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

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

After losing seasons in 2020, Baylor, Michigan and Michigan State began their 2021 campaigns unranked in the AP Top 25. However, at the end of the season, 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 candidate 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. preseason AP poll. In fact, the “other vote getters” category is made up of so many big names that it wouldn’t be surprising if some of them became factors on the national stage, just like the Bears, Wolverines and Spartans did last 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 Big Ten) over the last two seasons and a 2-6 finish through 2021, Penn State was easy for voters to overlook. However, that line of thinking ignores the Nittany Lions’ 5-0 start last fall, which could have been 7-0 had quarterback Sean Clifford not suffered an injury against Iowa.

Defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s departure 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 hiring Manny Diaz to replace Pry. With offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich in his second season, plus a healthy Clifford with a loaded group of skill 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 provide even a serviceable rushing attack, this can be a top-10 team.

Texas somehow earned a No. 18 ranking in the preseason coaches poll, with one first-place vote, no less, which is at odds with the program’s 5-7 record last season. Clearly, the coaches (or whoever is submitting the 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 put it all together.

Assuming Texas loses to No. 1 Alabama in Week 2, then the program’s bid for a top-10 spot will likely hinge on how it fares against No. 9 Oklahoma (Oct. 8), in number 12 of the state of Oklahoma (October 22) and against Baylor no. 10 (November 26). Wins against two of those three would put the Longhorns in prime position to move up the polls all season long. Texas finished 0-3 against this group last season by a total of 22 points during a brutal October. Those games are more spaced out this season, giving a team that has already proven injury-prone during preseason practice some breathing room. With Quinn Ewers officially in the 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 some cold water on one of the top darlings of the offseason by leaving the Volunteers out of the preseason poll. Trips to No. 17 Pittsburgh, LSU and No. 3 Georgia, plus home games against Alabama, Florida and No. 20 Kentucky, could make it difficult for this team 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 confident this team is in quarterback Hendon Hooker, and how uncertain the defense looks, this group ranks as one of the most unpredictable teams this season. Then again, the same could have been said about Ole Miss last season. The Rebels also had a second-year coach, a questionable defense and a singularly important star quarterback. But they finished 10-3 and were ranked No. 11 at the end of the season. The Vols could follow that plan if the breaks go their way 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 signed over 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 very successful career at Notre Dame. Joe Burrow isn’t walking through that door to play quarterback, but if Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels can find the promise he showed as a freshman in 2019, then LSU may have what it takes to be a national factor earlier than planned under Kelly.

While the schedule makes a top-10 finish difficult, a Nov. 5 game against Alabama appears to be the only definitive loss. Even that could get weird if it’s a Death Valley night game. As usual, a high level of variance is possible with this program; the games against Southern, New Mexico and UAB appear to be the only definitive victories. As we saw in 2019, however, the upside for this program is as high as it gets. A 10-3 record is as possible as a repeat of last season’s 6-7 mark.

Florida

Florida is 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, that program is also less than a calendar year removed from taking eventual SEC champion Alabama to the wire and less than two years from winning the SEC East.

The Gators have a potential star at quarterback in Anthony Richardson and a track record of first-year coaches. The last seven UF coaches have taken their teams to the top 15 at some point in their first season, and six of those seven coaches had the Gators as high as the top 10. Only Mullen and Galen Hall finished their debut season with a top 10. team, but that’s still an incredible success rate in a league as tough as the SEC.

A cross-division trip to No. 6 Texas A&M the week after playing Georgia, along with a tough early stretch against No. 7 Utah and Kentucky, makes for a big-boy schedule in 2022, but those quirks also present big opportunities for Florida. become a surprise player on the national stage.

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