It turns out 25 is not enough. At least not when it comes to the college football rankings during the vastness of the offseason.
We gave you the way-too-early top 25 earlier this month. Now comes the rest of the story: 10 programs knocking on the door. History has proven this whole ranking thing is an inexact science. (Surprise!) Four teams that started in the top 10 of the 2021 Preseason Top 25 finished outside of that grouping. A staggering 14 teams in preseason top 25 finished unranked. So, yes, this is list is meaningful.
In the group below, you'll see seven teams that won at least 10 games last season. You'll see five Group of Five teams. You'll see two from the SEC. You'll see a team with a Heisman Trophy finalist. You'll see Lincoln Riley, who will have to make a splash near the Pacific Ocean almost immediately at USC. One problem: He doesn't have a proven quarterback ... yet.
Ah, but with the transfer portal, anything is possible. Because of that, this is also a fluid list with National Signing Day coming next week. For now, consider these the top 10 contenders for the top 25 as we spend the next eight months looking ahead to the 2022 season.
|The Cougars could be a 2022 New Year's Six bowl participant after winning 12 games and playing for the AAC title in 2021. Much of Dana Holgorsen's powerful offense returns, including quarterback Clayton Tune and running back Alton McCaskill. The Cougs scored 31+ points in 10 of 14 games, but the defense -- led by a rising star in coordinator Doug Belk -- was a huge surprise finishing first in the American total defense and sacks. All of it bodes well for the transition to the Big 12. Houston has won at least 10 games four times since 2009.|
|The Hawkeyes are hard on the eyes. Even the most rabid Iowa supporter has to admit that. The offense ranked mostly in the 100s in most meaningful metrics. But as long as Iowa has defensive coordinator Phil Parker, it has a chance. Last season marked the fourth straight year of at least a top 16 D. They just sort of piece it together on offense. Quarterback play will have to get better, but Iowa State, Michigan and Wisconsin come to Kinnick Stadium. Kirk Ferentz was extended through 2029 (age 73) after his second 10-win season in three years. The man is Teflon. Despite a massive scandal in the summer of 2020 that led to a former player calling for his removal and that of athletic director Gary Barta recently, football wags the tail in Iowa City.|
|Quarterback Kenny Pickett posted one of Pittsburgh's all-time seasons in 2021 becoming a Heisman finalist, but coach Pat Narduzzi quickly landed USC transfer Kedon Slovis out of the portal to go along with Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison at wide receiver. It will be hard to repeat an 11-win season and an ACC title, but the Panthers won't be far off. As long as Narduzzi is around, Pittsburgh will have a physical defense. Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (13 tackles for loss) is a good place to start.|
|Jeff Tedford is back at 100% from a heart condition that caused him to sit out 2020-21. He returns to the same place where he led the Bulldogs to a 26-14 record and a 2018 Mountain West title from 2017-19. Tedford is still one of the game's great quarterback makers. (Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller, Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith all made the NFL with Tedford as head coach or coordinator.) Tedford's return actually prompted senior QB Jake Haener to apologize for entering the transfer portal. Elsewhere, the Bulldogs are loaded with the return of RB Jordan Mims and WR Jalen Cropper. Armed with all kinds of momentum, Fresno is primed for another 10-win season.|
|Lane Kiffin is arguably on the best roll of his head coaching career winning 10 games in the SEC. Matt Corral, Dontario Drummond and Jerrion Ealy have left, but Kiffin dipped heavily into the portal. For now, Luke Altmyer is the quarterback, but check the portal daily (Jaxson Dart, anyone?). There have been big losses, but in this age of rebuilding immediately, Kiffin gets it coming off the program's first 10-win regular season.|
|There was a thud near the end when Utah State routed the Aztecs in the Mountain West Championship Game, but Brady Hoke has found his sweet spot coming off a school-record 12-win season. There is all kinds of momentum despite the loss of all-world punter Matt Araiza and RB Greg Bell. The school purchased a four-page wrap-around in USA Today the day the of the national title game. The new Mission Valley stadium opens this fall; it will be a recruiting magnet. The Aztecs should be regular New Year's Six contenders, College Football Playoff expansion or not.|
|New coach, up-and-coming quarterback, millions upon millions invested in the program. That's the state of Miami football right now. Mario Cristobal took the job because he believes he can do something no coach has done at UM since Butch Davis -- put a fence around South Florida and return swagger back to The U. QB Tyler Van Dyke threw for at least 316 yards with 13 total touchdowns over his last four games. At last check, existing Hurricanes were making a combined $550,000 in NIL money in 2022. You better believe that sends a message to recruits.|
|Fourteen starters return from Mark Stoops' second 10-win team since 2018. The Wildcats have a personality with RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. returning along with linebacker Jacquez Jones and QB Will Levis. Expect more physical, intimidating play. There will have to be some shoring up on the offensive line. There are eight home games, but some of the toughest games are on the road: Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee. Stoops has Kentucky football at one of the high points in its history.|
|The Wolfpack are coming off their third nine-win season since 2017. There is plenty around to keep that momentum going. NC State beat Clemson and has the architect of that win, quarterback Devin Leary, returning. The offense averaged 33 points per game in 2021. It wasn't held under 28 points the final eight games. The defense returns most of its playmakers after finishing second in ACC scoring defense. The fact that coach Dave Doeren's name keeps coming up for jobs is a testament to his value. There are tough road trips to revenge-minded Clemson as well as Louisville and North Carolina. To take the next step, the Wolfpack must do better than 4-10 against ranked teams since 2017.|
|Very quietly, all three FBS programs in the state won at least 10 games (BYU, Utah). That speaks to the level of coaching and talent within an underrated football state. In their first season under Blake Anderson, the Aggies won a conference title (Mountain West) for the first time since winning the WAC in 2012. Arkansas State transfer Logan Bonner threw for 36 touchdowns after coming (with Anderson) from Arkansas State. |