Stephen Vilardo’s Preseason College Football Top 25

Posted on August 11, 2022

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

With preseason camps in full swing across the nation and the first meaningful kickoff set for August 27, it is time to bring you our SuperWest Sports Preseason College Football Top 25.

NCAA logoPreseason rankings are speculative at best, but it’s part of the fun in making informed guesses about what might happen once the games begin.

Here’s how I see the rankings shaping up based on what we know now with my comments and analysis for each team.

Alabama returns 12 starters from last season. The only other time the Crimson Tide returned as many starters in the last six years, in 2020, they won the National Championship.

Among the starters returning are QB Bryce Young, reigning Heisman winner and our choice for Offensive Player of the Year, and LB Will Anderson Jr., reigning Nagurski winner and our selection for Defensive Player of the Year.

The offense was explosive last season and should be again this season. Jermaine Burton transferred from Georgia and could be the playmaker on the outside for the Tide.

The Buckeyes return a ton of firepower on offense with their three-headed monster of playmakers in QB CJ Stroud, RB TreVeyon Henderson, and WR Jaxson Smith-Njigba.

The defense struggled a season ago, but the addition of new DC Jim Knowles should bring improvement to a talented group.

Jack Sawyer could become a monster on the defensive line for the Buckeyes and is versatile enough to move along on the line causing matchup problems for opposing teams.

The Tigers did not play for the ACC title let alone win it in 2021, breaking their run of six straight league crowns.

The major downfall last season was QB play, and DJ Uiagalelei has another year of experience and more weapons at his disposal and should show improvement.

The defense is loaded with perhaps the best D-Line unit in America, and they return DT Bryan Bresee and DE Myles Murphy to anchor a line that allowed just 2.8 yards per carry last season and got to the QB 42 times.

Last year the Georgia defense sent nine players to the NFL via the draft, which is a lot of firepower to replace, but the Bulldogs will reload on that side of the ball.

Stetson Bennett proved he could lead the offense last year despite doubts throughout and his top pass catchers return in TE Brock Bowers and WR Ladd McKonkey.

Bennett will be operating behind one of the best O-Line units in the country.

Jimbo Fisher has brought a lot of talent to College Station and the Aggies are ready to fully reap those rewards this season.

Devon Achane will be a workhorse for A&M at RB. The defensive backfield will be the backbone on that side of the ball and could be among the best units in the nation.

The Wolverines return nine starters on offense including QB Cade McNamara and RB Blake Corum who will run behind perhaps the top offensive line in the country.

Michigan also has an All-American in Jake Moody at kicker to fall back on. And the schedule, especially early on, is favorable.

If they can get past a mid-October home date with Penn State, the Wolverines should roll into Columbus on Thanksgiving weekend unbeaten.

The Utes went 9-2 to end the season last year after QB Cameron Rising was inserted into the starting role–and they had Ohio State on the ropes in Pasadena.

Utah always runs the ball well, having produced a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2014 with the exception of the shortened 2020 season.

Tavion Thomas should continue that streak for another season. The Utes are deep at LB and the back end of the defense will be anchored by CB Clark Phillips III.

usc logoNumber-wise, the Trojans bring a lot of starters back, but it is the newcomers that will make the difference and be starting this year.

QB Caleb Williams, RB Travis Dye, WR Jordan Addison, and WR Mario Williams all have the chance to be elite this season, not only individually, but as a group. OG Andrew Vorhees and C Brett Neilon anchor the O-line.

The Trojan defense had its struggles last season but there is talent there, particularly in DL Tuli Tuipulotu, LB Shane Lee, and CB Mekhi Blackmon.

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Marcus Freeman brings new-and-improved energy to South Bend for a team that went 11-1 last season and returns a lot of players.

The defense should be stout and will get an early test in Week One with a trip to Ohio State.

The Irish will host Clemson and finish the regular season at USC. A win in at least two of those three should punch a playoff ticket for Notre Dame.

Oklahoma brought back longtime Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables to be Head Coach and the roster he inherits is quite different than the one that ended the season in Norman.

Dillon Gabriel comes from UCF and is handed the reigns at QB. The Sooners have some talent for their new head coach to work with on the defense and should be improved on that side of the ball.

The Ducks face a stiff test to open the season with Georgia in Atlanta and follow that up two weeks later with a home game against a formidable BYU squad.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12After that, the conference schedule plays to them with UCLA and Utah making trips to Eugene and USC missing from the schedule.

Bo Nix transferred in from Auburn to run the show at QB. Defensively, the Ducks are led by the best defender in the Pac-12 and one of the best nationally in LB Noah Sewell.

Justin Flowe and DJ Johnson join Sewell, giving new HC Dan Lanning one of the top LB units in the nation.

We know what Lanning was able to do with talented players in the middle of the Georgia defense; given that background, this group could be scary to opposing offenses this season.

Pitt returns a lot on the offensive side of the ball, but what they lost was huge: a Heisman finalist at QB and the Biletnikoff winner at WR.

Replacing Kenny Pickett at QB is Kedon Slovis who was extremely accurate at USC over the last three seasons, and the running game will return heavier in Pat Narduzzi’s system.

The Panther defensive line unit is one of the best in the nation and will be the strength of the team.

Manny Diaz’s 2021 Hurricanes squad opened the season 2-4 last year before finishing 5-1 down the stretch.

This season’s early schedule is easier for new coach Mario Cristobal, with only a trip to Texas A&M as an early hurdle. Miami will end the regular season with back-to-back games at Clemson and hosting Pitt.

The Hurricanes feature Tyler Van Dyke at QB behind a solid offensive line, but may need to develop with Clemson transfer Frank Ladson at WR.

Miami’s defensive issues started and ended with missed tackles last year, and that is an issue that should be improved and corrected under new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

If Miami can get off to a fast start with a nine-win season, it should be in the cards.

14. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys brought defensive intensity to the Big 12 a season ago but have lost six of their top eight tacklers.

OSU returns just four starters on defense, but three of them are on the D-line, which allowed just 2.7 yards per carry and led the nation with 57 sacks.

While the defense will not be as dominant as it was last year, the offense should be more potent with Spencer Sanders returning at QB, though they will have to break in newcomers at the top RB and WR spots.

NC State returns 10 starters from a defensive unit that allowed just 19.7 points per game last season led by an All-American candidate in LB Drake Thomas.

Devin Leary returns at QB and has his top two wideouts returning with him in Devin Carter and Thayer Thomas.

The Wolfpack gets Wake Forest at home but must travel to Clemson. The divisional crossovers favor NC State as Pitt and Miami are off the schedule this season.

The Badger defense lost a lot this season, but Wisconsin will still find themselves with a Top 10 defense when it is all said and done.

The defense and stopping the run is their identity and it is what they do. One of the returners is potential All-American Nick Herbig.

This season they should see improvement on the offensive side of things and that could make all the difference for them.

Graham Mertz seems poised for a breakout season and the RB duo of Braelon Allen and Chaz Mellusi is one of the most formidable in the nation. Mertz will have to break in new receivers this season, but the offensive line returns three starters.

The Bears will be breaking in new starters at the skill positions on offense but return four of their five starters on the offensive line from last season.

Baylor averaged 5.7 yards per carry behind that line and allowed just 18 sacks on the season.

The schedule takes them on the road to Oklahoma, Texas, and Iowa State this season. The Bears will also travel to Provo for a non-conference meeting with BYU in week two, which could be a stern test for a young QB.

Ole Miss lost most of their offensive skill players from a season ago, but Lan Kiffin certainly knows how to use the transfer portal to reload.

Jaxson Dart takes over at QB after completing 62% of his passes as a true freshman for USC last season. Zach Evans comes from TCU and will be the lead ball carrier.

Four of the five returning starters on offense are from the O-line with the fifth being TE Michael Trigg.

Defensively the Rebs were not great last season but did improve from year one under Kiffin allowing 24.7 points per game compared to 38.3 the prior season.

An influx of seven transfers should continue the upward trend on that side of the ball.

Iowa returns a solid QB in Spencer Petras, who has shown flashes of greatness and has a huge arm. He just needs to put together an entire consistent season.

Petras opened last season on fire completing 60.7% of his passes with just two interceptions and nine TDs while leading the Hawkeyes to a 6-0 start.

In the tail end of the season, he got banged up and closed the year with 52.5% with one TD vs seven INTs. Iowa needs the good Petras, especially as the break in a new primary rusher in Gavin Williams.

The Hawkeyes’ strength will be defense and they are led by All-American candidates in CB Riley Moss and LB Jack Campbell.

20. Michigan State Spartans

Mel Tucker turned things around for the Spartans in Year Two, improving to 11-2 with a 7-2 Big Ten mark after a disappointing 2-5 season in 2020.

Payton Thorne returns at QB and has his best playmaker back as well in WR Jayden Reed—an electrifying player who will make things happen in space, and Thorne will get the ball to him.

They have a lot of pieces returning on defense, and there is a lot of momentum in East Lansing after the 2021 season. We will see if that progress continues.

BYU has a very good QB in Jaren Hall and he has good receivers at his disposal in Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua. More importantly, he will be operating behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation.

The offense no longer has Tyler Allgeier carrying the ball, but Cal transfer Christopher Brooks is certainly capable—and again, that offensive line will make his job easier.

Defensively, the Cougars will need to get more pressure on opposing passers.

22. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Dave Clawson has done wonders since taking over Wake Forest in 2014 and the Deacs are coming off an 11-3 record, which won the ACC Atlantic division with a 7-1 mark.

They were ready to replace their top RB and to re-tool the O-Line.

However, Sam Hartman, who threw for 4,228 yards last season while ranking third nationally in points responsible for, is now out with a non-football-related medical condition.

Mitch Griffis will now line up under center and will be tasked with putting up points again as the defense gave up a lot of points last season and will need to again this season.

The Bearcats were the darling of last season and the Cinderella story getting to the College Football Playoff and a date with Alabama.

But Cincinnati was also really good last year, and the key now is to maintain that level of excellence.

Either Evan Prater or Ben Bryant will take over for Desmond Ritter under center and we’ll see a new primary running back. But the receivers are good and the offensive line is a veteran group, so the offense should still be capable.

The defense will also have some holes to fill but upfront Malik Vann and Jowon Briggs will anchor the interior of what should be a very solid front seven.

The Bruins finally broke through with Chip Kelly last season and the momentum needs to be sustained.

Offensively, the Bruins still have Dorian Thompson-Robinson under center and Zach Charbonnet will still be there to tote the ball—and that is a good start for any offense.

Jake Bobo comes over from Duke to shore up a receiving group that must replace a lot. Kazmeir Allen should get the ball more often this season and the speedster could be a huge weapon in the open field for UCLA.

Defensively, the Bruins need to replace a bunch of starters from 2021, but Darius Muasau comes in from Hawai’i in the middle and could be an All-Conference performer at LB.

Texas has an All-American in RB Bijan Robinson. The Tucson native stepped on the scene last season averaging 8.2 yards per carry while gaining 703 yards in nine games.

The QB spot will fall to highly touted freshman, Quinn Ewers, and at his disposal will be a playmaker in Xavier Worthy. The Longhorns will score points, the question will be if they can stop anyone.

The defense last season allowed 31.1 points per game in 2021 (99th) in the nation and was 100th allowing 425.6 yards per game.

Gary Patterson was brought in as a special assistant to Steve Sarkisian, and that may improve the defense, but how much remains to be seen.

—More from Stephen Vilardo—

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