College football rankings are making the rounds as the preseason nears fall practice and kickoff across the country.
Phil Steele is known as one of the most accurate predictions in the game, especially when it comes to his pre-season leaderboard predictions.
Steele says he bases his preseason top 40 on how he thinks teams will end up in the final rankings at the end of the season after bowl games and the playoffs.
40. State of Fresno. Jeff Tedford is back to replace Kalen DeBoer as head coach and he brings Jake Haener back into center after a 10-3 season that included a win at UCLA.
39. App Status. Shawn Clark returns with a 10-win team from a year ago, but receives North Carolina and moves to Texas A&M to start this season.
38. State of Kansas. Deuce Vaughn is one of the top defensive backs in college football, and Nebraska transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez is coming over to fuel that offense.
37.Minnesota. Tanner Morgan is back in QB and leadback Mo Ibrahim is returning from injury, both reuniting with offensive play-caller Kirk Ciarrocca for a push into the Big Ten West.
36. Arkansas. A surprise 9-win team from the SEC West last fall, but now they have a tough non-conference list including Cincinnati and BYU in addition to their ever-strict division schedule.
35. Kentucky. The solid No. 2 team in the SEC East bringing back several top playmakers including quarterback Will Levis.
34. Houston. This could be the year the Cougs overtake Cincinnati in the AAC after a 12-win season and a year before moving to the Big 12.
33.Louisville. Just six wins for the Cardinals a year ago, but this is a pivotal season for coach Scott Satterfield, who brings Malik Cunningham back to QB in addition to some key skills and has made strides down the recruiting path.
32.Florida. Billy Napier is tasked with getting the Gators back into competition and improving recruiting in the state. First things first: a big date in Week 1 at home against Pac-12 champion Utah.
31. State of Boise. Andy Avalos won 7 games in his freshman season on the blue turf, with all his losses of 11 points or less, and is looking forward to games against Oregon State, Fresno State and BYU.
30. Ole Fraulein. Lots of turnover on an offense that ranked in college football’s top 10 last fall, but Lane Kiffin was working on the portal again and could be undefeated through October.
29th Air Force. This team won 10 games, kept all three losses within a touchdown, and beat Louisville in a bowl last year.
28.UCLA. Chip Kelly is getting his two top offensive figures back — Dorian Thompson-Robinson at QB and Zach Charbonnet at RB — but this team still had some ugly losses last fall.
27. Tennessee. This was college football’s 9th offense a year ago and brings Hendon Hooker at quarterback and Cedric Tillman at depth. Now Josh Heupel needs to patch a defense that allows 34 ppg against SEC teams.
26.BYU. Jaren Hall was more than good enough to replace Zach Wilson since the Cougars won 10 games last fall, but now he must replace Tyler Allgeier, who accounted for nearly half of BYU’s touchdowns.
25. Cincinnati. Nine blue-chip playmakers who led UC to the college football playoffs are gone. Now we’ll see exactly what Luke Fickell can do if he has to start over.
24. Wachwald. Sam Hartman is back to lead that elite offense, but the Deacons’ shot at the ACC depends on how well that 91-ranked defense improves.
23. Michigan State. Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed are back to push the ball down, but Mel Tucker needs to improve his pass defense at number 111 if he wants to run in the Big Ten.
22. Penn State. Supersenior Sean Clifford is returning to center, but there are big questions in the backcourt and whether this team can maintain their defensive gains.
21. UAB. Bill Clark revived that program, won 9 games and beat BYU in a bowl a year ago, but is withdrawing due to a back condition. In strides, Bryant Vincent is set to keep the ship afloat after the Blazers won the C-USA two of the last three years.
20. Iowa. This should be a solid defensive team again, but the Hawkeyes’ shot at the B1G title depends on how well Kirk Ferentz can get this dying offense moving.
19.Wisconsin. A Big Ten West favorite, the Badgers bring back one of college football’s best defenses and a young prodigy in Braelon Allen, leading the ball, but Graham Mertz still hasn’t proven himself as a starting quarterback.
18.Texas. Steve Sarkisian better wins more than five games in Year 2 after landing Generation QB prospect Quinn Ewers and FCS linebacker star Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey in the portal. Bijan Robinson, college football’s top rusher, returns along with lead receiver Xavier Worthy.
17.UCF. The Knights are the highest-ranked Group of 5 team in Steele’s rankings and have a real shot at a New Year’s Bowl under coach Gus Malzahn.
16.USC. Perhaps the biggest question in college football. No other team has received as much preseason hype yet is so untried on the field. The ingredients are there, but Lincoln Riley has to put them all together.
15. State of Oklahoma. College football’s No. 3 defense coach Jim Knowles is gone, but Spencer Sanders is back under center along with some elite edge rushers to keep the pokes in the Big 12 race.
14. Baylor. Dave Aranda led the Bears from two wins to a Big 12 title and a Sugar Bowl win, and now has enough experience to keep that momentum going as the media voted this team the preseason champion for the first time ever.
13. NC state. Just four points kept this team from going unbeaten in ACC games, including a win over No. 9 Clemson. Devin Leary is back to take this offense to the conference dispute.
12.Miami. Mario Cristobal inherits Tyler Van Dyke as quarterback and some talent in the secondary school, but makes an early move to Texas A&M before making the ACC roster.
11. Pittsburgh. Steele keeps the Panthers high despite losing Kenny Pickett to the NFL and lead receiver Jordan Addison to USC. Kedon Slovis is stepping in for Pickett with a few skill options to keep this team going through the fall.
10.Oregon. Dan Lanning comes into play with a big opener against Georgia, whose historic defense he used to coach, and some serious defensive plays in a Ducks roster that includes Auburn transfer Bo Nix as quarterback.
9.Texas A&M. Jimbo just signed the highest-rated recruiting class in college football history and may finally be in a position to make a playoff push. It could depend on a big road trip to Alabama in October.
8. Oklahoma. Another blueblood in transition, new head coach Brent Venables, is stepping in as college football’s most respected defensive strategist. New OC Jeff Lebby meets quarterback Dillon Gabriel again in an exciting offense.
7. Notre Dame. Marcus Freeman was promoted suddenly when Brian Kelly left ship and already has an elite first-year recruiting class. The Irish Open in Ohio State, however, can still build a playoff resume there with a loss.
6. Utah. The reigning Pac-12 champions are bringing back Cam Rising as quarterback and Tavion Thomas, running the ball, but still have work to do to replace key defensive pieces.
5.Michigan. Fresh from their first College Football Playoff bid, the Wolverines need to replace key playmakers but give back enough to stay in the Big Ten race all year.
4. Klemson. Returning to the playoffs depends on DJ Uiagalelei living up to his 5-star quarterback pedigree and breathing some life into this offense, which was the second-worst in the ACC a year ago, to capitalize on his elite defensive unit .
3. Georgia. The defending college football champion has some holes to patch in that wild defense but has recruited more than well enough to put in another run in the playoffs. Not to mention his elite skill targets on the outside that Stetson Bennett can dish out to.
2. State of Ohio. College football’s #1 offensive a year ago returns with its Heisman finalist quarterback, lead receiver and top rusher. But the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes depend on how well Jim Knowles tightens the screws defensively.
1. Alabama. Year after year, the Crimson Tide are the favorites to go all the way while Nick Saban is around, and that doesn’t change as long as he’s there. Bama returns most of his elite defense, in addition to Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young, paired with some elite transfer pickups on either side of the ball.
(with Phil Steele)
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