Michigan State, OSU ranked ahead of Michigan in ESPN's latest 'Way-too-early' top 25

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Michigan State wide receiver Jayden Reed, left, celebrates a touchdown with quarterback Payton Thorne during the second half of the 31-21 win over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021.
Michigan State wide receiver Jayden Reed, left, celebrates a touchdown with quarterback Payton Thorne during the second half of the 31-21 win over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021.

Rankings don't really matter, at least not in May for a college football season that starts in late August.

The season plays itself out every year, but that doesn't mean they aren't fun to look at and ESPN's latest 'Way-too-early Top 25' may ruffle some feathers in Ann Arbor.

The worldwide leader in sports released its updated rankings now that spring practice is over and the transfer portal, not that it ever stops, has slowed down for the most part.

Alabama holds the top spot, followed by Ohio State — the top-ranked Big Ten team — at No. 2. Two more Big Ten teams have cracked the top 10 as well.

Michigan State at No. 9. Michigan at No. 10.

Cue the audible gasp.

The Wolverines of course, come off a season where they won their first Big Ten title since 2004 and made the program's first appearance in the College Football Playoff, finishing 12-2.

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson lifts the Big Ten championship trophy after the 42-3 win over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson lifts the Big Ten championship trophy after the 42-3 win over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Indianapolis.

They return eight starters on offense — including quarterback Cade McNamara, though there is still expected to be a position battle with his backup J.J McCarthy —  but just four on defense, after losing key departures like defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (drafted No. 2 overall by the Detroit Lions), David Ojabo and Daxton Hill.

ESPN also cited coaching turnover among the reasons Michigan is slated No. 10.

"The Wolverines will have to reload, as well, after losing the heart and soul of the team that won a Big Ten championship and reached a CFP semifinal," wrote Mark Schlabah. "Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald returned to the Baltimore Ravens, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis took a job at the University of Miami.

"The quarterback battle between returning starter Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy didn't materialize this spring, as McCarthy didn't throw in practice because of soreness in his shoulder. (Olu) Oluwatimi, a transfer from Virginia, was working as the No. 1 center.".

The Spartans finished third in the Big Ten East at 11-2, the program's best record since they made the CFP in 2015. Notably, they topped Michigan in East Lansing, 37-33.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs against Michigan defensive back R.J. Moten (6) during the second half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III (9) runs against Michigan defensive back R.J. Moten (6) during the second half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.

The Spartans return five players on offense including quarterback Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed, though they do lose the nation's top running back from a season ago, Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker.

On the other side, MSU returns nine starters from a defense that ranked in the top 15 in the nation against the rush but was dead last against the pass.

"After posting the biggest turnaround in school history, the Spartans spent the spring searching for Walker's replacement and filling in key transfers on defense," Schlabach said. "Berger has already transferred from Wisconsin, and Broussard, who ran for 1,556 yards the past two seasons at Colorado, is expected to enroll in May.

"(Brian) Greene, a Washington State transfer, might be able to help at guard or center. Two other transfers — (Jacoby) Windmon (UNLV) and (Aaron) Brule (Mississippi State) — started at inside linebacker in the spring game. (Ameer) Speed, a Georgia transfer, was one of the starting cornerbacks."

The Wolverines host the Spartans in Ann Arbor, on Saturday, Oct. 29.

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan is behind MSU, OSU in ESPN's preseason football rankings.