Destiny can change in college football at very short notice.
Programs that were national championship contenders are being knocked out of the running, while those forgotten by history come back and give a nudge.
Last season proved that even a freshman can crack the code and make the college football playoffs. But you have to have the talent, the coaching, the schedule and the luck.
Which teams are on the rise? And which ones will take a fall?
Previous placement: Unrated
Record 2021: 5-7
Schedule Strength: 18
We’ll stop saying Texas is for a moment the backthe worn-out cliche that has become an offseason joke since the Longhorns last played for the national championship.
Texas have won 10 games in a season just once in the past 12 seasons since losing to Alabama in the Rose Bowl for the BCS title, and Steve Sarkisian has won just five in his debut season, including a home loss to Kansas.
But Sark and his staff have been aggressive on the college football transfer portal this offseason, signing former 5-star quarterback recruit Quinn Ewers, cornerback Ryan Watts, receiver Agiye Hall, tight end Jahleel Billingsley and linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey.
Coupled with existing offensive skills in leadback Bijan Robinson and receiver Xavier Worthy, the Longhorns shouldn’t have too much trouble scoring goals. But this team that gets anywhere depends on developing their pass rush, deep field air defense and pass protection.
Set for burglary: Pittsburgh
Previous placement: #13
Record 2021: 11-3
Schedule Strength: 54
A year ago, Kenny Pickett defined the quarterback position and broke a slew of Pitt passing records formerly owned by none other than Dan Marino.
Pickett teamed with Biletnikoff wide receiver Jordan Addison to win 11 games and the ACC championship behind 8th overall attacking in college football.
But the Panthers lost those two key offensive ingredients after Pickett went to the NFL and Addison, whose 17 TD catches led the nation, switched to USC.
Matters aren’t entirely lost after quarterback Kedon Slovis made the move this offseason, and he’ll have Jared Wayne on the rim and Israel Abanikanda working off the backfield.
But that offense marks yet another transition after its mastermind, coordinator Mark Whipple, departed for Nebraska.
Previous placement: Unrated
Record 2021: 3-9
Schedule Strength: 51
Scott Frost, a Nebraska legend when he played quarterback on the national title team in 1997, has yet to look back on a successful season at his alma mater as head coach.
A year ago, the Cornhuskers lost all nine games in single digits, including narrow home losses to Ohio State and Michigan.
Nebraska has won just five of 25 games decided by possession under Frost, a situation that calls for experienced quarterback play.
And that could have been Frost after signing Casey Thompson from Texas, who led the Big 12 in TD passes a year ago. Along with Mark Whipple, Thompson and the Huskers should be more aggressive and try to push the ball down.
That’s just one of nearly 20 new signings via the college football transfer portal, including defensive lineman Ochaun Mathis, one of the Big 12’s top scrimmage players in recent seasons.
Analysts were quick to label Nebraska as unlucky last season, but mostly luck is a matter of talent and strategy. The Cornhuskers improved on both fronts.
Set for a slump: Michigan State
Previous placement: #9
Record 2021: 11-2
Schedule Strength: 20
Mel Tucker did such a good job of bringing the Spartans out of the doldrums that the school’s boosters gave him $95 million for it.
That performance included a perfect 4-0 mark in games decided by five points or fewer. Key to that success was transfer running back Kenneth Walker, the cannonball who blew 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground through the Big Ten’s defense.
Losing a threat like Walker is huge for this offensive, which has been able to capitalize on him to make their play action a real threat to opposing teams. Payton Thorne returns as quarterback, as does 1,000-yard receiver Jayden Reed, but Sparty also loses three starters on the offensive line.
Not to mention Michigan State’s moribund pass defense, a unit that ranked 111th nationally and ranked number one in college football for the last airyards allowed per game.
Previous placement: Unrated
Record 2021: 4-8
Schedule Strength: 67
It’s easy to ignore USC as an unproven team, but perhaps no other major college football program will look any different than it did last season.
A dismal four-win failure last fall, USC lost more than three dozen players from its roster, overhauled its coaching staff and added nearly two dozen transfers.
Some pretty high-profile transfers too, including 5-star quarterback Caleb Williams, the No. 1 passer in the 2021 class, paired with Jordan Addison, who led college football in getting TDs last fall, former OU wideout Mario Williams and Oregon’s leading rusher in Travis Dye.
So expect a much better offense. But the Trojans still rank 89th in overall defense and that unit is a very open question. However, through transfers, it improved in every position.
Don’t expect to see USC in the college football playoff race this year, but it should be preferred in almost every game save for Utah and against Notre Dame.
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