The Associated Press preseason Top 25 college football poll presented by Regions Bank:
No. 1 Alabama
2021 finish: 13-2, (final ranking) No. 2.
Key games: at Texas, Sept. 10; at No. 19 Arkansas, Oct. 1; vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, Oct. 8; at No. 21 Mississippi, Nov. 12.
Potential All-Americans: QB Bryce Young; OLB Will Anderson; S Jordan Battle; G Emil Ekiyor.
Outlook: Alabama returns arguably the best offensive and defensive player in the country, with Anderson and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Young. The defense appears loaded with LB Henry To’oTo’o and CBs Kool-Aid McKinstry and Eli Ricks (via transfer from LSU). The offense is hoping for boosts from transfer WRs Jermaine Burton (Georgia) and Tyler Harrell (Louisville) and RB Jahmyr Gibbs from Georgia Tech.
No. 2 Ohio State
2021 finish: 11-2, No. 6.
Key games: vs. No. 5 Notre Dame, Sept. 3; vs. No. 18 Wisconsin, Sept. 14; at No. 15 Michigan State, Oct. 8; vs. No. 8 Michigan, Nov. 16.
Potential All-Americans: QB C.J. Stroud; RB TreyVeon Henderson; WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba; S Ronnie Hickman.
Outlook: Despite the loss of first-round NFL draft picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the Buckeyes return some major offensive weapons for Heisman Trophy finalist Stroud. An experienced offensive line will help clear the way. Coach Ryan Day brought in former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to overhaul a defense that allowed 372.9 yards per game and was largely blamed for losses to Oregon and Michigan.
No. 3 Georgia
2021 finish: 14-1, No. 1.
Key games: vs. No. 11 Oregon, Sept. 3; at South Carolina, Sept. 17; vs. Tennessee, Nov. 5; at No. 20 Kentucky, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: DL Jalen Carter; TE Brock Bowers; LB Nolan Smith; CB Kelee Ringo.
Outlook: The defending national champions have some huge holes to fill, especially on the defensive side, after a record 15 players were selected in the NFL draft. Five players off Georgia’s defense were chosen in the first round, including top overall pick Travon Walker. But coach Kirby Smart has built a sustainable powerhouse. The offense could be even more dynamic, with QB Stetson Bennett surrounded by weapons such as All-American Bowers.
No. 4 Clemson
2021 finish: 10-3 No. 14
Key games: vs. No. 13 North Carolina State, Oct. 1; at No. 5 Notre Dame, Nov. 5; vs. No. 16 Miami, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: DE Myles Murphy; DT Bryan Bresee; RB Will Shipley.
Outlook: Clemson must replace its linebacking “Bruise Brothers” duo of James Skalski and Baylon Spector and will look to Trenton Simpson and Barrett Carter to fill the gaps. QB DJ Uiagalelei enters his second season as starter and will look to improve on his disappointing sophomore year (nine TD passes and 10 interceptions). The Tigers also enter the season with new coordinators. Wes Goodwin, part of the behind the scenes defensive group, has taken control of that unit with quarterback coach Brandon Streeter in charge of the offense.
No. 5 Notre Dame
2021 finish: 11-2, No. 8.
Key games: at No. 2 Ohio State, Sept. 4; vs. No. 25 BYU, Oct. 8; No. 4 vs. Clemson, Nov. 5; at No. 14 USC, Nov. 26.
Potential All-Americans: TE Michael Mayer; DE Isaiah Foskey; S Brandon Joseph.
Outlook: Marcus Freeman takes over for Brian Kelly as coach with the Fighting Irish looking for their sixth straight double-digit win season. The Irish turn their offense over to QB Tyler Buchner and have a young offensive line with potential. Foskey leads what has potential to be a solid defensive line.
No. 6 Texas A&M
2021 finish: 8-4, not ranked.
Key games: vs. No. 16 Miami, Sept. 17; vs. No. 19 Arkansas at Arlington, Texas, Sept. 24; at No. 1 Alabama, Oct. 8.
Potential All-Americans: S Antonio Johnson; OG Layden Robinson.
Outlook: Texas A&M is looking to take a step forward after going 8-4 last year with a victory against No. 1 Alabama but losses to unranked Mississippi State and LSU. QB Haynes King, who won the starting job last season before an early season-ending injury, and LSU transfer Max Johnson are vying to start.
No. 7 Utah
2021 finish: 10-4, No. 12.
Key games: at Florida, Sept. 3; vs. No. 14 USC, Oct. 15; at No. 11 Oregon, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: CB Clark Phillips III; RB Tavion Thomas.
Outlook: Utah went to the Rose Bowl for the first time last season and this year the Utes hope to build on that success while upping their national profile. QB Cam Rising returns after leading a late-season surge by the Utes to their first Pac-12 title.
No. 8 Michigan
2021 finish: 12-2, No. 3.
Key games: vs. Penn State, Oct. 15; vs. No. 15 Michigan State, Oct. 29; at No. 2 Ohio State, Nov. 26.
Potential All-Americans: DT Mazi Smith; K Jake Moody; C Olu Oluwatimi.
Outlook: Jim Harbaugh’s eighth team is his first at Michigan that is coming off a win over the rival Buckeyes, and the Wolverines’ new challenge is to beat Ohio State on the road for the first time since 2000. QBs Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy will likely share snaps for an offense that will try to keep an inexperienced defense off the field.
No. 9 Oklahoma
2021 finish: 11-2, No. 10.
Key games: at Nebraska, Sept. 17; vs. No. 10 Baylor, Nov. 5; vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: WR Marvin Mims; P Michael Turk.
Outlook: The Sooners have a new head coach in Brent Venables, and expectations remain high with QB Dillon Gabriel expected to fit seamlessly into new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby’s scheme. If the Sooners can escape Nebraska in Lincoln and beat its two toughest regular-season opponents at home in Baylor and Oklahoma State, they could be positioned to make a playoff run.
No. 10 Baylor
2021 finish: 12-2, No. 5.
Key games: at No. 25 BYU, Sept. 10; vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State, Oct. 1; at No. 9 Oklahoma, Nov. 5.
Potential All-Americans: OL Connor Galvin; DL Siaki Ika.
Outlook: Baylor is an expected Big 12 contender now after a surprising title last season, when the Bears went from two wins in coach Dave Aranda’s pandemic-affected 2020 debut to a school-record 12. QB Blake Shapen, the Big 12 title game MVP in his second career start, will have a solid line protecting him.
No. 11 Oregon
2021 finish: 10-4, No. 22.
Key games: vs. No. 3 Georgia in Atlanta, Sept. 3; vs. No. 25 BYU, Sept. 25; vs. No. 7 Utah, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: LB Noah Sewell; OL Alex Forsyth.
Outlook: Oregon is playing its first season under former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who took over when Mario Cristobal went to Miami. Lanning has a preseason quarterback competition between Bo Nix, a transfer who started three seasons at Auburn, and redshirt freshman Ty Thompson. The team is also mourning the offseason death of tight end Spencer Webb.
No. 12 Oklahoma State
2021 finish: 12-2, No. 7.
Key games: vs. Arizona State, Sept. 10; at No. 10 Baylor, Oct. 1; at No. 9 Oklahoma, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: DE Collin Oliver; DE Brock Martin.
Outlook: Oklahoma State came within a yard of winning the Big 12 title, and the all-conference quarterback who got them there — fourth-year starter Spencer Sanders — is back. The Cowboys must replace ILB Malcolm Rodriguez, but their dynamic defensive front should help them contend again.
No. 13 North Carolina State
2021 finish: 9-3, No. 20.
Key games: at East Carolina, Sept. 3; at No. 4 Clemson, Oct. 1; vs. No. 22 Wake Forest, Nov. 5.
Potential All-Americans: QB Devin Leary, LB Payton Wilson.
Outlook: Leary is the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year while Wilson is back from injury and among 10 returning starters for a defense that ranked 14th in FBS in scoring last year (19.7). That combination has the Wolfpack expected to contend for the ACC title.
No. 14 USC
2021 finish: 4-8, not ranked.
Key games: at No. 7 Utah, Oct. 15; at UCLA, Nov. 19; vs. No. 5 Notre Dame, Nov. 26.
Potential All-Americans: QB Caleb Williams; WR Jordan Addison.
Outlook: First-year coach Lincoln Riley’s massive rebuilding project with the Trojans is anchored by 24 transfers from across the country, and their biggest task is immediately playing as a cohesive team. USC is loaded with skill-position talent, but its defensive acumen and depth will be tested.
No. 15 Michigan State
2021 finish: 11-2, No. 9.
Key games: at Washington, Sept. 17; vs. No. 2 Ohio State, Oct. 8; at No. 8 Michigan, Oct. 29.
Potential All-Americans: WR/PR Jayden Reed; DT Jacob Slade.
Outlook: The Spartans’ quest is to sustain success after winning 11 games in coach Mel Tucker’s second season. Replacing RB Kenneth Walker III will be a challenge taken on by transfers Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) and Jarek Broussard (Colorado) complementing what should be a potent passing attack with QB Payton Thorne and Reed.
No. 16 Miami
2021 finish: 7-5, not ranked.
Key games: No. 6 Texas A&M, Sept. 17; vs. Florida State, Nov. 5; No. 4 Clemson, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: QB Tyler Van Dyke; S James Williams.
Outlook: Mario Cristobal, a two-time national champion as an offensive lineman for the Hurricanes, returns as Miami’s coach following a successful run at Oregon and being an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama. Cristobal assembled a star-studded staff that includes offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who won the Broyles Award at Michigan last season.
No. 17 Pittsburgh
2021 finish: 11-3, No. 13.
Key games: vs. West Virginia, Sept. 1; vs. Tennessee, Sept. 10; at No. 16 Miami, Nov. 26.
Potential All-Americans: DL Calijah Kancey; DE Habakkuk Baldonado.
Outlook: The Panthers will try to prove their breakout 2021 was no fluke. They’ll have to do it without QB Kenny Pickett, now in the NFL, and WR Jordan Addison, who transferred to USC in May. USC transfer Kedon Slovis and longtime backup Nick Patti are vying for the chance to be Pickett’s successor.
No. 18 Wisconsin
2021 finish: 9-4, not ranked.
Key games: at No. 2 Ohio State, Sept. 24; at No. 15 Michigan State, Oct. 15; at Iowa, Nov. 12; Minnesota, Nov. 26.
Potential All-Americans: RB Braelon Allen; OLB Nick Herbig.
Outlook: Wisconsin must replace eight of the top 10 tacklers from a defense that allowed the fewest yards per game, yards per play and yards per rush in the country. That means Allen must build on his exceptional freshman season and the offense must gain more consistency as the Badgers seek to earn the Big Ten championship game appearance that eluded them the last two seasons.
No. 19 Arkansas
2021 finish: 9-4, No. 21.
Key games: vs. No. 23 Cincinnati, Sept. 3; vs. No. 6 Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas, Sept. 24; vs. No. 1 Alabama, Oct. 1; No. 25 BYU, Oct. 15.
Potential All-Americans: S Jalen Catalon; LB Bumper Pool.
Outlook: Arkansas had a breakout season last year with QB KJ Jefferson leading the way. The schedule is tough with two ranked nonconference opponents on top of the always difficult SEC West slate.
No. 20 Kentucky
2021 finish: 10-3, No. 18.
Key games: at Florida, Sept. 10; at No. 21 Mississippi, Oct. 1; vs. No. 3 Georgia, Nov. 19.
Potential All-Americans: QB Will Levis; OLB J.J. Weaver.
Outlook: After its second 10-win season in four years and fourth consecutive bowl victory, Kentucky faces expectations of finishing second to No. 3 Georgia in the SEC East. Levis has been mentioned as a potential top-10 NFL draft pick after a breakout junior season.
No. 21 Mississippi
2021 finish: 10-3, No. 11.
Key games: vs. No. 1 Alabama, Nov. 12; at No. 19 Arkansas, Nov. 19; vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 24.
Potential All-Americans: OL Nick Broeker; S Isheem Young.
Outlook: Ole Miss loaded up in the transfer portal to help replace QB Matt Corral and its top running backs after the Rebels’ first 10-win regular season. USC transfer Jaxson Dart and Luke Altmyer are vying for Corral’s job.
No. 22 Wake Forest
2021 finish: 11-3, No. 15.
Key games: vs. No. 4 Clemson, Sept. 24; at Louisville, Oct. 29; at No. 13 N.C. State, Nov. 5.
Potential All-Americans: WR A.T. Perry.
Outlook: The Demon Deacons return 17 starters after winning the ACC’s Atlantic Division title, reaching the league championship game and tying a program record for wins. QB Sam Hartman is out indefinitely to start the season with what the school called a non-football related condition that needed a medical procedure.
No. 23 Cincinnati
2021 finish: 13-1, No. 4.
Key games: at No. 19 Arkansas, Sept. 3; vs. Indiana, Sept. 24; at UCF, Oct. 29.
Potential All-Americans: TE Josh Whyle; S Ja’Von Hicks.
Outlook: The Bearcats are expected to take a step backward after making the College Football Playoff in 2021. Coach Luke Fickell saw a school-record nine players chosen in the NFL draft, including QB Desmond Ridder, RB Jerome Ford and All-America CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Still, Cincinnati should contend in their final season in the American Athletic Conference before moving to the Big 12.
No. 24 Houston
2021 finish: 12-2, No. 17.
Key games: at UTSA, Sept. 3; at Texas Tech, Sept. 10; at SMU, Nov. 5.
Potential All-Americans: WR Tank Dell; DE Derek Parish.
Outlook: The Cougars lost the American Athletic Conference title game to Cincinnati and return most of the key components of that team, including QB Clayton Tune. Houston is looking for a second AAC title before leaving for the Big 12 in 2023.
No. 25 BYU
2021 finish: 10-3, No. 19.
Key games: No. 10 Baylor, Sept. 10; at No. 11 Oregon, Sept. 17; No. 5 Notre Dame in Las Vegas Oct. 8; at Stanford, Nov. 26.
Potential All-Americans: OL Clark Barrington; LB Ben Bywater.
Outlook: The Cougars play one final season as an independent before joining the Big 12 Conference in 2023. The Cougars get a sneak preview by playing Baylor in the second game of the season. BYU will be led by QB Jaren Hall, who started 10 games last season and threw for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns.
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