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The Hotline's 15th annual ridiculously early top-25 rankings — or maybe it's the 16th (we've lost track) — are the first of three such projections scheduled for 2022.
Our not-so-early-top-25 rankings will be published after spring practice, followed by the Hotline's preseason top-25 during training camp.
Revisions will be based largely on free agent signings across college football … err, sorry: Revisions will be based largely on the results of transfer portal decisions.
Also considered (alphabetical): Air Force, Appalachian State, Arizona State, Army, Boise State, Central Michigan, Coastal Carolina, Iowa, Iowa State, Louisiana, Miami, Minnesota, N.C. State, Northern Illinois, Penn State, San Diego State, Tennessee, Texas, UCF, UCLA, Utah State, UTSA and Washington State
1. Alabama (13-2): Expect a load of departures to the NFL draft, as usual, but two players aren't eligible to leave: quarterback Bryce Young and unstoppable edge rusher Will Anderson. You could fill the other 20 starting spots with schmoes from Frat Row, and Bama would have a shot at the playoff.
2. Ohio State (11-2): The offense we saw in the Rose Bowl should be good enough to carry the Buckeyes back into the playoff. And we suspect new coordinator Jim Knowles (hired away from Oklahoma State) will make an immediate impact on defense. The 2022 season opener: Notre Dame in the Horseshoe. Should be OSU's best team since way back in 2020.
3. Georgia (14-1): The Bulldogs will lose their entire starting defense, or close to it, plus coordinator Dan Lanning (to Oregon). The overall decline in performance, however, should be negligible thanks to recruiting classes rivaled only by Alabama.
4. Clemson (10-3): The regression was substantial but swift in the post-Trevor Lawrence era. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei must play to the level of his Southern California peers from Alabama (Bryce Young) and Ohio State (CJ Stroud) in order for the Tigers to return to the playoff stage.
5. Texas A&M (8-4): If Jimbo Fisher can finally break through in the SEC West, maybe he'll have a chance to make Mel Tucker money.
6. Utah (10-4): Several key pieces return, including quarterback Cam Rising and tailback Tavion Thomas, making Utah the clear early favorite in the Pac-12. As for the Utes' playoff prospects, much depends on the outcome of the '22 opener, at Florida.
7. Florida (6-7): A sleeper pick to the extent that a program with multiple national titles can be considered a sleeper. First-year coach Billy Napier inherits a handful of top-12 recruiting classes and should get the Gators turned around quickly.
8. Notre Dame (11-2): First-year coach Marcus Freeman doesn't need to rebuild — the roster is well fortified. But the schedule, which includes Clemson and Ohio State, could prove a limiting factor.
9. Michigan (12-2): The Wolverines haven't recruited quite well enough to fully offset the personnel losses (to the NFL draft and expired eligibility) that they're experiencing this offseason.
10. Oklahoma (11-2): Consider us skeptical of the Sooners in Year One under coach Brent Venables, even with a solid option at quarterback in UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel.
11. Cincinnati (13-1): Key personnel losses at quarterback and cornerback, but the team to beat in the American. The Bearcats aren't going away as long as Luke Fickell's in charge. Of note: The '22 season opener is at Arkansas.
12. Baylor (12-2): The senior-laden Big 12 champions will lose ground relative to their competition, at least in the short term.
13. Houston (12-2): The Cougars should remain the second-best team in the AAC — unless they become the best, which is a distinct possibility.
14. Oklahoma State (12-2): The Cowboys' breakthrough season was fueled by a veteran defense with a top-flight coordinator. The defense is getting hit by attrition, while the coordinator is off to Ohio State.
15. Brigham Young (10-3): There's more than enough returning talent for the Cougars to compete for their second-consecutive Pac-12 title.
16. Wisconsin (9-4): We start our evaluation of the Badgers the same way every year: Is there a compelling reason they shouldn't be slotted in the top-15 or 20. Usually, the answer is no.
17. Oregon (10-4): A series of top recruiting classes seemingly provides a strong base for new coach Dan Lanning, whose first game will be against his former team (Georgia). High-level quarterback play from either Auburn transfer Bo Nix or redshirt freshman Ty Thompson is far from guaranteed, however.
18. Mississippi (10-3): The Lane Train does not stop running because the starting quarterback jumps to the NFL. No, no, no. The Rebels will remain relevant.
19. Pittsburgh (11-3): The top question — who will replace star quarterback Kenny Pickett? — has been solved. His name is Kedon Slovis, and he has thrown a touchdown or two in his time.
20. Fresno State (10-3): Jeff Tedford's back in charge of the program and Jake Haener's back in charge of the offense. The Bulldogs just might be the second-best team in the West.
21. LSU (6-7): Brian Kelly should immediately maximize the personnel, which was better than it showed this season. Expect the new-coach bounce to be significant in Baton Rouge.
22. Wake Forest (11-3): The Demon Deacons were not a one-hit wonder. Coach Dave Clawson has built a program that can sustain success in a mediocre conference.
23. Arkansas (9-4): The SEC West is insane. Also, there are a lot of good teams in the division.
24. USC (4-8): Lincoln Riley's schemes should mask the deficiencies on the lines of scrimmage well enough to make the Trojans immediately relevant. But the ceiling in '22 is second place in the Pac-12 South.
25. Kentucky (10-3): Football school.
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.
Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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