College football rankings are making the rounds as the preseason creeps along closer to fall practice and kickoff around the country.
Phil Steele is known as one of the most accurate predictors in the game, especially when it comes to his preseason rankings projections.
Steele says he bases his preseason top 40 on how he feels teams will finish in the final rankings at the end of the season following the bowl games and playoff.
40.Fresno State. Jeff Tedford is back to replace Kalen DeBoer as head coach and he gets Jake Haener back under center following a 10-3 season that included a win at UCLA.
39.App State. Shawn Clark returns to a 10-win team from a year ago, but hosts North Carolina and goes to Texas A&M to start this season.
38.Kansas State. Deuce Vaughn is one of the top backs in college football, and Nebraska transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez comes over to drive this offense.
37. Minnesota. Tanner Morgan is back at QB and lead back Mo Ibrahim returns from injury, both re-uniting with offensive play-caller Kirk Ciarrocca to make a push in the Big Ten West.
36. Arkansas. A surprise 9-win team out of the SEC West last fall, but now has a tough non-conference slate including Cincinnati and BYU in addition to its always-tough division schedule.
35. Kentucky. The solid No. 2 team in the SEC East that returns several top playmakers, including quarterback Will Levis.
34.Houston. This could be the year the Cougs overtake Cincinnati in the AAC coming off 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 returns Malik Cunningham at QB in addition to some important skill pieces, and has made gains on the recruiting trail.
32. Florida. Billy Napier has a mandate to get the Gators back in contention and improve in-state recruiting. First things first: a big Week 1 date at home against Pac-12 champion Utah.
31.Boise State. Andy Avalos won 7 games in his first season on the blue turf, with all his losses by 11 points or fewer, and looks ahead to games against Oregon State, Fresno State, and BYU.
30. Ole Miss. A ton of turnover on an offense that ranked top 10 in college football last fall, but Lane Kiffin worked the portal again, and could be undefeated going into October.
29.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 gets his two top offensive pieces 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 the 9th ranked offense in college football a year ago and it returns Hendon Hooker at quarterback and Cedric Tillman going deep. Now, Josh Heupel needs to patch up a defense that allowed 34 ppg against SEC teams.
26. BYU. Jaren Hall was more than good enough to replace Zach Wilson as the Cougars won 10 games last fall, but now has to replace Tyler Allgeier, who accounted for almost half of BYU’s touchdowns.
25. Cincinnati. Nine blue-chip playmakers that got UC to the College Football Playoff are gone. Now we’ll see exactly what Luke Fickell can do when he has to start over.
24. Wake Forest. Sam Hartman is back to run this elite offense, but the Deacons’ shot at the ACC depends on how well this 91st ranked defense improves.
23.Michigan State. Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed are back to push the ball downfield, but Mel Tucker needs to improve his 111th ranked pass defense if he wants to make a run at the Big Ten.
22. PennState. Super senior Sean Clifford returns under center, but there are big questions in the backfield and if this team can preserve its defensive gains.
21.UAB. Bill Clark resurrected this program, won 9 games and beat BYU in a bowl a year ago, but has to retire due to a back ailment. In steps Bryant Vincent 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 hinge on how well Kirk Ferentz can get this moribund offense moving.
19Wisconsin. A favorite for the Big Ten West, the Badgers return one of college football’s best defenses and a young prodigy in Braelon Allen running the ball, but Graham Mertz still hasn’t proven himself as a starting quarterback.
18. Texas. Steve Sarkisian better win more than five games in Year 2 after landing generational QB prospect Quinn Ewers and star FCS linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey in the portal. Bijan Robinson, college football’s best rusher, returns alongside lead receiver Xavier Worthy.
17.UCF. The highest-rated Group of 5 team in Steele’s rankings, the Knights have a real shot at a New Year’s bowl under coach Gus Malzahn.
16. USC. Maybe the biggest question in college football. No other team has received so much preseason hype, but it is so unknown on the field. The ingredients are here, but Lincoln Riley has to put them all together.
15.Oklahoma State. Jim Knowles, the coach of the No. 3 ranked defense in college football, is gone, but Spencer Sanders is back under center in tandem with some elite edge rushers to keep the Pokes in the Big 12 race.
14. Baylor. Dave Aranda took the Bears from two wins to a Big 12 title and a Sugar Bowl victory, and now has enough returning experience to preserve that momentum as the media voted this team its preseason champion for the first time ever.
13. NC State. Just four points kept this team from going undefeated in ACC games, including a win over No. 9 Clemson. Devin Leary is back to lead this offense to conference contention.
12. Miami. Mario Cristobal inherits Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback and some talent in the secondary, but goes to Texas A&M early before getting into the ACC slate.
11.Pittsburgh. Steele is keeping the Panthers high despite losing Kenny Pickett to the NFL and lead receiver Jordan Addison to USC. Kedon Slovis steps in for Pickett with a few skill options to keep this team around in the fall.
10. Oregon. Dan Lanning steps in with a huge opener against Georgia, whose historic defense he formerly coached, and with some serious defensive pieces on a Ducks roster that includes Auburn transfer Bo Nix at quarterback.
9.Texas A&M. Fresh off signing the highest-rated recruiting class in college football history, Jimbo could finally be in position to make a push for the playoff. It could hinge on a major road trip to Alabama in October.
8. Okla. Another blue-blood in transition, new head coach Brent Venables steps in as the most respected defensive strategist in college football. New OC Jeff Lebby meets with quarterback Dillon Gabriel in what should be an exciting offense.
7. Notre-Dame. Marcus Freeman earned a sudden promotion when Brian Kelly jumped ship and already boasts an elite recruiting class in Year 1. The Irish open at Ohio State, but can still build a playoff resume with a loss there.
6.Utah. The reigning Pac-12 champions return Cam Rising at quarterback and Tavion Thomas running the ball, but have worked to do replacing vital defensive pieces.
5. Michigan. Fresh off its first College Football Playoff bid, the Wolverines have to replace key playmakers, but return enough to stay in the Big Ten race all year.
4.Clemson. Getting back to the playoff depends on DJ Uiagalelei living up to his 5-star pedigree at quarterback and giving this offense, 2nd-worst in the ACC a year ago, some life to cash in on its elite defensive unit.
3.Georgia. College football’s defending national champion have some holes to patch up on that ferocious defense, but have recruited more than well enough to make another run at the playoff. Not to mention its elite skill targets on the outside for Stetson Bennett to distribute to.
2.Ohio State. The No. 1 offense in college football a year ago returns 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 in, year out, the Crimson Tide are the favorites to go all the way while Nick Saban is around, and that isn’t changing while he’s there. Bama returns most of its elite defense in addition to Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young paired with some elite transfer pickups on both sides of the ball.