College football rankings: These unranked preseason AP Top 25 teams could finish in the top 10

College football is sometimes brought down for its predictability at the top. Look no further than last season’s SEC Championship rematch between Alabama and Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship for supporting evidence. However, a deeper look at the 2021 season reveals how surprises remain part of the fabric of the sport, even at the highest levels.

Coming off losing seasons in 2020, Baylor, Michigan and Michigan State began their 2021 campaigns without an AP Top 25 ranking. By season’s end, however, the trio was ranked in the top 10 of the final AP poll after playing in the New Year’s Six bowl games. Baylor won the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl; Michigan won the Big Ten and appeared in a playoff semifinal against Georgia; and Michigan State won the Peach Bowl while producing an unexpected Heisman Trophy contender in running back Kenneth Walker III.

The collective success of this group should give some hope to programs that begin the 2022 season on the outside looking in AP preseason poll. In fact, the “other vote-getters” category is made up of so many big names that it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of them become factors on the national stage — just like the Bears, Wolverines and Spartans did last season. .

As the start of the 2022 season draws ever closer, here’s a look at the five unranked teams with the best chance to finish the 2022 season in the top 10.

With an 11-11 record (8-10 in the Big Ten) over the past two seasons and a 2-6 finish through 2021, Penn State was easy for voters to overlook. That line of thinking, however, ignores the Nittany Lions’ 5-0 start last fall — which could have been 7-0 if quarterback Sean Clifford hadn’t suffered an injury against Iowa.

Defensive coordinator Brent Pry leaving to become Virginia Tech’s head coach would have been cause for concern — he and coach James Franklin coached together for more than a decade — but Franklin hit a home run by hiring Manny Diaz to replace Pry. With offensive coordinator Mike Jurcic in his second season, plus a strong back in Clifford with a loaded group of experienced players around him, the Nittany Lions are capable of beating anyone on their schedule. That includes No. 2 Ohio State at home on Oct. 29. The offensive line is the biggest question mark, but if this group can facilitate even a serviceable offense, this could be a top-10 team.

Texas somehow managed to be ranked No. 18 in the preseason coaches poll — by one first-place vote, no less — which contrasts with the program’s 5-7 record last season. Clearly, the coaches (or whoever submits ballots on their behalf) are riding the annual wave of hype surrounding the Longhorns. AP voters are taking a more sensible approach, which is to wait and see if this team can pull it all together.

Assuming Texas loses to top-ranked Alabama in Week 2, then the program’s bid for a top-10 finish will likely hinge on how it fares against No. 9 Oklahoma (Oct. 8), at No. 12 Oklahoma State ( Oct. 22) and against No. 10 Baylor (Nov. 26). Wins against two of those three would put the Longhorns in prime position to climb the polls all season. Texas went 0-3 against this group last season by a combined 22 points during a brutal October. Those games are further apart this season, giving a team that has already proven injury-prone during preseason practice a chance to breathe. With Quinn Ewers officially under centerexpectations are that the Longhorns have the key ingredients to compete for a Big 12 title and just their second top-10 finish in the AP poll since 2009.

AP voters poured cold water on one of the top offseason favorites by leaving the Volunteers out of the preseason poll. Trips to No. 17 Pittsburgh, LSU and No. 3 Georgia — in addition to home games against Alabama, Florida and No. 20 Kentucky — could have this team struggling to improve on last season’s 7-6 mark. But coach Josh Heupel’s high-octane offensive philosophy also makes the Volunteers capable of beating anyone on their schedule.

Because of how much this team relies on quarterback Hendon Hooker and because of how questionable the defense looks, this group qualifies as one of the most unpredictable teams this season. Then again, the same could be said for Ole Miss last season. The Rebels also had a second-year coach, a questionable defense and an all-important star quarterback. But they finished 10-3 and were ranked No. 11 at the end of the season. The Vols could pursue that plan if the hiatuses are ironed out in 2022.

LSU

When LSU won the 2020 CFP title, it did so with a 64% blue-chip ratio, which is one way 247Sports measures a program’s overall talent. The metric looks at how many four- and five-star prospects a program has signed in the previous four recruiting cycles, and LSU actually has a higher BCR in 2022 (66%) than when it won the national title. The Tigers also have a better coach, with Brian Kelly making his SEC debut after a highly successful game at Notre Dame. Joe Burrow isn’t walking through that door to play quarterback, but if Arizona State transfer Jaden Daniels can find the promise he showed as a freshman in 2019, then LSU could have what it takes to be a national factor ahead of schedule Kelly’s guide.

While the schedule makes a top-10 ranking challenging, the Nov. 5 game against Alabama looks like the only sure loss. Even that can get weird if it’s a nighttime Death Valley game. A high level of dispersion is usually possible with this program; games against Southern, New Mexico and UAB look like the only sure wins. As we saw in 2019, however, the benefits for this program are as high as they get. A 10-3 record is just as possible as a repeat of last season’s 6-7 mark.

Florida

Florida is all the way down in a tie for No. 37 in the AP poll. The Gators received just 14 votes after a 6-7 season and the coaching transition from Dan Mullen to Billy Napier. However, this program is also less than a calendar year away from taking eventual SEC champion Alabama to the wire and less than two years away from winning the SEC East.

The Gators have a potential star at quarterback in Anthony Richardson and experience in popping up first-year coaches. The last seven UF coaches have led their teams to the top 15 at some point in their first season, and six of those seven coaches have placed the Gators in the top 10. Only Mullen and Galen Hall finished their debut seasons with a top 10 team, but that’s still amazing hit rate in a league as tough as the SEC.

A cross-division road trip to No. 6 Texas A&M the week after Georgia, along with a tough opening stretch against No. 7 Utah and Kentucky, make for a big-boy schedule in 2022, but those quirks also present huge opportunities for Florida to pull off an upset. a player on the national stage.

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