INDIANAPOLIS — A season notable for upsets and highly ranked teams losing ended with a No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 that was not particularly surprising.
Georgia finished No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll presented by Regions Bank after starting the season at No. 5 and spending eight weeks as the top-ranked team in the nation.
Alabama, the only other team to hold the No. 1 ranking this season, finished second. It is the third time under Nick Saban that Alabama has finished No. 2 to go along with six times as No. 1 in 15 seasons.
The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide were the only teams to be ranked No. 1 this season. The chaos of 2021 showed up behind them.
Four teams that finished in the top 10 started the season unranked, including No. 3 Michigan. The Wolverines finished with their first top-10 final ranking since 2006.
No. 4 Cincinnati and No. 5 Baylor both have their best final rankings ever, and No. 9 Michigan State landed in the season-ending top 10 for the first time since 2016.
On to 2022.
Reality Check takes a look at teams in the final rankings, with an eye toward next season. Between the transfer portal and early draft entrants, projecting who is coming and going is trickier than ever, but what follows are educated guesses using the best available information (x-transfer).
No. 1 Georgia (14-1)
2022 opener: vs. Oregon in Atlanta.
Replacing: DT Jordan Davis; OT Jamaree Salyer; LB Nakobe Dean.
Returning: DT Jalen Carter; TE Brock Bowers; WR Adonai Mitchell.
Reality check: The Bulldogs could very well have no returning starters on defense, but Kirby Smart’s crew recruits so well Georgia should still be ranked in the preseason top five.
No. 2 Alabama (13-2)
2022 opener: vs. Utah State.
Replacing: RB Brian Robinson; OT Evan Neal; DL Phidarian Mathis.
Returning: QB Bryce Young; OLB Will Anderson Jr.; WR Ja’Corey Brooks.
Reality check: Alabama might be better next season and is the favorite to be preseason No. 1 for the fifth time in seven seasons.
No. 3 Michigan (12-2)
2022 opener: vs. Colorado State.
Replacing: DE Aidan Hutchinson; OLB David Ojabo; RB Hassan Haskins.
Returning: QB Cade McNamara; QB J.J McCarthy; RB Blake Corum.
Realty check: The Wolverines lose a lot of key players. Unlike this season, Michigan should start 2022 ranked, but maybe just outside the top 10.
No. 4 Cincinnati (13-1)
Next game: at Arkansas.
Replacing: QB Desmond Ridder; CB Ahmad Gardner; DE Myjai Sanders.
Returning: LB Deshawn Pace; DE Jowon Briggs; WR Tyler Scott.
Reality check: The Bearcats are losing a mountain of talent and experience, and will absolutely take a step back next season so don’t freak out when Cincinnati is closer to the back of the preseason Top 25 than the front.
No. 5 Baylor (12-2)
2022 opener: vs. Louisiana Tech.
Replacing: S Jalen Pitre; LB Terrel Bernard; RB Abram Smith.
Returning: DT Siaki Ika; OT Connor Galvin; QB Gerry Bohanon.
Reality check: The Bears, like Michigan, were another turnaround team powered by upperclassmen. They should get the benefit of a doubt in 2022 and a top-15 preseason ranking.
No. 6 Ohio State (12-2)
2022 opener: vs. Notre Dame.
Replacing: WR Chris Olave; WR Garrett Wilson; DE Malik Harrison.
Returning: QB C.J. Stroud; RB TreVeyon Henderson; WR Jaxson Smith-Njigba.
Reality check: The Buckeyes will enter next season with the best set of offensive skill position players in the country and probably another top-five ranking.
No. 7 Oklahoma State (12-2)
2022 opener: vs. Central Michigan.
Replacing: LB Malcolm Rodriguez; WR Tay Martin; S Kolby Harvell-Peel.
Returning: DE Collin Oliver; WR Brennan Presley; OT Cole Birmingham.
Reality check: The Cowboys got a lot of production from super seniors in 2021, but get QB Spencer Sanders back for one more ride in 2022 and, like Baylor, deserve the benefit of the doubt in the preseason rankings.
No. 8 Notre Dame (11-2)
2022 opener: at Ohio State.
Replacing: S Kyle Hamilton; RB Kyren Williams; QB Jack Coan.
Returning: TE Michael Mayer; OT Blake Fisher; OT Joe Alt.
Reality check: Marcus Freeman’s first full season as head coach will come with the expectations of a top-15 ranking.
No. 9 Michigan State (11-2)
2022 opener: vs. Western Michigan.
Replacing: RB Kenneth Walker III; WR Jalen Nailor; DE Jacub Panasiuk.
Returning: QB Payton Thorne; WR Jayden Reed; LB Cal Haladay.
Reality check: Between his massive contract and a preseason ranking, coach Mel Tucker is going to head into Year 3 expected to win with the Spartans for the first time.
No. 10 Oklahoma (11-2)
2022 opener: vs. UTEP.
Replacing: QB Caleb Williams-x; RB Kennedy Brooks; OLB Nik Bonitto.
Returning: QB Dillon Gabriel-x; DT Jalen Redmond; WR Marvin Mims.
Reality check: The Brent Venables era could start with the Sooners outside the preseason top 10 for the first time since 2015.
No. 11 Ole Miss (10-3)
2022 opener: vs. Troy.
Replacing: QB Matt Corral; DE Sam Williams; WR Dontario Drummond.
Returning: RB Zach Evans-x; DB Tysheem Johnson; WR Jonathan Mingo.
Reality check: The Rebels will have some more portal building to do this offseason. How it comes together will determine if they are a borderline ranked team or something closer to top 15.
No. 12 Utah (10-3)
2022 opener: at Florida.
Replacing: LB Devin Lloyd; WR Britain Covey; OT Bamidele Olaseni.
Returning: QB Cameron Rising; RB Tavion Thomas; CB Clark Phillips.
Reality check: The Utes have made a habit of exceeding preseason expectations, but that’s going to be tough in 2022 when they’re a preseason top 10 team.
No. 13 Pitt (10-3)
2022 opener: vs. West Virginia.
Replacing: QB Kenny Pickett; LB Cam Bright-x; LT Warren Carter.
Returning: QB Kedon Slovis-x; WR Jordan Addison; DT Calijah Kancey.
Reality check: The addition of Slovis with some very appealing returning talent should give the Panthers their first preseason ranking since 2015.
No. 14 Clemson (10-3)
2022 opener: at Georgia Tech.
Replacing: CB Mario Goodrich; WR Justyn Ross; DE Xavier Thomas.
Returning: RB Will Shipley; DE Myles Murphy; DT Bryan Bresee.
Reality check: The Tigers worst season in years and lots of coaching staff turnover will likely mean Clemson’s streak of six straight preseason top-five rankings will likely end.
No. 15 Wake Forest (11-3)
2022 opener: vs. VMI.
Replacing: WR Jaquarii Roberson; DE Luiji Vilain; LB Luke Masterson.
Returning: QB Sam Hartman; WR A.T. Perry; DL Rondell Bothroyd.
Reality check: The Deacs should have most of their prolific offense back, but they also won a lot of close games in 2021 and had bad defense. Voters could make them prove it again.
No. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette (13-1)
2022 opener: vs. SE Louisiana.
Replacing: QB Levi Lewis; OT Max Mitchell; OG O’Cyrus Torrence-x.
Returning: DE Zi’Yon Hill; RB Chris Smith; WR Michael Jefferson.
Reality check: The Ragin’ Cajuns have been on a remarkable run, but with coach Billy Napier and lots of key upperclassmen moving on, the Sun Belt’s best will have a hard time slipping into the back of the preseason Top 25.
No. 17 Houston (12-2)
2022 opener: at UTSA.
Replacing: CB Marcus Jones; DE Logan Hall; LB Deontay Anderson.
Returning: QB Clayton Tune.
Reality check: The Cougars had one of the quietest 12-win seasons you’ll ever see and say goodbye to several key players from an excellent defense. Iffy if they start 2022 ranked.
No. 18 Kentucky (10-3)
2022 opener: vs. Miami, Ohio.
Replacing: WR Wan’Dale Robinson; OT Darian Kinnard; DE Josh Paschal.
Returning: QB Will Levis; OLB J.J. Weaver; RB Chris Rodriguez.
Reality check: Big losses on the offensive line and Robinson heading to the NFL early means the Wildcats are likely to start in the back half of the Top 25 at best.
No. 19 BYU (10-3)
2022 opener: at USF.
Replacing: RB Tyler Allgeier; DE Uriah Leiataua
Returning: QB Jaren Hall; LB Ben Bywater; OT Campbell Barrington.
Reality check: The Cougars’ excellent season came with a very young two-deep roster. That’s great news for next year and should have them ranked in the mid-teens in the preseason.
No. 20 North Carolina State (9-3)
2022 opener: at East Carolina.
Replacing: OT Ikem Ekwonu; CB Derrek Pitts Jr.; WR Emeka Emezie.
Returning: QB Devin Leary; RB Zonovan Knight; LB Drake Thomas.
Reality check: The Wolfpack haven’t been ranked in the preseason since 2003. Good chance that drought ends next season.
No. 21 Arkansas (9-4)
2022 opener: vs. Cincinnati.
Replacing: WR Treylon Burks; LB Hayden Henry; DT Tre Williams.
Returning: QB KJ Jefferson; S Jalen Catalon; RB Raheim Sanders.
Reality check: Last time the Razorbacks were preseason ranked was 2015. Got a shot in 2022, but the retooling on defense could leave them out.
No. 22 Oregon (10-4)
2022 opener: vs. Georgia in Atlanta.
Replacing: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux; QB Anthony Brown; CB Mykael Wright.
Returning: LB Noah Sewell; LB Justin Flowe; QB Bo Nix-x.
Reality check: Maybe it will be better for the Ducks to enter the first season under Dan Lanning with more modest expectations and a high teens rankings.
No. 23 Iowa (10-4)
2022 opener: vs. South Dakota State.
Replacing: RB Tyler Goodson; C Tyler Linderbaum; DE Zach VanValkenburg.
Returning: LB Jack Campbell; RB Riley Moss; TE Sam LaPorta.
Reality check: The Hawkeyes have a lot of pieces in place to start next season about where they finished 2021.
No. 24 Utah State (11-3)
2022 opener: vs. UConn.
Replacing: WR Deven Thompson; DE Nick Henninger; LB Justin Rice.
Returning: QB Logan Bonner; RB Calvin Tyler Jr.; DT Hale Motuapuaka.
Reality check: The Aggies were one of the most surprising teams in the country in 2021 and have a lot to replace in ‘22. That’s a bad combo for a preseason ranking.
No. 25 San Diego State (12-2)
2022 opener: vs. Arizona.
Replacing: DE Cameron Thomas; P Matt Araiza; OG WIlliam Dunkle.
Returning: WR Jesse Matthews; S Patrick McMorris; OT Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson.
Reality check: The Aztecs were another team that got a ton of production out of upperclassmen and will have too much rebuilding to go into next season ranked.
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