You know college football is just around the corner when we are overreacting to the release of the preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. That’s exactly what went down on Monday as we started our week with the first look at how the coaches cast their collective ballots for the start of the 2022 college football season. Alabama, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, took the top spot in the ranking and few would care to argue that placement. But Penn State being left entirely out of the top 25 may have caused some commotion around these parts.
Over the years, I have had some personal gripes with the coaches poll on a nearly weekly basis, and I do not see myself getting over it too soon. But perhaps the season will prove the coaches to be more accurate than I care to give credit when all is said and done. But there are some minor issues to be addressed with the release of this year’s preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll.
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Starting with a look inside the top 10, the coaches are definitely high on defending Big Ten champion Michigan (No. 6) and Notre Dame (No. 5). A preseason top 10 ranking for Michigan was to be expected as the Wolverines are fresh off a Big Ten title and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. And Michigan should be a pretty darn good team once again in 2022! But the biggest reason why Michigan may finish the season in the top 10 will be heavily reliant on the schedule that features no stiff challenges in non-conference replay but does include road trips to Iowa and Ohio State. And considering the talent that is lost from last season’s roster, especially on defense, navigating through that schedule and getting some close games going their way as often last year feels rather unlikely.
Notre Dame could struggle to get out of September without two losses with tricky road games at Ohio State and North Carolina helping to start off the season. And considering the Irish will still have to play Clemson and USC, a four-loss season is not at all out of the question. And that won’t be close to a No. 5 ranking at the end of the season.
The preseason polls can sometimes follow the momentum of the previous season a little too strongly as well. Case in point, Michigan State (No. 14), and Pittsburgh (No. 16). The Spartans had a great thing going last season but whether or not that can carry on for another season remains to be seen. And Pitt lost its Heisman Trophy-finalist quarterback to the NFL and its Biletnikoff Award wide receiver to USC. And the schedule? Well, the Panthers could be off to an 0-2 start just as likely as they could be 2-0 with games against West Virginia and Tennessee to start the season. Both games are at home, but the Panthers will have to show the offensive firepower can keep going without two monsters from the offense in 2021 available.
A team ranked too low? Ole Miss feels like a good bet. The Rebels could be a fun team to watch this season. Ole Miss coming in at No. 24 to start the season feels like a mild low-balling of what Ole Miss could do this season. With the schedule Ole Miss has, the Rebels could potentially be walking into LSU in late October with a record of 7-0.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that a couple of other teams are generating some preseason buzz. Miami, with a new head coach in former Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal (former Canes coach Manny Diaz is now Penn State’s defensive coordinator, of course), is ranked No. 17 by the coaches after a 7-5 season in 2021. And Texas, coming off a 5-7 season last fall, is ranked No. 18. The Longhorns even received one first-place vote. Let’s chalk that up to the Manning influence, even though Arch Manning won’t be playing for the Longhorns until 2023.
You can review the full USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll here and weigh in on what teams are overranked or underranked.
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