Preseason college football magazines are out, media days are getting underway, and soon enough we’ll be previewing and picking the first games of the 2022 season. This early stage of the preseason is filled with prognostication and virtually everyone will have, or has released, their preseason top 25 college football rankings.
Filling out the top of the rankings is often easy, and it seems to be especially so this season. We know who the top seven or eight teams are going to be, and there’s not going to be a ton of disagreement across the different rankings — at least among the more traditional ones found in preseason magazines and opinion-based polls. Maybe there’s some disagreement about how to order Clemson, Michigan and Texas A&M. Maybe one ranking will be especially high on Notre Dame heading into Marcus Freeman’s first full season. But those four plus the “obvious three” — Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State — make up the sport’s top tier as most see it heading into the season.
But after that is where we find some real variance across the rankings, and that variance shines a spotlight on some of the most interesting teams in the country.
The true second tier of college football actually extends beyond No. 25, as that was initially chosen as a cut off at a time when there were far fewer teams competing at the highest level of the sport. The differences between, say, No. 15 and No. 40 might be minimal, which allows for fascinating debate regarding who does or doesn’t deserve those coveted spots in the rankings that bring extra attention and fanfare to the program. On average, more than a third of the preseason AP Top 25 finishes the year unranked, and just last year we saw Michigan start the season unranked only to finish in the College Football Playoff. It’s not that all preseason rankings are flawed, it’s that most of these teams in the second tier are tough to figure out until they hit the field.
So after scanning the landscape of preseason rankings and scouring the news stands as though it’s 2010 again, I’ve identified seven teams that have notable disparities across their placement among these top-25 lists. These are our mystery teams for 2022, so let’s figure out why experts are struggling to reach a consensus on each one.