Here’s how we predict the AP Poll could a look. This is not how we rank the teams that will go into the season, or how good those teams can be at the end of the day. In other words, we’re making pre-season predictions.
Historical data from collegepollarchive.com.
1. Alabama (13-2, lost to Georgia in the CFP National Championship)
If Alabama opens first, it will be the seventh time the Tide have held the lead under Nick Saban. Alabama even started at No. 1 for three straight years from 2016-2018. With Heisman winning running back Bryce Young (4,872 yards, 47 TDs) along with superstar Will Anderson, Alabama will once again be the target. Could there be an undefeated battle with Georgia for the SEC title? The last two teams were undefeated in the conference championship in 2009 (Alabama and Florida).
2. Ohio State (11-2, beat Utah in the Rose Bowl)
The Buckeyes don’t win Big Ten awards every season, but they sure make it that way. So after falling to rival Michigan for the first time since 2011 and having to “settle” for a thrilling Rose Bowl win, Ohio State is expected to return to the top of the conference in 2022. CJ Stroud, RB TreVeyon Henderson, and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba will challenge opponents to trying to outdo them.
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3. Georgia (14-1, won CFP National Championship)
The Bulldogs are coming off their first national championship since 1980 — and got there by solving Alabama (the Tide had won the last seven in the series, including the 2021 SEC Championship Game). This will be UGA’s fifth consecutive season starting in the top five.
4. Clemson (10-3, beat Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl)
It says a lot about what Dabo Swinney has accomplished here that a 10-win season and a bowl win counts as a letdown. But after a 4-3 start (gasp) and even a drop in the AP ratings (the other gasp!) the Tigers ended up winning their last six. Yes, star coordinators OC Tony Elliott (now Virginia head coach) and DC Brent Venables (now Oklahoma coach) are gone, but Clemson is more experienced this season.
5. Texas A&M (8-4)
The Aggies could eventually become one of the best teams in the country, but they are the second best team in their division. That’s what happens when you’re with Alabama. But A&M she did Upset then not. 1 Alabama last year. The next step is a series of ridiculous talent recruiting seasons to lead to a more consistent series – the Aggies lost to Mississippi State before beating Alabama and later lost two of their last three games.
6. Notre Dame (11-2, lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl)
Marcus Freeman takes over for Brian Kelly, who left for LSU. But the Irish must have the talent to compete for a spot in the CFP, thanks to an experienced defense and offensive line that will be one of the best in the nation. The biggest hurdle will be the schedule, with Notre Dame visiting Ohio State, North Carolina, USC and receiving a visit from Clemson.
7. Michigan (12-2, lost to Georgia in the CFP Semifinals)
What could Wolverine do in order to appear? Jim Harbaugh’s group finally beat Ohio State, rallying from a loss to rival Michigan State in October to win Big Ten honors and make the CFP. Can Michigan end another long slide at OSU this year? The Wolverines haven’t won in Columbus since 2000. The QB situation is something to watch, as are the new faces on defense. But Michigan should be among the elite again — and safely in the top 25.
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8. Utah (10-4, lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl)
Utah is probably the best playoff contender in the Pac-12, but the Utes are not at their own level. The Utes won their last six games of the regular season, including a 38-10 thrashing of Oregon State for the conference crown. Only a big loss to Ohio State in the all-time Rose Bowl game prevented the Utes from finishing in the top 10. Utah will likely start there, with QB Cameron Rising and what should be a typical solid defense.
9. Oklahoma (11-2, beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl)
Even though Lincoln Riley lost to Southern California, Oklahoma is Oklahoma and will be in contention for the Big 12 title. It also means that OU will be in the CFP hunt… again. QB Dillon Gabriel should be a solid player, while new coach Brent Venables could make a noticeable defensive improvement. OU could be the highest ranked team in the Big 12 to start.
10. Oklahoma State (12-2, beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl)
The Cowboys had some narrow wins to start last season but jumped out to a 12-2 mark, an appearance in the Big 12 title game and a comeback against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. QB Spencer Sanders should help keep the offense going if it takes time for a fresh start at a running or receiver. Defense may also run low (only 18.1 points per game are allowed), but Oklahoma State will still start the season ranked — unlike in 2021.
11. USC (4-8)
The Trojans are set to undergo one of the most dramatic turnarounds this season under new head coach Lincoln Riley. Voters will probably be on board right away with the preseason standings — the coaches’ poll ranked USC No. 15. Oklahoma’s QB Caleb Williams should be thrilled in the Pac-12 with Pitt moving to WR Jordan Addison, who won Biletnikoff, and Oregon Transfer RB Travis Dye.
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12. Michigan State (11-2, beat Pitt in the Beach Bowl)
The Spartans started 8-0 and handed rival Michigan their only regular season loss last season to go 11 wins. Mel Tucker has a more experienced team than the Spartans this season, but MSU has gained on the season by about 15 yards per game. However, Michigan State will start this season with something it didn’t in 2021: the preseason standings.
13. Baylor (12-2, beat Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl)
The Bears were one of the biggest upsets last year, going from 2-7 in 2020 to Big 12 and Top-5 championships. Another big season will have to be led by the veteran offensive line and has to be a tough defensive lineman (44 sacks – 10 in the Sugar Bowl). But Baylor will have to get the job done on the road in 2022 (at BYU, in Iowa, in Oklahoma and Texas).
14- North Carolina State (9-3)
The Wolfpack have racked up nine triples since 2017 and are expected to start the Top 25 hunt for double-digit gains — not since 2002. QB Devin Leary (3,433 yards, 35 TDs) may be asked to do so even More because of the new looks at running back, but the defense needs to be strong.
15. Oregon (10-4, lost to Oklahoma at the Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks made it to the top five twice last year thanks to an upset of Ohio State. Another eye-catching non-conference win this season means victory over defending champion Georgia. Even if Oregon falls for it, the Ducks — and Auburn porting Bo Nix as quarterback, or one of their starters — will be the Pac-12 favorite.
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16. Pete (11-3, lost to Michigan State in the Peach Bowl)
The Panthers weren’t even ranked in the AP Poll until they were 5-1. They ended up winning the ACC title and had 11 wins. They’ve lost some stars (Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett, star WR Jordan Addison), but USC’s Kedon Slovis will take over at quarterback. Defensively, after allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground in each of his last two seasons, a gritty streak should be on display again.
17. Wisconsin (9-4, beat Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl)
After a slow 1-3 start, the Badgers nearly won the Big West tour. They will likely be ranked in the Top 25 again, only this time Wisconsin has a manageable schedule before going to Ohio State for the September close. It’s Wisconsin, so the offensive front and defense (despite the losses) will be fine.
18. Miami (FL) (7-5)
The Hurricanes started in the top 15 last year, but the 2-4 start was very difficult. But new coach Mario Cristobal will have some fun with QB Tyler Van Dyke and improve his defense. After a series of close losses in 2021, Miami would like to open in the top 25 this fall and then stay there all the time.
19. Texas (5-7)
The Longhorns should be rated even after a losing season. It is not unusual for Texas to start ranking even when out of 5-, 6- or 7-win seasons. Texas faces Alabama in Week 2, but Bijan Robinson will be a star in the running game. However, to stay in the top 25, the defense must improve (more than 30 points per game is allowed).
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20. Kentucky (10-3, beat Iowa in the Citrus Bowl)
Mark Stoops has led UK to 10 winning seasons twice in the past four years. The schedule won’t be easy and the defense may fall back a bit, but QB Will Levis (2,826 passing yards, nine rushing scores) and RB Christopher Rodriguez (1,379 rushing yards) bounce back. Stoops never counts.
21- Wake Forest (11-3, beat Rutgers in the Gator Bowl)
Wake Forest, not Clemson, is the defending ACC Atlantic club champion. Damon Deacons may never top the top 10 again, plus QB star Sam Hartman is out indefinitely due to a non-football medical condition. But Dave Clawson should get the group ready to surprise again.
22. Ole Miss (10-3, Baylor in the Sugar Bowl)
The Rebels were back in the polls a few years later, with QB Matt Coral experimenting with an offense that had to deal with injuries. USC transfer Jaxson Dart (or Luke Altmyer) should have a good point-scoring time. If the rebels stay at the polls will depend on a brutal stretch starting in mid-October.
23- Cincinnati (13-1, lost to Alabama in the CFP Semifinals)
Luke Fickell has done so much with Cincinnati that the Bearcats will be a presumptive contender in the AAC and beyond until proven otherwise. The Bearcats won’t repeat the historic 2021 edition that featured a CFP appearance, but the veteran offensive line will help ramp up the pains there. Evan Pace, MAC DPOY of Miami (Ohio), and his brother DeShawn will center the defense at linebacker.
24- Iowa (10-4, lost to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl).
The Hawkeyes reached a second-place finish but lost the season, scoring just 34 points in four losses. However, a lot of the key pieces are back for a group that could be 4-0 when it visits Michigan in early October. Kirk Ferentz will have Iowa vying for another Big Ten West championship.
25- Arkansas (9-4, beat Penn State in the Outback Bowl)
The Razorbacks went 2-10 in both 2018 and 2019. In Year 2 with Sam Pittman, the program jumped into the top 25 standings. With a fairly tough mid-division on this year’s schedule (Texas A&M, Alabama and BYU over four weeks), Arkansas may need to put up an upset or two to stay in the Top 25 during the season.