Ohio State is No. 1 in the FBS Top 131 Congrove Computer Rankings released Thursday morning. The Buckeyes, who are projected to go undefeated through the regular season, are trailed by Alabama, Georgia and Baylor.
Pittsburgh is 5th, despite having to replace QB Kenny Picket who finished 3rd in the Heisman balloting and was drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. WR Jordan Addison, the Biletnikoff winner, is also gone after transferring to USC in the offseason.
Michigan checks in at No. 6, followed by Oklahoma State, Clemson, North Carolina State and Utah.
Those are the projected rankings for the end of the regular season.
The opening week rankings (before a single game is played) have a slightly different top 4 with Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan at 1-2, and SEC rivals Alabama and Georgia at 3-4. Pitt opens at No. 13.
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Last year's final four teams were Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and Cincinnati with the 'Dawgs knocking off the Tide to win the national championship.
The theoretical Final Four would be Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia and probably Clemson.
Only three undefeated teams will remain after the conference championship games - Ohio State, Alabama and Air Force. Three other teams that are picked to make it through the regular season unscathed - Pitt, Baylor and Georgia - are all picked to lose in their respective conference title contest. Air Force finishes the year 13-0 but will get passed over by the selection committee, due largely to a low schedule strength that ranks 119th.
Ohio State and Alabama would be ranked 1-2 and are definite shoo-ins. Georgia's loss to 'Bama in the SEC Championship would be its first of the season and the committee won't let that block the defending national champions from returning to the pool.
The fourth team will be a lot tougher to determine as these teams would all remain with one loss:
Clemson (12-1) - ACC Champ
Cincinnati (12-1) - American Champ and 2021 Final Four participant
Oklahoma State (12-1) - Big 12 Champ
Utah (12-1) - Pac-12 Champ
Notre Dame (11-1) - Top independent
Our best guess is that Clemson gets the committee nod as the program is recognized as a Playoff 'blue blood'.
Duke, Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech all open with a new head coach. Of those, Mario Cristobal at Miami appears to have the most talent to work with.
Clemson is picked to return to the top of the Atlantic division, but only due to a home win over NC State on October 1. Circle the visit to Wake Forest the week before that.
Pittsburgh looks poised to repeat in the Coastal in the final year of the ACC using divisions, but the ACC media poll had Miami over Pitt.
Virginia Tech is picked to go bowling in Brent Pry's first season as he looks to instill the Frank Beamer/Bud Foster lunchpail toughness that Justin Fuente destroyed.
|2||9||North Carolina State||ACC-A||89.20||81.77||11||1||7||1||35|
|*Clemson defeats Pitt in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte|
Cincinnati and Houston led the American Conference last year and are expected to repeat their performances in 2022. The Bearcats were even invited to the 'Big Dance', but bowed out 27-6 to Alabama in the semifinal Cotton Bowl game. The American conference media poll voted Houston over Cincinnati by a 243-242 point tally, but gave the Bearcats more first-place votes (10-7).
|*Cincinnati hosts and defeats Houston in the American Conference Championship game|
Ohio State looks like the cream of the national crop as Ryan Day, 34-4 in his short head caching career, is once again loaded for bear. But the East division title is NOT a lock as it all comes down to the final weekend when the defending conference champion Wolverines come to town. Michigan last won in Columbus in 2000.
The West division is a three-way battle between Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota, but we believe Nebraska or Wisconsin could be a surprise. For Scott Frosts's sake, Nebraska better be a surprise or he'll be exiting Lincoln with a few shoe prints on his behind.
|1||1||Ohio State||Big 10-E||98.66||98.66||12||0||9||0||8|
|3||14||Michigan State||Big 10-E||90.03||75.03||10||2||7||2||16|
|5||60||Penn State||Big 10-E||77.65||38.83||6||6||4||5||5|
|*Ohio State defeats Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis|
With Lincoln Riley gone to USC and Brent Venables stepping in to his first head coaching job, we can honestly say that we don't know what to expect from Oklahoma. The computer likes Oklahoma State beating the Sooners in Norman for the third time since 2001 and second since 2014. That win would give the 'Pokes a shot at revenge against Baylor which is picked to win the regular season crown, largely by knocking off OSU in Waco on October 1.
The two other new head coaches in the Big 12 - Sonny Dykes (TCU) and Joey McGuire (Texas Tech) - have their work cut out for them.
Kansas State fans might be happily surprised to see their team is picked to finish 4th, while Texas fans will be disappointed to find their Longhorns at No. 5.
Kansas looks like it will have some basement company from West Virginia as the computer has Neal Brown slipping to a 2-10 campaign after three years of mediocrity in Morgantown.
|2||7||Oklahoma State||Big 12||90.42||82.89||11||1||8||1||44|
|4||31||Kansas State||Big 12||79.89||59.92||9||3||6||3||22|
|7||80||Iowa State||Big 12||71.33||29.72||5||7||3||6||14|
|8||89||Texas Tech||Big 12||74.00||24.67||4||8||2||7||6|
|9||111||West Virginia||Big 12||69.61||11.60||2||10||1||8||7|
|*Oklahoma State defeats Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game in Arlington|
This would be a great skiing league cuz it's going downhill fast.
Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss have moved to the Sun Belt and the highest-ranked team in the projected rankings is UAB at No. 38. UTSA, which had a breakout year in 2021, is awarded a second straight conference title by the computer after knocking off Western Kentucky a year ago in front of 41,000 fans in San Antonio.
UTEP is picked to finish tied with UAB for second in the conference while FIU gets last in CUSA and last in the entire USA.
|*UTSA hosts and defeats UAB in the CUSA Championship game|
The Irish begin their season, and the head coaching career of Marcus Freeman, at Ohio State. Get past that game, and a somewhat weak Notre Dame schedule could find the team on a 11-game winning streak to end the season and a chance to land a spot in the Final Four.
Kilani Sitake is 21-4 in his last two seasons at BYU and 2022 doesn't figure to be much different. The computer has the Cougars going 9-3.
Jeff Monken has had tremendous success at Army and the Black Knights are picked to tie BYU with a 9-3 mark, although against a much lighter schedule.
UMass and UConn are still stuck at the bottom, but are expected to be much-improved.
|5||96||New Mexico State||Ind.||46.87||19.53||5||7||127|
The computer picks Northern Illinois to claim back-to-back conference titles by taking down Miami in the championship game at Detroit. Last year, NIU downed Kent State for the title, to add to the school's trophies from 2021, 2018, 2014, 2012 and 2011.
|*Northern Illinois defeats Miami (O) in the MAC Championship game in Detroit|
Boise State was picked ahead of Air Force by the media, but the computer has the Falcons going undefeated and knocking off Fresno State to win its first MWC Championship. The Falcons last won a conference championship as a member of the WAC in 1998 under the legendary head coach Fisher DeBerry. Troy Calhoun replaced DeBerry when the latter retired and has maintained an almost similar win percentage with his 111-75 (.597) mark next to DeBerry's 269-109 record.
Fresno State is picked to win the West for the first time since 2018 when the Bulldogs beat Boise State in OT to capture the MWC title.
|2||48||San Diego State||MWC-W||67.20||44.80||8||4||5||3||111|
|3||71||San Jose State||MWC-W||58.04||33.86||7||5||5||3||128|
|*Air Force hosts and defeats Fresno State in the MWC Championship game|
The computer expects Dan Lanning's first year as Oregon head coach to be a huge success, but not any better than last season under Mario Cristobal. In a repeat of 2021, the computer has the Ducks falling to Utah in the PAC-12 Championship game in Las Vegas. It would be the fourth straight title game for Oregon, and the fourth in the last five seasons for Utah.
Expectations are off the rails in Los Angeles where Lincoln Riley is supposed to be an overnight sensation at resuscitating the Trojan's program and the PAC-12 Media Poll had USC 3rd. But we think USC will be much closer to the media's 3rd-place pick than the computer's 11-place place projection.
|3||21||Oregon State||PAC 12||82.85||69.04||10||2||7||2||53|
|5||61||Washington State||PAC 12||66.31||38.68||7||5||5||4||64|
|8||70||Arizona State||PAC 12||68.40||34.20||6||6||4||5||56|
|*Utah defeats Oregon in the PAC-12 Championship game in Las Vegas|
No earth-shattering news here. Georgia is tabbed to win the eastern half of the conference for the fifth time in the last six years, and the Tide is picked to lead the Western half for the fourth time in the last five years.
The stunning pick here might be LSU's last-place finish at 3-9 in Brian Kelly's first season, but don't forget his 2016 Notre Dame team was 4-8. The SEC Media Poll had LSU 5th in the West and Mississippi State 6th. The computer has the Bulldogs 2nd in the West.
Meanwhile, after the offseason bickering between Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban, Texas A&M was picked 2nd by the media and 4th by the computer.
|*Alabama defeats Georgia in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta|
The new Sun Belt is somewhat new and improved with the additions of Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss from Conference USA, and the welcoming of James Madison from the FCS.
The West is still expected to be ruled by Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns, but the East goes to Georgia State. The Sun Belt Media Poll likes a rematch of the 2021 title game between UL-L and Appalachian State which are the only teams ever to have physically played in the conference title game. The Ragin Cajuns and Mountaineers faced-off in 2018, 2019 and 2021. The 2020 game between Coastal Carolina and Louisiana was canceled due to Covid.
|*Georgia State hosts and defeats Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Championship game|