Stewart Mandel’s college football early Top 25: Post-spring edition

I pushed my annual post-spring Top 25 rankings a bit later this year because of the transfer portal. Unfortunately, I felt I could no longer wait for Jordan Addison to make a decision. Whichever team gets the 2021 Biletnikoff winner would get a bump up the rankings (or, in the case of Texas, move into them).

Update: Addison announced on Twitter later Thursday he’s transferring to USC. My rankings have been updated accordingly.

1. Alabama (previous: No. 1)

Alabama is the clearest preseason favorite in some time. The defense, led by All-American Will Anderson and stud pass-rusher Dallas Turner, sacked Heisman winner Bryce Young seven times in the spring game. On offense, ex-Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs and ex-Georgia wide receiver Jermaine Burton made immediate impacts. Nick Saban has since added speedy Louisville WR Tyler Harrell, who averaged 29.1 yards per catch in 2021.

2. Ohio State (previous: No. 2)

We know well what we’re going to get from star Buckeyes quarterback CJ Stroud, RB TreVeyon Henderson and WRs Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr: Lots and lots of points. Spring gave the first glimpse of the defensive changes under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who runs a 4-2-5 base. Safeties Ronnie Hickman, Josh Proctor and Tanner McCallister, who played for Knowles at Oklahoma State, should all play key roles.

3. Georgia (previous: No. 3)

Georgia lost the bulk of its dominant defense, but its offense will lead the charge this fall. Former LSU five-star tight end Arik Gilbert looked the part in spring. He joins returning standout Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington to give QB Stetson Bennett his share of targets. RBs Kendall Milton and Kenny McIntosh form a solid 1-2 punch. Third-year defensive tackle Jalen Carter and cornerback Kelee Ringo are the Dawgs’ next likely first-rounders.

4. Utah (previous: No. 5)

Long accustomed to flying under the radar, Utah will enter 2022 with lofty expectations coming off its Rose Bowl run. QB Cam Rising, RB Tavion Thomas, TEs Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid, DT Junior Tafuna, CB Clark Phillips III and safety Cole Bishop all return after playing key roles for last season’s Pac-12 champions. Early enrollee RB Jaylon Glover was one of the stars of spring. New faces need to emerge at linebacker.

5. Notre Dame (previous: No. 7)

Marcus Freeman’s first team will be loaded on defense, where returning stars defensive end Isaiah Foskey and linebackers JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau will be joined by former All-American Northwestern S Brandon Joseph and spring up-and-comers DE Rylie Mills and DT Howard Cross . New starting QB Tyler Buchner gets to play behind a pair of future NFL tackles in Joe Alt and Blake Fisher and throw to standout TE Michael Mayer.

6. Texas A&M (previous: No. 6)

A&M is counting on members of its No. 1-rated recruiting class to have an impact, especially after signing four of the nation’s top five D-linemen. The QB job is still up for grabs between Haynes King and LSU transfer Max Johnson. RB Devon Achane and hybrid RB/WR Ainias Smith are proven playmakers and early enrollee WR Evan Stewart shined. S Demani Richardson will be a key veteran on defense.

7. Michigan State (previous: No. 8)

Mel Tucker has used the portal to his benefit again, replacing star RB Kenneth Walker with Wisconsin’s Jalen Berger and Colorado’s Jarek Broussard, the latter a former Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. With QB Payton Thorne and WR Jayden Reed back, it should make for another productive offense. cornerback was the defense’s downfall in MSU’s two losses last season; Georgia transfer Ameer Speed ​​should help.

8. Michigan (previous: No. 9)

The defending Big Ten champions had considerable staff and star turnover, but there’s a lot to like about the offense with QBs Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy, RBs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, WRs Cornelius Johnson and Ronnie Bell and TE Erick All. The defense has a lot more questions, but DT Mazi Smith and CB DJ Turner are proven talents. Sophomore LB Junior Colson came on late last season.

9. NC State (previous: No. 10)

The Wolfpack have not won a conference championship since 1979 but could be the ACC’s preseason favorite. QB Devin Leary threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns in the first half of NC State’s spring game. RB Jordan Houston and WR Anthony Smith look poised for breakout seasons. And the defense is full of proven standouts like LB Drake Thomas, DT Cory Durden and S Tanner Ingle.

10. Baylor (previous: No. 11)

The defending Big 12 champions lost some big names but could be sneaky-good again. The Bears will be strong on the offensive and defensive lines, the latter boosted by talented Tulsa transfer Jaxon Player. Dave Aranda felt confident enough in QB Blake Shapen to go ahead and name him the 2022 starter, leading incumbent Gerry Bohanon to transfer to USF. Coaches are high on thus-far little-used RB Sqwirl Williams.

11. Clemson (previous: No. 4)

Even with no Brent Venables, Clemson should field another dominant defense in 2022, led by the loaded front four of Xavier Thomas, Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis. Trenton Simpson is the next great linebacker. But last year’s anemic offense looked no better in the spring game. Incumbent QB DJ Uiagalelei struggled, and Dabo Swinney seems to be in no rush to anoint five-star early enrollee Cade Klubnik.

12. Oregon (previous: No. 17)

If the spring game was any indication, new coach Dan Lanning and OC Kenny Dillingham plan to let Auburn transfer QB Bo Nix air it out. They added UCLA transfer WR Chase Cota, and sophomore slot Seven McGee was a breakout performer. RBs Sean Dollars and Western Kentucky transfer Noah Whittington impressed. The defense, led by LB Noah Sewell, is talented but needs to be more consistent.

13. USC (previous: No. 20)

USC is effectively a brand new team, having replaced 41 players from the 2021 roster. QB Caleb Williams showed off his talents in spring, and experienced RBs Travis Dye (Oregon) and Austin Jones (Stanford) upgraded that room. Now enter reigning Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison from Pitt as the cherry on top. But the Trojans’ defense is still lacking for elite talent. LB Shane Lee (Alabama) and CB Mekhi Blackmon (Colorado) were big pickups.

14. Ole Miss (previous: 12)

Lane Kiffin has added a bunch of impact transfers. Ex-USC QB Jaxson Dart ended spring still competing for the job with Luke Altmyer, but TE Michael Trigg, also from USC, has looked dominant, and RBs Zach Evans (TCU) and Ulysses Bentley (SMU) are proven. Kiffin recently landed ex-UCF WR Jaylon Robinson. The defense has more unanswered questions, though pass-rusher Cedric Johnson is a budding star.

15. Tennessee (previous: No. 14)

Josh Heupel should have himself another explosive offense, led by QB Hendon Hooker, WR Cedric Tillman and RB Jabari Small. Third-year WR Jalin Hyatt should take on a bigger role, and Jimmy Calloway showed off his big-play ability in the Vols’ last scrimmage. LBs Jeremy Banks and Aaron Beasley and edge Byron Young lead a defense that gave up too many big plays late in some of their biggest games.

16. Wake Forest (previous: No. 18)

Dave Clawson’s offense will very likely light up the scoreboard again behind standout QB Sam Hartman, WRs AT Perry and Donavon Greene and a veteran O-line that returns intact. But they won’t likely win 11 games again unless their defense improves under new DC Brad Lambert. DEs Rondell Bothroyd and Jasheen Davis can be disruptors up front but the linebackers and secondary need to allow fewer big plays.

17. State of Oklahoma (previous: No. 15)

The Cowboys lost a lot of veterans from last season’s top-five defense, but DE Collin Oliver burst on the scene as a freshman, while D-linemen Tyler Lacy and Trace Ford (who missed last season) and S Jason Taylor II are proven playmakers . QB Spencer Sanders is back for a fourth season as the starter. Mike Gundy is counting on RB Dominic Richardson to take on a workhorse role at an otherwise depleted position.

18. Pittsburgh (previous: No. 13)

Losing Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison certainly hurt the Panthers, but the defending ACC champions return 16 starters and added USC QB Kedon Slovis and Akron Freshman All-American WR transfer Konata Mumpfield. The defense returns All-ACC picks DT Calijah Kancey, LB SirVocea Dennis and S Brandon Hill. Inexperienced LBs Bangally Kamara and Solomon DeShields made their case for larger roles.

19. Houston (previous: No. 23)

I was too low previously on the Cougars, 12-2 last season. QB Clayton Tune is a fourth-year starter. Top pass-catcher Nathaniel “Tank” Dell was joined this spring by transfers and impressive early enrollee Matthew Golden. Houston star a big blow, though, when RB Alton McCaskill tore his ACL. The Cougars fielded a top-15 defense last season and bring back standouts middle linebacker Donavan Mutin and S Gervarrius Owen.

20. Arkansas (previous: No. 16)

Arkansas should again be strong at running the ball, and QB KJ Jefferson is an underrated passer, but it’s unclear who his go-to receivers will be post-Treylon Burks. Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood is a possibility. Alabama transfer LB Drew Sanders looked like he’ll have a big impact this fall, but the Razorbacks don’t have many proven pass rushers. Star S Jalen Catalon was back and healthy this spring.

21. Kentucky (previous: No. 19)

QB Will Levis was a top-five pick in Dane Brugler’s early 2023 mock draft. He’ll miss star WR Wan’Dale Robinson, but Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson fit in nicely. The offensive line has questions. Kentucky’s defense, led by LBs JJ Weaver and DeAndre Square, should be strong up front. Mark Stoops recently brought in transfers Keidron Smith (Ole Miss) and Zion Childress (Texas State) to shore up the secondary.

22. Minnesota (previous: No. 21)

QB Tanner Morgan is benefitting from the return of OC Kirk Ciarrocca after the Gophers barely tried to pass last season, but star RB Mohamed Ibrahim should be the focal point if healthy. PJ Fleck said third-year S Michael Dixon had a strong spring. Minnesota has a lot to replace on defense. Transfer CBs Beanie Bishop (Western Kentucky) and Ryan Stapp (Abilene Christian) made an impression.

23. Cincinnati (previous: No. 22)

It’s a lot of transition for Luke Fickell’s team after losing four-year QB Desmond Ridder and eight other NFL draft picks, but Fickell got a big transfer pickup last month in LSU RB Corey Kiner, a Cincinnati native. He’ll help fill the void left by Jerome Ford. Ben Bryant and Evan Prater are still competing for the QB job. CBs Leroy Bowers and Arquon Bush looked good, an encouraging sign after losing stars Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant.

24. Iowa (previous: Not ranked)

The Hawkeyes have the makings of another stingy defense, led by LB Jack Campbell, CB Riley Moss and a veteran defensive line. But Iowa got to 10 wins last season thanks in part to a staggering 25 interceptions, not likely replicable. The offense can’t be so inept again. TE Sam LaPorta and WRs Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson are good targets. It remains to be seen whether QB Spencer Petras keeps his job.

25. BYU (previous: NR)

QB Jaren Hall is back. Buzzy WRs Chase Roberts and Kody Epps should see bigger roles, and Cal transfer RB Chris Brooks will help fill the shoes of Tyler Allgeier. The defense will benefit from the return of injured LBs Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili, who join leading returning tackler Ben Bywater in a deep position group. Vanderbilt transfer CB Gabe Jeudy-Lally gives the Cougars a nice third option at cornerback.

Just missed: Oklahoma, Wisconsin, LSU, Miami, Texas Tech

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Getty, Emilee Chinn, James Gilbert, Carmen Mandato)

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