Wednesday, September 28, 2022

AP Top 25 reactions: Clemson overrated, Penn State underrated in preseason college football rankings

The 2022 Preseason AP Top 25 was released on Monday, and outside of an expected group at the top — namely, Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia — the rest of the poll was a chaotic mix. For example: Clemson, No. 14 in the final AP Top 25 of the 2021 season, starts 2022 at No. 4. Meanwhile, Texas A&M — unranked in the AP poll at the end of last season — begins this year at No. 6 thanks to coach Jimbo Fisher’s relentless recruiting efforts and high expectations.

Scattered throughout the rest of the preseason AP Top 25 are teams with something to prove. No. 7 Utah, No. 13 NC State, No. 20 Kentucky and No. 24 Houston are just some of the teams looking to show that they’re capable of taking that next step over the course of the season. 

Ultimately, the preseason poll is just a starting point. Where these teams end up after the College Football Playoff National Championship is played is anyone’s guess. Still, it wouldn’t be offseason fodder without parsing through the grave injustices scattered throughout the first poll of the season. 

Here are a handful of teams that are either overrated or underrated in the first list. 

Overrated: Clemson (No. 4)

With perhaps the best defense in the nation coming back, along with a few promising pieces on offense, it’s fair to believe that a disappointing three-loss campaign in 2021 was simply a blip for one of the most consistent programs in college football. But No. 4 in the country? That’s a little much. 

The Tigers are starting from scratch at two key coaching positions following the departures of offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables — both of whom served served in their roles since 2015 — to Virginia and Oklahoma, respectively. Clemson promoted internally, with QBs coach Brandon Streeter and senior defensive assistant Wes Goodwin taking over those vacancies. However, there’s no guarantee it will be smooth sailing for two coaches who have never called plays at the FBS level. 

Additionally, Clemson has a big question mark at quarterback after DJ Uiagalelei ranked last among 15 qualified ACC quarterbacks in passing efficiency last year. Freshman Cade Klubnik could push for playing time, but it’s not clear yet if he’s the Deshaun Watson or Trevor Lawrence type to help Clemson reach national contention. 

Underrated: Houston (No. 24)

After losing to Texas Tech in Week 1 last season, all Houston did was blast through the last 11 regular-season games on the schedule and beat Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl. Oh, and by the way, the Cougars return the vast majority of contributors on both sides of the ball. 

Quarterback Clayton Tune and wide receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell are names you will soon hear in NFL Draft circles, and coach Dana Holgorsen bolstered the room with four Power Five receiver transfers. Derek Parish and promising young star Chidozie Nwankwo will continue what has quickly become a dominant run of defensive linemen. 

Perhaps the only spot for concern comes at running back with Alton McCaskill likely out for the season with an ACL tear, but the Cougars can slot Power Five transfers Ta’Zhawn Henry and Brandon Campbell in the backfield immediately. There aren’t many teams in The American that look like Houston. The Coogs have a legitimate chance to go on a Cincinnati-like run.  

Overrated: Pittsburgh (No. 17)

Last season, Pitt boasted one of the most impressive collections of passing game personnel in college football. Quarterback Kenny Pickett was a Heisman finalist, wide receiver Jordan Addison won the Biletnikoff Award, Brennan Marion excelled as a first-year receivers coach and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple tied everything together masterfully. It’s no wonder the group won PItt’s first ACC championship in program history. 

Unfortunately, all four of those dynamic players and coaches are gone. USC transfer quarterback Kedon Slovis should bring consistency to the position, and the defense could be even better with three players returning after posting at least 10 tackles for loss last season. However, an 11-3 campaign in 2021 was only good enough to earn Pitt a No. 13 postseason ranking. There’s little chance Pitt’s offense will be dynamic enough without the losses to maintain a top-20 performance. 

Underrated: Penn State (NR)

After starting last season 5-0, Penn State fell apart down the stretch with quarterback Sean Clifford battling through nagging injuries. However, the five regular-season losses were all within five points, and they masked what should once again be a legitimate Big Ten East contender in 2022. 

Clifford showed some major signs of growth before suffering his injury and is back for an extra year of eligibility. Even better, the Nittany Lions have some insurance, as five-star quarterback Drew Allar — the former No. 1 quarterback in the Top247 rankings — will undoubtedly push for playing time. Additionally, No. 1 running back Nick Singleton gives Penn State a great chance to fix its anemic running game. 

If Penn State can continue its recent run of dynamic defensive performances under new coordinator Manny Diaz, the sky’s the limit for this program in 2022. Certainly, that upside deserves better than to be on the outside looking in for the AP Top 25. 

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