People, we are less than two weeks away from real football. In 12 days, games will be on television, and will be played in various parts of America — not just Birmingham — and I assume players can keep their scholarships if they don’t want to eat chicken salad at the hotel.
With the bands tuning up and the stadiums stocking supplies, it’s time to engage in a tradition that still has yet to be extinguished from college football: speculation. It’s time for Redditors, message board posters, and @BamaKickRocks6969 to get those hate-filled fingers pumping away as the AP Preseason top-25 poll has been released.
The top of the poll doesn’t look much different than it does most years. Alabama will begin the season in first place for the seventh time since Nick Saban took over the program in 2007. The rest of the top five looks familiar, but the order is intriguing. Also, it appears that Brian Kelly will be starting from the bottom, because LSU is currently unranked.
There are some other intriguing decisions that voters made, especially regarding Clemson, Georgia, and USC.
Georgia put on a dominating performance from pillar to post to win its first national championship since 1980. They laid waste to their schedule last season, not allowing a team to score more than 17 points against them until the SEC Championship Game. A game that Alabama had to win to make the College Football Playoffs, and was nothing but an exercise in conference pride for Georgia. The Bulldogs lost, but avenged it in the National Championship game with a 33-18 victory.
After all that, Georgia begins the season ranked third. Only 10 starters are returning for 2022 — none from that demolition crew of a defensive line — which reasonably played a part in ranking both Alabama and Ohio State ahead of Georgia. However, while Georgia has some inexperience what the program is not lacking is talent. Their 2020 recruiting class was ranked the best in America by both 24/7 Sports and Rivals. Jalen Carter was a five-star recruit in that class, and expect him to pick up where Jordan Davis left off. Georgia appears ready on paper to plug talent in where it left for the NFL, let’s see if it works out on the field.
Dabo Swinney’s crew suffered quite a setback in 2021. They finished the season 10-3, and failed to make the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2014. D.J. Uiagalelei, was a disappointment in his first year as Clemson’s starter at QB. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and Clemson didn’t score more than 21 points against a Power 5 opponent until its eighth game of the season.
Uiagalelei’s rough year hasn’t publicly shaken Swinney’s faith in the No. 1 overall ranked pro-style quarterback coming out of high school in 2020. It hasn’t shaken the voters’ confidence either, because they ranked Clemson No. 4. Maybe they’re expecting Uiagalelei to play much better in 2022, or they believe that the Tigers’ defensive front can make up for whatever he lacks. It could be the best in the country, returning its entire defensive line and some reserves. Georgia showed last season what a dominant defensive line can do for a program that doesn’t have a spectacular quarterback.
Still, at least Stetson Bennett IV could run a functional offense. Last season, Uiagalelei completed 55.6 percent of his passes for only nine touchdowns. In Clemson’s bowl win against Iowa State, he threw for 187 yards on 32 attempts with no touchdowns and an interception. No defense can propel that into the College Football Playoffs
In 2021, USC had its worst season in 30 years. Not since Charles Barkley wore a Philadelphia 76ers jersey had the Trojans put up such a poor performance. They were 4-8, 3-6 in conference play.
The Clay Helton era was brought to an abrupt end last season, as he was fired two games into the season, with a 1-1 record. Clearly, it didn’t help matters but it did leave the door open for one of the best recruiters of football talent from the state of California to surprisingly slide into the job last November: Lincoln Riley. His name is always floated around when NFL coaching positions open, but this time he left Norman to coach at a program that hasn’t found its footing since it was punished for the Reggie Bush scandal.
Even a coach as successful as Riley would appear to be in for a long haul with a program that failed to secure a top-60 recruiting class in 2020. To attempt to remedy that he brought reinforcements with him, namely Caleb Williams. As a true freshman, he was an electric current from the moment he stepped onto the field at the Cotton Bowl in arguably the best Red River Rivalry game of all time. He is one of 13 players to transfer to USC this offseason, and the voters must think that is enough to turn the program around because the Trojans are ranked 14th.