Finally! Week 1 of college football kicks off this Thursday evening. Following a dramatic offseason that saw a great deal of both coaching turnover and transfer portal allocation, we’ll finally get to see results in the on-field product.
Taking into account returning talent, incoming freshman classes, transfer portal rankings, and coaching staffs changes, we’ve put together our power rankings for the top ten college football teams heading into the 2022 season.
It’ll be a cold day in hell the year that Alabama doesn’t top a preseason power ranking. Nick Saban’s squad is a real threat this year, after 2021’s “rebuilding season” ended in a national championship appearance. With reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young at the helm, backed up by Will Anderson and Jordan Battle on the other side of the ball, Bama is going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2022. But what else is new?
This Ohio State team got surprised a couple of times last year. They weren’t ready for Michigan and Oregon, and while they may have lost a couple of first-round receivers to the draft, they’re returning what might be the best offensive starting lineup in the sport right now with CJ Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba at QB, RB, and WR — three early frontrunners for a Heisman campaign. There won’t be many surprises this year, as the Buckeyes rank in the top 20 nationally for returning production.
The reigning national champions lost some defensive firepower to the draft this year, but Kirby Smart’s coaching can make up for lost talent on that side of the ball, and Stetson Bennett will return at QB. Perhaps the biggest loss they’re facing is in running back James Cook, who rushed for 728 yards in 2021 and had all the intangibles you like to see at that position, too. Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton will need to step up to fill that void.
4. USC Trojans
Yes, I know this seems really high, and I know that USC had an abysmal 2021, but the Lincoln Riley-Caleb Williams machine moving west and into a weak Pac-12 spells out total domination from where I’m standing. Riley’s use of the transfer portal was inspired, adding two five-stars and five four-stars to the roster and ranking first in transfer team rankings.
Brent Venables has been the heart of the Clemson machine these past few years, and while not everyone makes a smooth transition from coordinator to head coach, his addition of UCF QB transfer Dillon Gabriel as an experienced offensive leader may make that transition look seamless. With a defensive-minded HC, things are definitely going to look a little different over in Norman, but a fourth-ranked transfer team should help them succeed early.
Jim Harbaugh’s Solomon-esque indecision this week may place a few doubts on the Wolverines’ offense, as the departures of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo do on the other side of the ball, but realistically, the Wolverines are returning players at key positions who now have the confidence and experience to win big games after last year’s Big Ten championship and CFP appearance. They’ll return 83% of offensive production, and the 2022 class is ranked 12th in the nation per 247Sports’ composite.
There are a lot of unknowns for this Fighting Irish team — a new head coach, a new wide receiver group, a new starting quarterback — but with a strong returning offensive line and several key returning defensive players including Isaiah Foskey and Jayson Ademilola, the Irish have a solid base to build a season on. That season does start in Columbus as they face the Buckeyes, though, which will no doubt prove to be an enormous challenge. One major upside are their back-to-back top ten freshman and sophomore classes.
Jimbo Fisher has put together a group of talented young recruits, complete with eight five-star freshmen to make up this year’s No. 1 recruiting class, but the question is whether he can do something with all that young talent. They’ll return five starters on each side of the ball, but lost defensive coordinator Mike Elko to the Duke head coaching job. There are a lot of unknowns with this Aggies team, but there’s also a high production ceiling for Fisher to work with.
Missing both coordinators and lacking a generational star under center, Clemson’s annual CFP appearance era has hit quite the roadblock. The ACC is also looking much stronger in unexpected places this year, including Wake Forest and NC State, who Clemson plays back-to-back, and the Tigers may struggle to find their groove with all the upheaval from this offseason. Though they’ll return nine offensive starters, the Tigers offense ranked 82nd in points per game last year in FBS.
10. Utah Utes
Utah came oh-so-close to beating Ohio State in January’s Rose Bowl, and proved that they can hang with the big boys. They lost star linebacker Devin Lloyd to the draft, but are returning a top-10 offense to the field. If they can keep up offensive production at Florida this weekend, they’ll be able to start their season strong.