As usual, spring football didn't teach us much. Coaches didn't reveal formations, trends or strategy because, well, why would they Still, some progress was made, and that's what we are here to dissect.
USC just looks different as it tries a complete makeover under new coach Lincoln Riley following a 4-8 season. How many of those stud freshmen signed by Texas A&M can Jimbo Fisher coach up to contribute immediately in 2022? Texas can't wait to get started with a new quarterback -- and outlook -- as Steve Sarkisian enters Year 2.
The usual suspects are at the top heading toward the regular season with Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia all easy calls. However, it was difficult finding what projects as a potential fourth playoff team.
Michigan loses too much. Texas A&M isn't ready. The pick here is Oklahoma at No. 4 ... for now. Brent Venables has never been a head coach, but Lincoln Riley left quite a cupboard. Meanwhile, don't discount Baylor as on the rise given it is still the defending Big 12 champions.
Maybe not a lot of teaching moments overall, but a lot has changed this spring -- and a lot will still change before Week Zero. Until then, here is the top 25 at the moment with spring practice in the books.
Post-spring top 25
|Following the loss of six first-round draft choices, 2021 was definitely supposed to be a "rebuilding" year. The Crimson Tide then won the SEC and went to their ninth national title game under Nick Saban. That means look out for this year when Bama is loaded. You can't be surprised. Saban fields arguably the best offensive player (Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young) and best defensive player (linebacker Will Anderson Jr.) in the country. Louisville transfer Tyrell Harrell is the next difference-making wide receiver. Coming out the spring, the offensive line needed work. Way-too-early ranking: 1|
|The Rose Bowl might have provided us with the top two Heisman contenders: QB C.J. Stroud (573 yards passing, six touchdowns) and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (15 catches, 347 yards). It certainly provided optimism for 2022. The biggest, huge, mega question is defense. Ryan Day addressed the growing concern by stealing Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State as defensive coordinator. That will be the difference between a Big Ten title and a playoff run. Way-too-early ranking: 2|
|The Bulldogs attempt to run it back after losing the core of a generational defense and a generational team (15 players taken in the NFL Draft). With the remains, they should at least get back to the CFP. Quarterback Stetson Bennett is playing with house (and NIL) money. If he loses the starting job to Carson Beck or Brock Vandagriff, so what? SBIV never has to spend a dime in Athens, Georgia, again. He's that big of a hero. There is enough talent left on defense to still be the SEC's best in that department. Way-too-early ranking: 3|
|It's hard to pick the Sooners to win the Big 12 when they didn't in Lincoln Riley's last season and now have Brent Venables as a rookie head coach. That's not to disparage what was just about a perfect hire by athletic director Joe Castiglione. The OU defense will be better because it can't help but be under Venables. But these are transition years with one foot in the SEC and another trying to kick Big 12 butts. UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel gives Venables a plug-and-play quarterback. The running back position is deep. Way-too-early ranking: 4|
|Let's not dismiss the defending Big 12 champions. The Bears beat Texas and Oklahoma last season by a combined 20 points. Dave Aranda is one of the deepest thinkers in college football. Remember his field goal with 3 seconds left against Oklahoma up 10? He had somehow thought ahead to a potential Big 12 tiebreaker. Aranda also named his quarterback starter after the spring. Unconventional? Sure, but that allowed last year's starter Gerry Bohanon to transfer. Told you Aranda was a deep thinker. Way-too-early ranking: 6|
|Only Jim Harbaugh could interview for an NFL job on National Signing Day, not get the job, retain the class and get an extension with a raise a few days later. That's an introduction to Year 8 of the Harbaugh regime. Despite the loss of edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, the Wolverines are going to be a hiccup behind Ohio State and possibly a playoff team. Way-too-early ranking: 11|
|The Aggies are going to be good, really good. Just not good enough. They can't be while still searching for a playoff-worthy quarterback in Jimbo Fisher's fifth season. The 2022 recruiting class might be the best ever, but someone has to tell me how many of those five-stars are going to be difference makers in the SEC West as true freshmen. The Aggies are going to be really good, not great in 2022. Way-too-early ranking: 5|
|The Marcus Freeman Experience begins. The 38-year-old defensive coordinator was probably the only logical hire when Brian Kelly left less than a week before Selection Sunday. The first-time head coach takes over a giant. There is plenty of talent around for the Fighting Irish to win 10. Michael Mayer is a John Mackey Award candidate at tight end. Northwestern safety All-American Brandon Joseph is a huge add from the transfer portal. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees made the decision to stay -- with Freeman, in a package deal -- after overtures from Kelly. Way-too-early ranking: 7|
|That was more than Utah's first Rose Bowl last January. It was a defining moment for the program. The Utes went toe-to-toe with Ohio State. The defending Pac-12 champs should make a return to the Rose Bowl. Gritty Cam Rising returns at quarterback. Stanford linebacker Gabe Reid arrives via the portal. The biggest "move" for the Utes might have been no move at all. Kyle Whittingham, 62, didn't retire in the offseason. Way-too-early ranking: 13|
|Remember when Arkansas "lost" the bidding war with Missouri for Eli Drinkwitz and had to settle for Sam Pittman? Yeah, me either. In Year 3 under the folksy Pittman, the Razorbacks have turned the corner as a knock-your-head-off SEC program. KJ Jefferson might be the second-best SEC quarterback to Young. Former Alabama transfer Drew Sanders anchors an improving defense. Way-too-early ranking: 10|
|I'm not buying that Clemson won 10 in an "off" year. The conclusion here is that program declined in general and needs to get its mojo back quickly. Something is up with D.J. Uiagalelei's game. It has to be fixed for the Tigers to ascend back to the top of the ACC. Both coordinators left. Dabo Swinney continues to complain about NIL and the transfer portal. That can't be good for transfers looking at the Tigers. The question has to be asked: Is Clemson's dynasty over when its ceiling for 2022 is only the ACC title? Way-too-early ranking: NR|
|The school and its boosters have thrown money at a two-decade old problem -- winning national championships. Mario Cristobal arrives with a proven track record and desire to get his alma mater back to the top. Two proven coordinators and recruiters -- Josh Gattis and Kevin Steele -- round out a stellar staff. Is Miami back? Under Cristobal, it just might be. Way-too-early ranking: 12|
|The season after the program's first 10-win regular season, "The Portal King" Lane Kiffin, has enthusiastically jumped into the deep end of the roster management pool. Ole Miss had the top transfer class, according to 247Sports. Watch USC tight end Michael Trigg and projected Matt Corral replacement Jaxson Dart. Way-too-early ranking: NR|
|Just to get to a bowl game would be a dramatic improvement. But that's why USC is paying Lincoln Riley a reported $110 million over 10 years. Riley must develop a running game and some toughness in both lines. Quarterback Caleb Williams is the headliner in Hollywood. Way-too-early ranking: 14|
|Josh Heupel had a nice debut season in the SEC. But this will be Year 2 with the dark specter of an NCAA investigation hanging over the program. Hendon Hooker returns after throwing 31 touchdown passes and leading the SEC in efficiency. Way-too-early ranking: 15|
|Mel Tucker reset the market with that monster new contract. That's what 11 wins, beating Michigan and winning a New Year's Six bowl game will get you. (Actually the $95 million, 10-year deal was signed in late November before that 11th win.) Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger and Colorado transfer Jarek Broussard will try to replace Kenneth Walker III in the backfield. Way-too-early ranking: 20|
|A disappointing 5-7 debut for Steve Sarkisian included a loss to Kansas. The Longhorns must start fast and they must be entertaining. An explosive offense should take care of the latter. Ohio State transfer QB Quinn Ewers, WR Xavier Worthy and the return of RB Bijan Robinson will make the 'Horns fun to watch. Way-too-early ranking: 16|
|First-time head coach Dan Lanning is the Ducks' fourth coach since 2016. Cristobal said he left the cupboard loaded. It certainly is on defense where Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell return trying to lead Oregon to a fourth consecutive Pac-12 championship game. Way-too-early ranking: 18|
|Wash, rinse, repeat for the Badgers. They will contend in the Big Ten West with a big, physical offense. However, QB Graham Mertz needs to rebound. Jim Leonhard's defense gets a huge boost from UCLA transfer cornerback Jay Shaw. Way-too-early ranking: 19|
|The Cowboys were literally within inches from perhaps going to the CFP but couldn't punch it in from the 2-yard line with four tries against Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. How much of that "What if?" will still be lingering over the program? A Fiesta Bowl win (a school-record tying 12th) over Notre Dame helps. Quarterback Spencer Saunders returns for a fourth season. How much will the loss of Knowles mean to what was a top-five defense? Way-too-early ranking: 25|
|As long as Sam Hartman is quarterbacking, the Demon Deacons have a chance. Wake Forest got off to an 8-0 start before settling for 11 wins (the most in 15 years) and a Gator Bowl win. Wake will lead the country in offensive plays, try to tire out the defense and hang on. The defense has finished no higher than eighth in the ACC five years running. Way-too-early ranking: 17|
|The Cougars have certainly earned an invite to the Big 12. Kalani Sitake has the program on an even course with 21 combined wins the last two seasons. Versatile RB Tyler Allgeier is gone to the NFL, but Cal transfer Christopher Brooks hopes to fill in. Way-too-early ranking: 21|
|The Cougars should get the New Year's Six auto bid considering everything that is coming back. Coach Dana Holgorsen got a raise in the offseason. Quarterback Clayton Tune took over for D'Eriq King a couple of years ago and never looked back. Coordinator Doug Belk's defense is loaded. Way-too-early ranking: NR|
|The season went south when QB Sean Clifford went down against Iowa. Clifford is back which might be the difference in the always-tough Big Ten East. James Franklin -- 11-11 the last two seasons -- has security with a new 10-year contract. Way-too-early ranking: 24|
|Most of the big names are gone, but we're betting on Luke Fickell. He stayed despite overtures from Power Five programs and will continue building something lasting as the Bearcats transition into the Big 12. There will be battles at quarterback and tailback. We'll get a sense for which way the season is headed in the opener at Arkansas. Way-too-early ranking: 23|