 campaign last season. Much of that reversal of fortune stems from the play of QB Hendon Hooker. With potential 2023 NFL Draft breakout Cedric Tillman on the outside and lightning rod Jalin Hyatt opposite him, Hooker could once again prove his might in the SEC, especially with RT Darnell Wright primed for a big season himself.

    21) Kentucky Wildcats

    Entering Year 10 under Mark Stoops, expectations are high for Kentucky, fresh off their second 10-win campaign since 1977. Will Levis is routinely seen in early first-round mock drafts and hopes to live up to the hype in 2022. He has the arm talent and overall athleticism to carry the offense. Still, Levis’ consistency (in both play and fundamentals) will ultimately decide how high the Wildcats finish the season in college football top 25 rankings.

    20) Ole Miss Rebels

    With Lane Kiffin calling plays, Ole Miss will score points in droves. Transfer RBs Zach Evans (TCU) and Ulysses Bentley IV (SMU) form one of the best duos in the country. Former USC QB Jaxson Dart flashed at times last season and has the skill set to run Kiffin’s offensive scheme. But can the defense hold up its end of the bargain? They will have to in a loaded SEC to even maintain their position in the top 25.

    19) BYU Cougars

    BYU is returning eight starters on offense and every starter on defense. That is unheard of continuity. QB Jaren Hall has all the talent to be a top signal-caller in the 2023 class, but his injury history is a concern.

    Additionally, BYU’s 2022 schedule includes home bouts against Baylor and Arkansas, road games vs. Oregon, Boise State, and Stanford, and a matchup with Notre Dame in Las Vegas. The road won’t be easy, but knocking off those teams would vault the Cougars into the top 10 range.

    18) Wake Forest Demon Deacons

    Sam Hartman guided Wake Forest’s mesh-point offense all the way to an 11-3 record, the program’s best since 2006. Nevertheless, the Demon Deacons should expect regression this season, as last year’s run at the ACC Championship was likely their peak.

    But the offense only lost three starters, A.T. Perry is one of the best WRs in the nation, and new defensive coordinator and former Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert has a few key transfers to rebuild the defense. Thus, while the team’s final record may pale in comparison to last year, they might actually improve in multiple facets.

    17) Oklahoma State Cowboys

    Oklahoma State is coming off one of the best seasons in school history. However, they will be trotting out an entirely new defense, with only four starters returning and a new DC in town. And offensively, RB Jaylen Warren and WR Tay Martin are gone. Spencer Sanders isn’t the most accurate QB, yet the offense doesn’t need him to be. He’s a legitimate threat with his legs, rushing for 668 yards and six scores in 2021.

    Mike Gundy has his work cut out for him, but he hasn’t had a losing season since 2005 (his first as OSU’s head coach). So don’t expect the Cowboys to fall too far in 2022.

    16) Pittsburgh Panthers

    Out goes Kenny Pickett, and in comes ex-USC Trojan Kedon Slovis. Meanwhile, OC Mark Whipple is off to Nebraska, taking his pass-happy attack with him. Frank Cignetti Jr., known for his QB mentorship and pro-style offense, will take over play-calling duties. It will be a more balanced approach this season, but losing your offensive architect, first-round-caliber QB, and Biletnikoff-winning WR in Jordan Addison could sound the death knell for the Panthers.

    Still, LT Carter Warren and Akron transfer Konata Mumpfield should help prop up the new-look offense. And under HC Pat Narduzzi’s tutelage, Calijah Kancey, SirVocea Dennis, Deslin Alexandre, and Habakkuk Baldonado will make life difficult for the opposition.

    15) Oregon Ducks

    As is the theme with the latter half of the college football top 25 rankings, Oregon will look completely different in 2022. Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is the new head coach, bringing with him a national championship pedigree.

    A change of scenery for former SEC Freshman of the Year QB Bo Nix could do wonders, especially with his former Auburn OC Kenny Dillingham conducting the offense. But the real show is on defense, where Noah Sewell, Justin Flowe, and Co. look to embrace Lanning’s instruction.

    14) Baylor Bears

    Gerry Bohanon engineered a 10-2 campaign last year, but Blake Shapen was the one to lead the Bears over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship. With Bohanon now at USF, Shapen has Waco all to himself. A changing of the guard also occurred at running back, with Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner off to the NFL. Luckily, Baylor sports an elite offensive line, led by OT Connor Galvin, so rushing lanes shouldn’t be too hard to come by.

    Jalen Pitre and three other secondary starters must be replaced, but Siaki Ika and Jaxon Player are a devastating duo on the D-line. Dave Aranda’s squad has a wide range of outcomes in 2022, but their 12-2 record in 2021 is more inductive of Baylor’s future than their 2-7 outing in 2020.

    13) Houston Cougars

    Clayton Tune. Nathaniel Dell. Know the names; you will hear them a lot this season. Every year, at least one Group of Five team steals the nation’s heart. In 2022, that team could be Houston. After 4-8 and 3-5 campaigns to begin his tenure, Dana Holgorsen guided the Cougars to a 12-2 finish in 2021. With the Tune-to-Dell connection another year more experienced, the offense could carry a defense that lost Logan Hall, Marcus Jones, and David Anenih to an AAC title.

    12) Michigan State Spartans

    QB Payton Thorne and WR Jayden Reed are back in the passing game. Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard are primed to bowl over defenders in the rushing attack. And HC Mel Tucker hopes to build off an 11-2 season that earned him a 10-year, $95 million extension. Nine starters return for the defense, and the key components on the other side of the ball are in place. Even with Ohio State and Michigan in the same conference, No. 12 may be Michigan State’s floor in college football top 25 rankings.

    11) Clemson Tigers

    Whether it is DJ Uiagalelei or early enrollee Cade Klubnik under center, Clemson’s offense should improve this season. Ten starters remain in “Death Valley,” and Uiagalelei has reportedly lost 25 pounds this offseason. There are two new coordinators in-house, and the defense lost a ton of leadership and experience — primarily in the second and third levels. Nonetheless, Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, Trenton Simpson, and Andrew Mukuba provide Day 1/2 NFL draft potential and will uplift the rest of the unit.

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