Low expectations rarely disappoint.
That’s not to say your favorite team won’t deliver on the promise that comes with earning a spot in The Associated Press’ preseason Top 25 college football poll presented by Regions Bank and released Monday.
But the numbers suggest it’s best to sprinkle a healthy dose of caution on top of that optimism as you gear up for the 2022 season.
The past year has been particularly volatile for the Top 25, with 14 teams starting the season ranked finishing unranked. From 2010 to 2020, an average of 9.5 teams that appeared in the pre-season Top 25 finished unranked – around 38% of the picks. During this period, the maximum was 12 in 2010.
In last year’s preseason top 10, three teams (Texas A&M, Iowa State and North Carolina) failed to qualify for the final poll. This is double the average (1.5) of 2010-2020.
It’s time to temper expectations for the preseason Top 25 this season — except for Alabama.
No. 1 Alabama (13-2 last season)
Game 1: vs. Utah State, Sept. 3.
Reality check: The safest bet in sports is the Crimson Tide, which has only missed the playoffs once. Alabama hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since 2007, coach Nick Saban’s first season. No reason to think that’s happening this season.
No. 2 Ohio State (11-2)
First match: against No. 5 Notre-Dame, September 3.
Reality check: The Buckeyes hired former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to fix a poorly exposed defense against their best opponents. QB CJ Stroud, WR Jaxson Smith-Njigba and a powerful offense likely make Ohio State flop-proof.
No. 3 Georgia (14-1)
Opener: Against Oregon’s No. 11 at Atlanta, Sept. 3.
Reality check: Most of last season’s all-time great defense is now in the NFL. The Bulldogs are too talented to take a big step back, but assuming any team is consistent at Alabama’s level is asking a lot.
No. 4 Clemson (10-3)
Opener: Against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Sept. 5.
Reality check: After their first non-ACC league season in seven years, the Tigers are perhaps the most intriguing team in the country. Clemson has two new coordinators and a former five-star quarterback (DJ Uiagalelei) trying to recover from a surprisingly bad season. Voters are leaning towards last season being a blow to Dabo Swinney’s team and not the start of a trend.
No. 5 Notre Dame (11-2)
Opening: At No. 2 Ohio State, Sept. 3.
Reality check: The Fighting Irish have set high standards with five consecutive 10-win seasons, but coach Marcus Freeman’s first season as Brian Kelly’s backup has a lot of transition year vibes.
No. 6 Texas A&M (8-4)
First game: against Sam Houston, September 3.
Reality check: The Aggies won the offseason with the No. 1 recruiting class and coach Jimbo Fisher going after his former boss, Saban. They’re also a team that relies heavily on sophomores and those five-star freshmen and a team with no established starting quarterbacks or big-player receivers.
No. 7 Utah (10-4)
Opening: in Florida, September 3.
Reality check: The Utes are fresh off their first Pac-12 title and first Rose Bowl appearance, and have enough coins to do it again. But repeating a magical season is tough for the vast majority of programs that don’t consistently sign the top 10 recruiting classes.
No. 8 Michigan (12-2)
Game 1: vs. Colorado State, Sept. 3.
Reality check: The Wolverines broke through for coach Jim Harbaugh with a Big Ten title and a win over Ohio State in 2021. Now with two new coordinators and a defense replacing three first-round draft picks round, a repeat seems unlikely. An experienced offense and an accommodating schedule give Michigan a high floor.
No. 9 Oklahoma (11-2)
Home opener: vs UTEP, September 3.
Reality check: new coach (Brent Venables), new quarterback (Dillon Gabriel) and more uncertainty in Norman than there has been in years. The Sooners have been one of the most reliable teams in the country for two decades, finishing unranked only twice. But turnover often comes with volatility.
No. 10 Baylor (12-2)
First game: against Albany, September 3.
Reality check: Another of the surprise teams of 2021, the defending Big 12 champions will be hoping to continue with solid line play. Still, the Big 12 is all about winning close games and the difference between playing for the title and finishing fourth is slim.
No. 11 Oregon (10-4)
Opener: Against No. 3 Georgia in Atlanta, Sept. 3.
Reality check: Another highly ranked team with a new coach and quarterback. Former Georgia DC Dan Lanning inherits the Pac-12’s most talented roster. Transfer Bo Nix will try to bring stability to the quarterback position, which wasn’t really his thing at Auburn.
No. 12 Oklahoma State (12-2)
Game 1: Against Central Michigan, September 1.
Reality check: The Cowboys, a team backed by super seniors – especially on defense – in 2022, will need to rely heavily on their experienced offense. QB Spencer Sanders has had a long career filled with ups and downs.
No. 13 North Carolina State (9-3)
Opening: in East Carolina, September 3.
Reality check: The Wolfpack enters one of the program’s most anticipated seasons in recent history, with a loaded defense and star quarterback in Devin Leary. It’s also a program that has a double-digit win season — ever.
No. 14 USC (5-7)
First match: against Rice, September 3.
Reality check: Star power at USC hasn’t been this bright in a while with coach Lincoln Riley, QB Caleb Williams and WR Jordan Addison offering hope for an immediate turnaround. But the game is still about blocking and attacking and there are many questions about the ability of Trojans to do both well.
No. 15 Michigan State (11-2)
Game 1: Against West Michigan, September 2.
Reality check: Coach Mel Tucker has turned the Spartans’ surprising increase last year into a huge contract and the high expectations that come with it. Will regression come for the Spartans in 2022?
#16 Miami (7-5)
First match: against Bethune-Cookman, September 4.
Back to reality: The U. brought back hometown hero Mario Cristobal to help rebuild the program to its powerful past. He has a pro prospect in QB Tyler Van Dyke to work with, but that’s a lot of optimism for a team that’s only finished once in the last four seasons.
No. 17 Pitt (11-3)
First game: against West Virginia, September 1.
Reality check: After winning an ACC title, the Panthers are hoping USC transfer Kedon Slovis can replicate Kenny Pickett’s stellar 2021. He will have to do it without the late Jordan Addison. Pitt hasn’t finished consecutive ranked seasons since 1983.
No. 18 Wisconsin (9-4)
Game 1: vs. Illinois State, Sept. 3.
Reality check: In three of the last four seasons, the Badgers have started the season ranked and finished it unranked. The formula of star running back (Braelon Allen) and tough defense seems to be back in place, but can QB Graham Mertz finally regain his top-notch form?
No. 19 Arkansas (9-4)
Opener: Against No. 23 Cincinnati, Sept. 3.
Back to reality: life in SEC West is tough. The Razorbacks performed very well last year, but things can change quickly. Especially against a schedule that also includes Cincinnati and No. 25 BYU with a replenished defense.
No. 20 Kentucky (10-3)
Opening: in Miami (Ohio), September 3.
Back to reality: Kentucky managed to intimidate the teams up front. The turnover on both lines could make it more difficult this season, even if QB Will Levis’ NFL prospect status increases. Last time the Wildcats finished ranked in consecutive seasons: 1977.
No. 21 Mississippi (10-3)
First match: against Troy, September 3.
Reality check: After the first 10-win regular season in school history, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin plunged back into the transfer portal to rebuild his offense with QB Jaxson Dart, RB Zach Evans and OT Mason Brooks. Do the pieces come together for the Portal King?
Wake Forest #22 (11-3)
Opening: vs VMI, Sept. Sept. 1.
Reality check: The Demon Deacons have 13 starters returning from one of the best teams in school history. But as good as Wake was last year, the defense crumbled late and now the Deacs will have to settle for an indefinite stint without QB Sam Hartman.
No. 23 Cincinnati (13-1)
Opening: at No. 19 Arkansas, September 3.
Reality check: Any lingering doubts about the Bearcats from last year were buried the night of the NFL Draft. Cincinnati had nine players selected, including five in the top 100. That’s a mountain of difference factors for any program not named Alabama to replace.
No. 24 Houston (12-2)
Opening: at UTSA, September 3rd.
Reality check: The Cougars fulfilled the promise of signing Dana Holgorsen last year by playing for the American Athletic Conference title and are poised to be this season’s G5 King. They also face a tricky early schedule that includes Texas Tech and must replace two big playmakers at DB Marcus Jones and DL Logan Hall.
No. 25 BYU (10-3)
Opening: at USF, September 3.
Reality check: The Cougars won 10 games with a young team last year, which bodes well for this season. But, oh that calendar. BYU’s final season as an independent before joining the Big 12 includes games against No. 10 Baylor, No. 11 Oregon, No. 5 Notre Dame, No. Arkansas, Boise State and Stanford.
Follow Ralph D. Russo on https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
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