2022 Way Too Early College Football Top 25 | 1-12
Typically, these next 12 are the teams you can expect to compete for a national championship — but they also have the biggest targets on their backs.
12. Oregon Ducks
Dan Lanning walks into a great situation with Oregon, but there will be challenges awaiting him too. He addressed one of those by getting Auburn quarterback Bo Nix to transfer to Eugene. The offense might take some time to rediscover its mojo, but the defense shouldn’t be a concern.
Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux shocked no one by going pro, but the defense should be fine without him. Noah Sewell is in the conversation for best college football linebacker, and Jonathan Flowe should be back from injury. The secondary lost some key players too, but Jamal Hill is back to help the newcomers.
11. Clemson Tigers
It wasn’t a pretty season for Clemson, and the offseason presented more challenges too. Dabo Swinney will have two new coordinators in 2022, and he hopes the offense will respond to that change. Many will have the Tigers higher in their Way Too Early College Football Top 25, but they have to prove some things first.
DJ Uiagalelei had Clemson fans buzzing before 2021, but he couldn’t quite meet the hype when the season began. Now, he’s got a full year of starting experience and plenty of talent surrounding him, like running back Will Shipley. The defensive line will be loaded again thanks to guys like tackle Bryan Bresee and end Myles Murphy. This should be a team that contends in the ACC and gets back on track.
10. Arkansas Razorbacks
Quarterback KJ Jefferson loses his top target in Treylon Burks, but Sam Pittman added Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood to soften the blow. Arkansas’ top three rushers are back to join him as well. The defense loses a ton in the front seven, but safety Jalen Catalon surprised fans by announcing his return after missing most of the year with an injury.
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Marcus Freeman hit the ground running after he was promoted to head coach. He kept the excitement level around the program high, and his new coaching staff gets to work with a talented group.
Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner will compete to replace Jack Coan at quarterback, and both flashed potential. Kyren Williams left for the NFL, but the speedy Chris Tyree will fill his shoes. Tight end Michael Mayer is the most reliable pass catcher on the team, but they’ll need to find someone else to step up to help the offense find balance.
Freeman is the former defensive coordinator, and his group will be one of the best in the country. Edge player Isaiah Foskey made headlines when he announced his return, which is huge for a line looking for new starters. Jack Kiser gets his chance to be the leader of the linebacking group, and Freeman made more noise by bringing in Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph to replace Kyle Hamilton.
8. Texas A&M Aggies
As of this writing, Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies sit at the top of the 2022 recruiting rankings. Now, they’re a contender in PFN’s Way Too Early College Football Top 25. Fisher’s been doing everything in his power to help his program compete in the SEC West, and they’ll need some young talent to step up.
Nearly every star from the 2021 team is gone, with the exception of Devon Achane, Ainias Smith, and Demani Richardson. Fisher snagged LSU transfer quarterback Max Johnson to compete with Haynes King. An entire new defensive line is needed, but the secondary is full of talent. Richardson, Jaylon Jones, Tyreek Chappell, and Antonio Johnson all have NFL potential.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mike Gundy finally lifted the Oklahoma weight off his back. Now, he just needs to find a way to turn it into a championship. The Cowboys were inches away from a title in 2021, something that will fuel their run in 2022.
Quarterback Spencer Sanders took a couple of steps forward and can give Oklahoma State one of the most dangerous players in the country. His top target, Brennan Presley, returns to keep the passing attack explosive, but a reliable back will be needed. On defense, Tyler Lacy, Collin Oliver, and Trace Ford lead one of the most talented lines in college football.
6. Michigan State Spartans
Mel Tucker wasted little time getting Sparty back on track, and he’s making moves to help them compete for a championship in 2022. The biggest loss comes from Kenneth Walker III‘s departure, but Tucker brings in Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger to help.
Speaking of transfers, Tucker brought in Khris Bogle (Florida), Aaron Brule (Mississippi State), and Jacoby Windmon (UNLV) to add talent to the defense. Safety Xavier Henderson’s return would be huge as well.
Offensively, quarterback Payton Thorne returns along with his top two pass catchers in Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed. If Berger turns out to be the real deal, the offense shouldn’t skip a beat even without Walker’s presence.
5. Michigan Wolverines
Well, it wasn’t the ending that Michigan envisioned, but the Wolverines are headed in the right direction. Keep in mind the Wolverines weren’t even included in a lot of Way Too Early College Football Top 25 Rankings last year.
Jim Harbaugh employed the always dreaded two-quarterback system with Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, but it worked. Unfortunately, there will still be a quarterback competition, so stay tuned to see the long-term efficacy of that system.
Michigan’s defense needs to replace three studs in Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, and Daxton Hill, so the offense might need to carry the load early next season. Both quarterbacks get to hand the ball off to Blake Corum and throw it to a plethora of talented pass catchers.
4. Utah Utes
The beauty of Way Too Early College Football Top 25 Rankings is that you can give some teams love that don’t usually get it. Not many teams were hotter than the Utes down the stretch, and they nearly beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Underdogs no more, PFN Coach of the Year Kyle Whittingham‘s team now must learn to play like the favorite.
Cameron Rising found momentum in the second half of the season, and he’s joined by Tavion Thomas in the backfield. Linebackers Nephi Sewell and Devin Lloyd leave big holes on defense, but this group still boasts plenty of talent. If you don’t know Clark Phillips’ name by now, get to know it quickly. He’s one of college football’s rising stars.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
One thing is for sure — Ohio State is going to score points even without three of their best pass catchers. Jaxon Smith-Njigba reminded everyone why he’s the next stud for the Buckeyes, but his teammates will push him. Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, and Emeka Egbuka all flashed their potential as well. Throw in running back Treveyon Henderson, and this offense is going to be a nightmare to stop.
Ryan Day’s biggest question remains how he’s going to stop anyone. He made a big hire by signing former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to clean up the defense. He also got Arizona State running back turned linebacker DeaMonte Trayanum from the transfer portal. Trayanum and fellow former running back Steele Chambers will play big roles in the turnaround.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
While the Tide focus on the championship against Georgia, there’s not much need to worry about next year even when the game ends. Bryce Young‘s return as the reigning Heisman winner gives them stability on offense. Jameson Williams and Brian Robinson Jr. both head to NFL, but there’s talent to replace them.
Nick Saban snagged Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs — the most underrated and underappreciated running back in the country — to replace Robinson. Trey Sanders will also get plenty of carries. Slade Bolden, Jacorey Brooks, Jojo Earle, and Traeshon Holden all will compete to be the next go-to guy. Tight ends Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley are both back as well.
Even with multiple anticipated departures on defense, the Tide reload. Will Anderson Jr. is back to terrorize offensive tackles, and Dallas Turner figures to take another step in 2022 given his play late this season. A secondary full of question marks and injuries received some help with LSU transfer Eli Ricks coming to campus.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Kirby Smart is getting Georgia to the point where it doesn’t matter how many starters they lose. They just reload like Alabama. The offense doesn’t fit that bill, though. Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels are expected back, and the running backs will be deep even with a departure or two.
Unless there’s a major surprise, every pass catcher should be back too. Tight end Brock Bowers is a dark horse Heisman candidate and will play on Sundays. His backup is 6’7″, 260-pound Darnell Washington. George Pickens missed nearly the entire season with an injury and will reunite with Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson, and Ladd McConkey. Should Arik Gilbert return to the team, watch out.
The defense might lose every starter, a testament to how good they’ve been this year. However, the guys behind them should pick up where they left off. Opposing coaches say defensive tackle Jalen Carter is the best player on the defensive line. All new linebackers are expected to start in 2022, but the secondary should be experienced.