Monday's eighth College Football Playoff National Championship may have been preview of the ninth CFP National Championship. At least that's the indication from my way-too-early top 25 ahead of the 2022 college football season.
Alabama is the runaway No. 1 for obvious reasons. It has most of its best players back, and coach Nick Saban has seven years to run on his contract. Any other questions?
With its offense alone, Ohio State is No. 2 and should be favored to win the Big Ten. No. 3 Georgia's defense will have to be remade, but coach Kirby Smart has a bit of experience in that category. If the defense can be "fixed" soon enough, expect the Dawgs to be back in the playoff. No. 4 Oklahoma is going to be sneaky good with new coach Brent Venables. Jimbo Fisher became the first Saban assistant to beat the master, then finished tied for third in the SEC West. Much will be expected of Jimbo in Year 5.
No surprise but half the SEC (seven teams) are represented, followed by five teams from the Big Ten. It was hard to pass on Iowa, San Diego State, Houston, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Utah State, among others, who fell just outside these early rankings. Remember: This top 25 can and will change as spring practice and summer workouts transpire over the ensuing eight months.
|How does this keep happening? Two years after losing six first-round picks, a season after playing for another national title, the Crimson Tide will be loaded again in 2022. For starters, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young and Nagurski Award-winning linebacker Will Anderson Jr. return. That's arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the country. A new tailback will have to emerge after the loss of Brian Robinson. |
|The Rose Bowl served notice that two Heisman frontrunners behind Young might be C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The Buckeyes should be favored to win the Big Ten again, but to get to the next level, the defense needs a lot of work. The hiring of Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State was huge. |
|The defending champion Dawgs will once again play crushing defense. They always do under Smart. Some of the faces will change. It will be interesting who replaces Stetson Bennett at quarterback. At least six starters should return on offense, including freshman All-American Brock Bowers. |
|The Brent Venables era begins. The Sooners will play (much?) better defense. They must considering the new coach. Dillon Gabriel is a plug-and-play quarterback. Expect more of the same from the Sooners with an added defensive edge. The Big 12 battle with Baylor will be fascinating. |
|The nation's top recruiting class gives the Aggies a tailwind heading into 2022. With true freshmen having more of an impact sooner, it will be fascinating to see who contributes. Aggies will be drooling over top QB signee Conner Weigman. There has to be a hint of disappointment after beating Alabama and winning only eight games. Now add Brian Kelly to the mix in the SEC West. |
|After only two seasons, Dave Aranda has emerged as an elite coach. (Ask USC and LSU.) The defending Big 12 champions and Sugar Bowl champions should be Big 12 and maybe playoff contenders in 2022. By Oct. 1, the Bears will have played BYU, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. |
|Marcus Freeman will kick things off in South Bend, Indiana, with a talented roster. The Fighting Irish have won at least 10 games five years in a row. Make it six with several super seniors likely to return. The addition of 2020 All-American Brandon Joseph from Northwestern is a huge get. |
|Ignore that fake-accent dude from Massachusetts in the corner. Kelly, the coach, is the real deal. If you told any program they could get the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, they'd take it in a heartbeat. Kelly has better access to the playoff in the SEC, but he'll have to work harder to get there. |
|The Tigers should be back in the hunt for a 10-win season (for the 12th straight year). Sorry, can't put Clemson in the playoff hunt just yet. There is too much uncertainty at quarterback, where D.J. Uiagalelei needs to prove himself, and across the coaching staff with two new coordinators. |
|Sam Pittman continues to overachieve in Fayetteville. The nine wins in 2021 were the most since 2011. That's also the last time before 2021 the Razorbacks scored at least 30 points in 5+ games. The offense is loaded with K.J. Jefferson, who had the most touchdown passes since Austin Allen in 2016. Cincinnati comes to Razorback Stadium to open the season. Wow. |
|With or without Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines will be New Year's Six-worthy. No Aidan Hutchinson and no David Ojabo, but there's a reason J.J. McCarthy played a large part of the second half in the Orange Bowl. He'll be given every opportunity to unseat starter Cade McNamara. |
|Mario Cristobal will have an immediate impact and an immediate quarterback. Cristobal called returning quarterback Tyler Van Dyke "the best quarterback in the country." Van Dyke threw for at least 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in the last four games. The Hurricanes will get tougher in both lines because that's what Cristobal does. |
|Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff says his league is undersized in both lines. That's not the case at Utah where the Utes specialize in playing bully ball. Ask Oregon. Kyle Whittingham has assembled seasons of at least nine wins in six of the last seven campaigns. A rare nonconference battle with Florida opens the season. |
|Lincoln Riley needs a quarterback. That problem could be solved as soon as Caleb Williams makes up his mind. If not, Jaxon Dart is capable of leading the offense if he's pulled out of the transfer portal. Before anything happens, the Trojans have to get tougher up front. Watch Alex Grinch take another step as a defensive coordinator. |
|Josh Heupel assimilated quickly at UT. Seven wins looked like a bright light at the end of a tunnel. Hendon Hooker has Heisman hopes and a rocket arm that produced 31 touchdown passes. The defense must get better. Look at the schedule. Nine wins seems more than possible. |
|The Longhorns will need an entire offseason to wash the taste of a loss to Kansas, as part of a 5-7 season, out of their mouths. Steve Sarkisian gets a five-star infusion at quarterback with Quinn Ewers. Xavier Worthy is a budding star at wide receiver. Only TCU and Kansas, though, gave up more yards. Is this any way to get ready for the SEC? |
|At this moment, Sam Hartman hasn't declared for the NFL Draft. For now, that means the Demon Deacons aren't going anywhere. Dave Clawson has most of his impact players back from a 10-win team. As long as that stays the case, Wake will impact the ACC. |
|Georgia in the season opener in Atlanta? Yes, please. Dan Lanning gets to measure himself as a head coach right away playing his old team. Cristobal has left a stocked cupboard. Watching a rookie coach from the SEC chase a Pac-12 title -- the Ducks may be favored -- will be fun to watch. |
|The Badgers righted themselves nicely after a 1-3 start to win seven in a row. The offense must become more consistent under Graham Mertz, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns. The emergence of running back Braelon Allen (1,200 yards) should take some of the pressure off. |
|No Kenneth Walker III, but Mel Tucker has established himself as a master of the portal. Inspirational Payton Thorne will play behind an experienced offensive line. |
|We're in the middle of one of the best runs in school history. Kalani Sitake is settling in as the guy to lead the Cougars into the big time in the Big 12. The team with the best record last season in the Pac-12 (5-0) plays Oregon, Stanford, Boise State, Baylor and Arkansas. Someone will have to step up for the productive Tyler Allgeier at running back. |
|Shane Beamer defied expectations winning seven games in Year 1 of his regime. Insert Spencer Rattler from the transfer portal, and the Gamecocks will be a legitimate upset threat in several SEC games. Expect eight wins as the upward trajectory continues. |
|The losses are massive (Desmond Ridder, Jerome Ford, Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant for starters) but the Bearcats won't go from 13-1 to irrelevant. Luke Fickell is building the dominant program in, perhaps, two conferences. At least 25 players have graduated, gone to the NFL or transferred out. |
|Sean Clifford is back for a sixth season, which gives the Nittany Lions a chance. Look at it this way: If Clifford had not gone down against Iowa, Penn State might have won enough for James Franklin to be the new coach at USC. As it is, Franklin signed a 10-year, $75 million deal. Four of the five tacklers on the No. 6 scoring defense have departed. Call it a transition year. A return trip to Auburn in nonconference play won't help. |
|The biggest loss didn't take a snap last year as Knowles, the star defensive coordinator, departed for Ohio State. That led Mike Gundy to lament his program's lack of funding. Had the offensive play-calling been better, the Cowboys would have beaten Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game and advanced to the playoff. Quarterback Spencer Sanders isn't perfect, but he is experienced and back. |