Identifying the favorites in college football for the upcoming 2022 campaign is easy with just a cursory glance at the preseason USA TODAY Sports AFCA coaches poll. Alabama, Ohio State and defending champ Georgia hold the top three spots, and with just a few exceptions that trio appeared in some order at the top of most ballots.
The rest of the poll, however, hints at a high degree of uncertainty surrounding more than a few big-name programs. Whether due to coaching changes, player turnover or a combination of those and other factors, there is considerable disparity among the voting panel as to where some teams were placed on preseason ballots.
We cannot disclose details of individual ballots per our agreement with the American Football Coaches Association, but we can report some general data on how some votes were distributed to provide a glimpse of the wide range of opinions heading into the season.
As mentioned, there was near consensus among the top three. All but two of the voters who didn’t put Alabama at No. 1 put the Crimson Tide second, and those two had them third. Ohio State received one fourth-place vote but was in the top three on all other ballots. Georgia had three fourths and three fifths but was also top three on all other lists.
A lot more differing opinions could be seen beyond the top three. The most obvious is the outlier that the trio that received a first-place vote. Texas finished No. 18 overall but managed to be on the top of one ballot. The discrepancy is just one of many for several teams that were ranked or just missed out.
All of which is to say that preseason rankings are seemingly an even more speculative venture than in some past years.
Some of the highlights:
No team inspired a winder wider divergence of opinion than the Longhorns, who are coming off a 5-7 finish but bring in QB Quinn Ewers and several other transfers in the hope of a quick turnaround. Those opinions range from Texas being omitted entirely from 29 ballots to being placed in the top 10 on 11, including that first-place vote. The Longhorns’ starting point at No. 18 seems a reasonable wait-and-see position.
Houston just in and Iowa, Penn State just out
One thing alert observers might notice is the unusually high number of points a team needed just to crack the Top 25. Iowa’s point total of 248, good enough only to lead the ‘others receiving votes’ category, would have been sufficient for the Hawkeyes to have been ranked No. 21 in last year’s preseason poll. The panel does have one more voter this season, but that difference would have a negligible impact on the overall point total. Tennessee’s 163 points would be enough to make the preseason poll in most years. The Volunteers were 28th.
What accounts for this difference? The teams at the bottom of the Top 25 were placed higher than usual on several ballots.
Houston, which narrowly made the rankings at No. 25, was placed as high as 11th by two voters and in the top 15 by several others but did not appear at all on 27 of the 66 ballots. Iowa, whom the Cougars edged out by just nine points, received a ninth- and a 10th-place vote but was left off 30 ballots. Penn State, which wound up just two points behind Iowa, did not appear on 27 ballots but was voted in the top 15 by three panel members.
The Aggies’ No. 7 preseason ranking could come as a mixed blessing for their extremely devoted fans. A&M teams of recent vintage tend to actually perform better when expectations aren’t quite as elevated. A&M opened the 2020 campaign at No. 13 before finishing fourth in the final poll. Largely on the strength of that nearly playoff-worthy run, they were voted sixth in the preseason last year but ended up No. 25 following a somewhat disappointing 8-4 season. All but 12 of the voters put the Aggies in the top 10 in this year’s initial balloting, including one third-place nod, but their lowest position of No. 17 position on one ballot indicates there’s still a bit of a ‘prove it’ factor for some voters.
The defending Big 12 champion Bears were named on all ballots but with varying degrees of confidence. Finishing No. 10 overall, Baylor had everything from a fifth- and two sixth-place votes to five mentions outside the top 20.
The vote profile of the 15th-ranked Trojans is yet another study in contrasts, with everything from immediate success to a middle-of-the-pack finish predicted for the new coaching staff. USC was voted in the top 10 by 16 members of the panel, including two who placed them at No. 4, but 13 voters left the Trojans out entirely.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas at No. 1 was one of odd votes in college football's coaches poll