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.

    2022 college football top 25 rankings | 1-10

    10) Oklahoma Sooners

    Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams took their talents to Southern California, but Oklahoma was able to land Brent Venables and Dillon Gabriel to replace them and keep them in our college football top 25. Culture change, installing new systems, and having players unlearn old ones takes time. Yet, Oklahoma has the recipe for success this season.

    Venables hired Jeff Lebby to run the offense, pairing him with his one-time QB at UCF. As a powerhouse in the Big 12, the Sooners were known for their high-octane offense but less-than-stellar defense. Although the offense may take a step back in 2022, the defense should take a few forward.

    9) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Marcus Freeman was always Notre Dame’s future. But that future quickly became the present when Brian Kelly unexpectedly left to force a southern accent at LSU. The 36-year-old Freeman retained a dominant offensive line and seven defensive starters. Oh, and likely the first tight end drafted in the 2023 cycle in Michael Mayer. Moreover, former Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph will fill Kyle Hamilton’s shoes as the defensive leader and aims to reprise his elite potential showcased in 2020 (six interceptions).

    The biggest issue on Freeman’s plate is the quarterback position. Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne are “in a battle” for the QB1 mantle. That’s in quotes because Buchner outplayed Pyne in the spring, and his athletic potential is superior. Potential doesn’t always come to fruition, and it’s up to Freeman and his staff to set Buchner up to succeed in 2022. If he does, the Fighting Irish have a — no pun intended — fighting chance at a playoff spot.

    8) USC Trojans

    Southern California: home to the Pacific coastline, beautiful sunny weather, and a hot spot for artistry. Art comes in all sorts of forms, including offensive schematics. Lincoln Riley’s offense is poetic, lulling defenses with short, quick throws and RPOs before punctuating drives with designed chunk gains. Caleb Williams is already near the top of Heisman lists, especially with Jordan Addison making the trek from Pitt to SoCal.

    The transfer portal was Riley’s muse as he constructed his new roster. DC Alex Grinch has playmakers at his disposal; he just needs to make sure the pieces fit. The foundation is there for a Beethoven-esque symphony at USC in 2022. And with Riley as the orchestrator, the Trojans should “Fight On” well into January.

    7) Michigan Wolverines

    The 2022 iteration of Michigan football will look much different than last year’s. Jim Harbaugh cracked the final four and took the monkey — at least slightly — off his back, but the Wolverines fell mightily short against Georgia in the semifinal, 34-11. The defense lost seven starters and DC Mike Macdonald. OC Josh Gattis joined the staff at Miami and left the offense with uncertainty at QB.

    Cade McNamara should remain QB1 after leading Michigan to the playoffs. However, J.J. McCarthy’s raw talent may force Harbaugh’s hand — although the QB didn’t throw in spring due to a shoulder injury. With RB Blake Corum, TE Erick All, and WRs Ronnie Bell and Andrel Anthony, there are few excuses for whoever is at the helm of the offense.

    6) Texas A&M Aggies

    The Aggies famously produced the No. 1 recruiting class in the country this year. Pulling in eight five-star athletes (three more than any other program) tends to have that effect. And Jimbo Fisher will need at least some of those recruits contributing early to end an 83-year national championship drought in 2022.

    LSU transfer Max Johnson is the most experienced QB on campus. Yet, he needs to stave off young buck Haynes King — who is coming off a fractured right leg. King is more dynamic with his arm and legs, but his inexperience shows in his processing speed.

    Either way, Devon Achane and Ainias Smith provide the Aggies with two home-run hitters. Defenses will struggle to contain their speed, allowing Fisher to get creative with his play calls. Texas A&M’s defensive unit will be different under new DC D.J. Durkin. Still, with Demani Richardson and Antonio Johnson on the back end and a replenished front four, they’re in good hands.

    5) North Carolina State

    A dark horse to take the ACC crown and earn a bid to the national dance, North Carolina State returns 17 of 22 starters. The offense took the major blows, with LT Ikem Ekwonu, WR Emeka Emezie, and RBs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. leaving. Signal-caller Devin Leary is back, and head coach Dave Doeren truly believes he is the best returning QB in the country.

    Those are lofty expectations … but not unwarranted. Leary threw 35 touchdowns to just five interceptions last season, and he’s improved his mechanics and decision-making each year since 2019. Moreover, the defense can hold its own weight, starring high-level stalwarts at each level (DL Cory Durden, LB Payton Wilson, and DB Shyhiem Battle).

    4) Utah Utes

    USC isn’t the top Pac-12 team in our college football top 25 rankings. The conference hasn’t had a representative in the CFP since 2016. In fact, the Pac-12 hasn’t had a national champion since 2008 under the BCS system. But who was the champion? The Utah Utes.

    Kyle Whittingham is entering his 18th year as the head coach of the program, recording just two losing seasons (2012 and 2013). Repeating as conference champions is no easy task, especially in the cannibalistic Pac-12. But the Utes have the talent to do so.

    Cameron Rising steers the ship, with Brant Kuithe, Dalton Kincaid, and Tavion Thomas shoring up the offense. All-American linebacker Devin Lloyd is gone, as is his counterpart Nephi Sewell. Nevertheless, Utah fills the holes with Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate, true freshman Lander Barton, a strong defensive line, and possibly the most talented player on the team, CB Clark Phillips III.

    3) Georgia Bulldogs

    Even after sending five defenders in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bulldogs are not bereft of talent. Kelee Ringo, Nolan Smith, Tykee Smith, and Jalen Carter headline yet another star-studded defense, with the offense not far behind.

    Sure, Stetson Bennett may not be an elite QB, but he doesn’t have to be when throwing to Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington, Arik Gilbert, Kearis Jackson, Dominick Blaylock, and more. They may not win back-to-back national championships, but Kirby Smart’s program should be in contention once again.

    2) Ohio State Buckeyes

    If a college football team had the QB1, WR1, and OT1 in an NFL draft, where would you expect them to finish the season? That’s the question you have to ask when discussing Ohio State, as C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Paris Johnson Jr. may end up being atop their position groups next April.

    The Buckeyes failed to win the Big Ten last season — the first time in Ryan Day’s three years in Columbus. That won’t happen again in 2022. Jim Knowles is the new DC, and if he can revamp the defense as he did at Oklahoma State, OSU will have no problem reaching the natty.

    1) Alabama Crimson Tide

    Nick Saban. Bryce Young. Will Anderson Jr. Alabama boasts the greatest head coach of all time, the reigning Heisman winner (as a true sophomore, I might add), and the nation’s top defender. Need I say more?

    Young is fearless against pressure and can make plays in and out of the pocket. Jahmyr Gibbs joins him in the backfield and will take advantage of the blocking in front of him. Cameron Latu proved to be a receiving threat from tight end, and Jermaine Burton is ready to explode after being held back in Georgia’s system.

    Defensively, Jordan Battle, Eli Ricks, Malachi Moore, and Henry To’oTo’o bolster the back seven. Alabama is the favorite to win the national championship this year, and a quick glance at the depth chart makes it easy to see why.

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