College football Top 25: Who can emerge from teams ranked 11-25?

·13 min read

The college football season is upon us and so is our annual Top 25. This year we're revealing the teams from No. 11 to 25 at once before publishing each of our top 10 in separate posts in the days leading up to Week 1.

Here's a look at the teams we have ranked outside the top 10 and why we think they're among the best in the country entering the 2022 campaign.

25. Texas

  • 2021 record: 5-7 (3-6 Big 12)

  • National title odds: +4000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

The Longhorns’ offseason of optimism took a hit over the weekend with knee injuries to two projected offensive starters. Wyoming transfer WR Isaiah Neyor and OL Junior Angilau both reportedly suffered significant knee injuries in fall camp. Neyor was Wyoming’s leading receiver and caught 12 TDs in 2021; he was set to be the complementary receiver to Xavier Worthy.

There’s still plenty of reasons to believe Texas will be much better in 2022. Quinn Ewers should be a significant upgrade at QB — he was named the starter Friday — and Bijan Robinson is one of the best running backs in football. Improving a pass rush that’s accumulated just 37 sacks over the past 22 games is imperative. If Texas can get after the quarterback it could realistically get back to the Big 12 title game.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson (5) is one of the best in the country, and he'll play a big role in the Longhorns' quest for a rebound 2022 season. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Texas running back Bijan Robinson (5) is one of the best in the country, and he'll play a big role in the Longhorns' quest for a rebound 2022 season. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

24. Kentucky

  • 2021 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

Kentucky has reached the 10-win mark twice in the past four seasons. The Wildcats had only reached double-digit wins twice previously in program history. Needless to say, Mark Stoops is doing a fantastic job. But how will Kentucky respond to heightened expectations?

A lot of those expectations center on QB Will Levis, who is getting first-round NFL hype. Levis is an exceptional athlete with superb arm strength, but he can struggle with accuracy. How will he fare with do-it-all receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and offensive coordinator Liam Coen now in the NFL?

UK loses a lot on both the offensive and defensive lines, but those units have typically been strengths for the Wildcats. The biggest question is finding consistent pass-catchers for Levis. That could be the difference between a team fighting for a bowl berth and a team getting back to 10 wins.

23. Houston

  • 2021 record: 12-2 (8-0 AAC)

  • National title odds: +25000

  • Over/under: 9 wins

Houston won five more games in 2021 than it had in the previous two seasons combined and returns QB Clayton Tune. He threw for over 3,500 yards and 30 TDs with just 10 interceptions in 2021. RBs Alton McCaskill (961 yards) and Ta'Zhawn Henry (524) are also back, along with leading receiver Tank Dell (1,329 yards). The Houston offense could be explosive.

The defense was a big reason for the Cougars' step forward in 2021. Houston gave up just 20 points per game after allowing over 30 per game in each of the last three seasons. Six starters are back on that side of the ball and the Cougars avoid both Cincinnati and UCF in AAC play. Another trip to the conference title game is very possible.

22. Miami

  • 2021 record: 7-5 (5-3 ACC)

  • National title odds: +6600

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

Expectations are through the roof with Mario Cristobal now leading his alma mater, but is Miami ready to take the next step?

Beyond Cristobal, the optimism begins with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who had an excellent redshirt freshman season and should be the beneficiary of a better rushing attack this year. Cristobal has a track record of coaching strong offensive line play and Jaylan Knighton and Henry Parrish are a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Receiver is a question mark, but veteran tight end Will Mallory should be a reliable option for Van Dyke.

On defense, the secondary is promising but Cristobal had to heavily dip into the transfer portal to try to bolster the defensive line. If that group is up to the task, Miami has the potential to win the Coastal. A Sept. 17 trip to Texas A&M will serve as a major early-season test.

21. Iowa

  • 2021 record: 10-4 (7-2 Big Ten)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

Iowa’s defense carried the team on its back on the way to a 10-win season in 2021. Will the offense do its part in 2022?

The Hawkeyes were buoyed by turnovers a season ago. Iowa finished +12 on the year and lost three of the four games it had more turnovers than its opponent. The defense returns seven starters, including linebackers Jack Campbell and Seth Benson, but turnover luck isn’t always consistent from year to year. Iowa’s defense could be just as good in 2022, but simply force fewer turnovers.

That’s where offensive improvement comes in. Iowa averaged just 4.7 yards per play a season ago and the run game was awful at just 3.4 yards per carry. A better season from Spencer Petras would go a long way to opening up lanes for Gavin Williams and the run game. Petras completed less than 60% of his passes in 2021 and threw just 10 TDs and nine interceptions.

20. Pittsburgh

  • 2021 record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

What can Pitt do for an encore after winning its first ACC title?

With Kenny Pickett to the NFL, Jordan Addison to USC and Mark Whipple now at Nebraska, the offense is going to look pretty different. Pat Narduzzi wasn’t a fan of Whipple’s pass-happy approach and brought in Frank Cignetti Jr. to implement a more balanced system. And to replace Pickett, Pitt added USC transfer Kedon Slovis. Slovis is a downgrade at QB, but with a really solid group of backs and receivers and last year’s line intact, this offense should still be quite proficient, even if it’s not as explosive.

Defensively, there’s a lot to like. Narduzzi favors a really aggressive style that can result in allowing big plays, but it also causes an abundance of negative plays and turnovers. With the talent returning, this can be one of the better defenses in the ACC. And that unit may have to carry more weight with Pickett and Addison gone from the offense.

19. Arkansas

  • 2021 record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)

  • National title odds: +8000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

Arkansas looks to build on its 2021 success with seven starters back on offense and a defense bolstered through the transfer portal. QB KJ Jefferson was very good in his first full season as a starter in 2021. He completed two-thirds of his passes for 21 TDs and four interceptions and led the team in rushing with 664 yards. Arkansas needs to find a receiver to replace Treylon Burks, however. He had 66 catches for 1,104 yards and 11 TDs. Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood could be the guy that replaces Burks.

Defensively, Arkansas added DL Landon Jackson from LSU, LB Drew Sanders from Alabama and DB Latavious Brini from Georgia, among others. LB Bumper Pool is back for another season after notching 125 tackles and Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher will anchor the secondary.

Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool returns after an All-SEC season in 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool returns after an All-SEC season in 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

18. Michigan State

  • 2021 record: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)

  • National title odds: +12500

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

In last year’s surprising 11-win season, Mel Tucker and the MSU staff hit it big in the transfer portal, particularly with running back Kenneth Walker III. Walker’s big-play ability was a huge difference-maker on an otherwise average offense.

MSU will again rely on an array of portal additions on both sides of the ball, including the duo of Jarek Broussard (Colorado) and Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) to replace Walker. Elsewhere on offense, QB Payton Thorne and WR Jayden Reed are back, but the line is a major question mark. MSU was one of the worst at defending the pass in 2021 but transfers like pass rusher Khris Bogle (Florida) and cornerback Ameer Speed (Georgia) could help bolster that unit.

Will the staff hit a home run with its portal scouting again? Or will there be a few misses and, in turn, some regression for a team fighting for position in a loaded Big Ten East?

17. Cincinnati

  • 2021 record: 13-1 (8-0 AAC)

  • National title odds: +15000

  • Over/under: 9 wins

Cincinnati is tasked with replacing a lot of stars after becoming the first non-Power Five team to make the College Football Playoff. Leading tackler Joel Dublanko is gone in addition to safety Bryan Cook and lockdown corners Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant. But linebackers Deshawn Pace and Ivan Pace return, and S Ja'Von Hicks anchors the secondary.

Evan Prater and former Eastern Michigan QB Ben Bryant are competing to succeed Desmond Ridder and Ryan Montgomery is in line to start after the departure of RB Jerome Ford. WR Alec Pierce is gone too, but WR Tyler Scott and TE Josh Whyle return. Cincinnati opens with Arkansas in Week 1 but could be favored in 10 or more games.

16. Penn State

  • 2021 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten)

  • National title odds: +8000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

Penn State was ranked No. 4 at one point last season but was never the same after QB Sean Clifford was injured at Iowa. PSU finished 7-6 with five of those losses coming by a single-digit margin.

The lack of a running game was a big issue, leaving a banged-up Clifford a sitting duck behind a leaky offensive line. PSU has more depth on the line in 2022, but offensive line play has been a constant issue during James Franklin’s tenure. The addition of five-star freshman RB Nick Singleton could provide a jolt to the running game and the receiving group led by Parker Washington is solid even after the departure of Jahan Dotson to the NFL.

Defensively, PSU is strong in the secondary and has good depth up front but is looking for somebody to emerge as a top-end pass rusher. Linebacker is the biggest question mark. If the Nittany Lions win road games at Purdue and Auburn in Weeks 1 and 3, they could be back in the national picture headed into an Oct. 15 trip to Michigan.

15. BYU

  • 2021 record: 10-3

  • National title odds: +20000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

The Cougars' entire starting defense is back from a season ago. That could mean a step up after BYU allowed 71 more yards and nearly 10 more points per game than it did facing an admittedly easier schedule in 2020. With games against Baylor and Oregon early on the schedule, that defensive experience may be key.

QB Jaren Hall is one of eight starters back on offense after throwing for 20 TDs and completing 64% of his passes. Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney are a great receiving tandem, but the Cougars need to replace the production lost from star RB Tyler Allgeier. He spurred BYU's offense with over 1,600 yards rushing and 23 TDs a year ago. Cal transfer Chris Brooks is in line to take his spot as BYU's top rusher.

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) is one of eight returning starters on the Cougars' offense this season. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)
BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) is one of eight returning starters on the Cougars' offense this season. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

14. Wisconsin

  • 2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)

  • National title odds: +8000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

Even after a disastrous 1-3 start, Wisconsin nearly won the Big Ten West in 2021. Ultimately, the Badgers were doomed by a lackluster offense. Though Braelon Allen emerged as the program’s next star at running back, Graham Mertz and the passing game consistently underwhelmed.

And unless there are some dramatic changes offensively, Wisconsin will count on its defense to lead the way yet again in 2022. Jim Leonhard has proven to be one of the top defensive coordinators in the country, and Bobby Engram is now in place as UW’s offensive coordinator. Though he struggled with turnovers, Mertz improved as the season progressed, but he’ll need competent targets to emerge on the outside for the Badgers to get back to Indianapolis. Perhaps Engram will bring some more creative elements to the passing game.

13. Baylor

  • 2021 record: 12-2 (7-2 Big 12)

  • National title odds: +8000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

Blake Shapen is set to be Baylor’s starting QB after beating out Gerry Bohanon in the spring. Shapen started the Big 12 title game, yet the offense he’s running in 2022 will look a lot different than the one he ran at the end of the season. Baylor needs to replace leading rusher Abram Smith and wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, though the offensive line should be very good again.

The defense also needs to replace key cogs like S Jalen Pitre and LB Terrel Bernard. But there’s no reason to think that a Dave Aranda defense is going to suddenly be bad. Baylor should have one of the strongest front sevens in the conference. The schedule is sneakily tough, with games vs. BYU, Oklahoma and Texas all on the road.

12. USC

  • 2021 record: 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +2000

  • Over/under: 9.5 wins

There’s excitement back at USC after the school’s monumental hire of Lincoln Riley. Riley, who had a 55-10 record in five seasons at Oklahoma, hit the ground running to revamp the USC roster after the Trojans went just 4-8 in 2021. But will USC be able to live up to the hype in Riley’s first season?

The fact that he brought QB Caleb Williams with him from Oklahoma will certainly help. Williams was a five-star recruit who took over as starting quarterback midway through the 2021 season. He looked the part and should be a star right away in the Pac-12. Other transfers like WR Jordan Addison and RB Travis Dye should also make an immediate impact, but there are questions about the offensive line and defense as a whole. The defensive depth chart was also replenished with transfers, but they aren’t the caliber of Williams and company on offense. The Trojans should be among the better teams in the Pac-12, but any CFP aspirations feel far-fetched.

Quarterback Caleb Williams transferred from Oklahoma to USC this season, and he brings sky-high expectations with him to Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Quarterback Caleb Williams transferred from Oklahoma to USC this season, and he brings sky-high expectations with him to Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

11. Oklahoma

  • 2021 record: 11-2 (7-2 Big 12)

  • National title odds: +5000

  • Over/under: 9 wins

The Big 12 favorites enter the first season of the post-Riley era with another new face at quarterback. Former UCF QB Dillon Gabriel is now in Norman and the likely starter after he missed most of 2021 with a shoulder injury. Gabriel was very good in his time with the Knights and has familiarity with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby’s offense from their time together in Orlando.

The defense will also look different with Brent Venables back in Norman. OU got lit up at times by opposing QBs in 2021, though the Sooners allowed fewer than 215 passing yards in each of its two conference losses. Replenishing a front seven that loses Nik Bonitto and Perrion Winfrey is a big task, though a young secondary returns three starters that should be even better in 2022.