October 6, 2022

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8:00 AM ET ESPN workers Regardless of the seismic modifications that happened throughout faculty soccer’s...

Regardless of the seismic modifications that happened throughout faculty soccer’s offseason, the upcoming season will present followers with a breath of familiarity.

Sure, the preseason Faculty Soccer Energy Rankings are as soon as once more led by perennial playoff groups, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson. However final season’s rankings had the Spencer Rattler-led Oklahoma Sooners at No. 2 and each Iowa State and North Carolina within the high 10 — and everyone knows how that turned out.

Which group will we speak about as a bust subsequent season? And which groups will tumble out of the rankings after two weeks this 12 months? None of that issues now. It is August, and there is hope for all high 25 groups that made the preseason rankings.

With out additional ado, this season’s first Energy Rankings.

Methodology: Forty-eight ESPN faculty soccer consultants submitted their very own top-25s, resulting in this consensus checklist.


2021 document: 13-2
Opening week recreation: vs. Utah State, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 8

X issue (participant the season relies on): Nick Saban mined the switch portal for All-American cornerback Eli Ricks from LSU, All-ACC working again Jahmyr Gibbs from Georgia Tech and high receivers from Georgia (Jermaine Burton) and Louisville (Tyler Harrell). However maybe crucial pickup may need been offensive lineman Tyler Steen, who began 33 consecutive video games earlier than leaving Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior might go a great distance towards solidifying a line that struggled for a lot of final season.

Greatest query mark this season: Saban mentioned it himself after the primary observe of fall camp: “I do not assume there’s any query about the truth that we have to play higher on the offensive line. We must be extra bodily up entrance … and get motion on the run.” Bringing in Steen and getting middle Darrian Dalcourt wholesome once more ought to assist remedy final season’s Achilles’ heel. However equally as pivotal is likely to be the change in management, with Eric Wolford now teaching the place. His strains at Kentucky had been recognized for being bodily and aggressive — areas the place Alabama might enhance. — Alex Scarborough

2021 document: 11-2
Opening week recreation: vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. Michigan, Nov. 26

X issue: Quarterback C.J. Stroud. Ohio State is constructed to win with its big-play passing assault, which Stroud executed to perfection down the stretch final season. He is a well-liked decide to change into Ohio State’s first Heisman Trophy winner — and the Massive Ten’s first — since Troy Smith in 2006. Stroud will throw to arguably the nation’s finest group of receivers and embraces the championship-or-bust expectation in his junior season, which needs to be his ultimate one with the Buckeyes.

Greatest query mark this season: Regardless of justified pleasure about new coordinator Jim Knowles, a protection that hasn’t met the usual in three of the previous 4 seasons should step up. Linebacker and defensive again play might be particularly necessary, after Ohio State used a wholesome rotation of gamers in 2021. These beneath the microscope embrace linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and security Tanner McCalister, an Oklahoma State switch. Knowles’ scheme options extra seems than what Ohio State has run, however the again seven finally should carry out higher. — Adam Rittenberg

2021 document: 14-1
Opening week recreation: vs. Oregon in Atlanta, Chick-fil-A Kickoff Sport (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Kentucky, Nov. 19

X issue: Quarterback Stetson Bennett, who continues to shoot down all of the myths about what he cannot do, is again for one more season (looks as if his seventh) and is the unquestioned chief of the defending-national-champion Dawgs. There’ll nonetheless be the inevitable questions on his measurement and arm power, however his teammates consider in him, and there is a purpose they name him the Mailman: He simply retains on delivering.

Greatest query mark this season: Sure, the Dawgs misplaced 5 defensive gamers from a 12 months in the past who went within the first spherical of the NFL draft, to not point out defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who’s now the pinnacle coach at Oregon. However do not feel too sorry for Georgia’s protection, a unit nonetheless oozing with younger expertise. The within linebacker spots, particularly, will want replenishing. Gone are Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker. That is a ton of expertise and a ton of manufacturing to switch, regardless of who’s ready within the wings. — Chris Low

2021 document: 10-3
Opening week recreation: at Georgia Tech, Sept. 5
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. NC State, Oct. 1

X issue: Will the true D.J. Uiagalelei please arise? This time a 12 months in the past, the previous blue-chip recruit was a Heisman contender and a pitchman for Dr Pepper, having began two video games as a real freshman wherein he performed brilliantly. However 2021 was a catastrophe from the outset — Christopher Smith‘s 74-yard interception landing return off Uiagalelei proved the distinction in a 10-Three loss to Georgia within the opening week — and he completed with simply 9 TD passes for the 12 months. Accidents, off-field distractions and an absence of assist from the O-line or receivers all performed a component in Uiagalelei’s struggles, however now he’s slimmed down and has promised higher returns in 2022. If he seems extra like he did in his freshman season, Clemson might be powerful to beat. If he struggles like he did a 12 months in the past, the Tigers might be in for a protracted season.

Greatest query mark this season: For the primary time in almost a decade, Clemson is surrounded by query marks, however maybe none looms bigger than the modifications on the teaching workers. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables have overseen this system’s rise and two nationwide championships, however each have moved on to head-coaching jobs. Dabo Swinney stayed in-house to rent replacements, insisting tradition outweighed résumés. That method has labored for Swinney for a very long time, nevertheless it may be a trigger for criticism if the Tigers wrestle early. — David Hale

2021 document: 11-2
Opening week recreation: at Ohio State, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: Ohio State

X issue: Quarterback Tyler Buchner hasn’t been named the starter but, however the Irish want a constant, secure presence on the place. Final season’s starter, Jack Coan, has exhausted his eligibility, and the workers has Buchner, Drew Pyne, Ron Powlus III and freshman Steve Angeli on the roster. Buchner was the No. 41 prospect within the 2021 class and one of many high quarterbacks general. If he is the starter, it is seemingly signal for Notre Dame that he resides as much as that billing out of highschool.

Greatest query mark of the season: What is going to this group seem like beneath new coach Marcus Freeman? He is a first-year head coach, and whereas the gamers had been thrilled when he was employed, he is stepping in as the pinnacle coach of one of the crucial distinguished packages within the nation. He opens towards his alma mater, Ohio State, and has to undergo Stanford, Clemson, Boston Faculty and USC. We do not have a lot to go off of for what this group will seem like or how the gamers will reply to Freeman because the coach. — Tom VanHaaren

2021 document: 10-4
Opening week recreation: at Florida, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. USC, Oct. 15

X issue: Quarterback Cam Rising‘s influence on Utah’s 2021 season was among the many most notable in all of school soccer. He did not begin the Utes’ first three video games of the season (1-2), and from the purpose he entered in reduction of recreation No. 3, the offense felt like a very totally different unit. The Utes went 9-1 in his first 10 begins to win the Pac-12 and qualify for the Rose Bowl — a pair of program firsts. Because the entrenched starter, his worth is much more necessary.

Greatest query mark this season: Accidents within the secondary had been a key issue, however one of many lasting pictures of Utah’s 2021 season was its incapacity to decelerate Ohio State’s vaunted passing recreation within the Rose Bowl. C.J. Stroud threw for 573 yards (347 of which had been to Jaxon Smith-Njigba) in what was a nightmare efficiency for the Utes. If they’re to take the subsequent step — the Faculty Soccer Playoff needs to be the objective — the secondary cannot be such a legal responsibility. — Kyle Bonagura

2021 document: 8-4
Opening week recreation: vs. Sam Houston, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Alabama, Oct. 8

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X issue: Quarterback Haynes King. The junior is without doubt one of the quickest gamers on the group, clocked at 22 mph, based on Jimbo Fisher, however would not have a lot expertise after struggling a season-ending damage within the second recreation final season. If he can threaten defenses along with his ft and the Aggies can exploit weapons like freshman receiver Evan Stewart and a loaded tight finish room, the Aggies might be an SEC risk with what is anticipated to be a troublesome protection.

Greatest query mark this season: That offense once more. Amongst vast receivers, Ainias Smith led the Aggies with 47 catches for 509 yards, a mean of 10.9 yards per catch. Subsequent was Jalen Preston with 17 catches for 255 yards, whereas the Aggies ranked 88th in passing yards per recreation and 71st in whole offense. Devon Achane might be a star at working again, however he’ll need assistance on the surface. — Dave Wilson

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Coming off a No. 1 recruiting class and drama-filled offseason, Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M are able to get issues getting into Aggieland.

2021 document: 12-2
Opening week recreation: vs. Colorado State, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Ohio State, Nov. 26

X issue: Michigan’s run recreation made the offense go final season, however the group misplaced working again Hassan Haskins, who led the group with 20 dashing touchdowns in 2021, to the NFL. However it returns Blake Corum, who had 11 touchdowns and 962 yards. Corum, together with Donovan Edwards, must tackle a much bigger load, as Haskins had 126 extra carries than Corum final season. If the combo of Corum and Edwards can produce the kind of scoring that Haskins and Corum did, Michigan’s offense might be in fine condition.

Greatest query mark of the season: How does Michigan exchange its stars on protection? The Wolverines misplaced Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, Daxton Hill, Josh Ross, Christopher Hinton, Brad Hawkins and Vincent Gray on protection from final season. That is the highest three in whole tackles, the highest 5 in tackles for loss and the highest two defenders in sacks from 2021. That could be a ton of manufacturing to need to fill in a single offseason. — VanHaaren

2021 document: 11-2
Opening week recreation: vs. UTEP, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. Texas, Oct. 8

X issue: Quarterback Dillon Gabriel. If he and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby click on the way in which they did at UCF a few years in the past, and OU’s offense is again among the many nation’s finest, the Sooners are this 12 months’s seemingly Massive 12 favorites once more. Gabriel threw for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns as a real freshman beneath Lebby’s watch in 2019, and now he has Marvin Mims, Theo Wease and a high-upside OU receiving corps at his disposal. This could work out fantastically.

Greatest query mark this season: How lengthy will Brent Venables want to repair that protection? After a fairly constructive begin, the Sooners allowed over 30 factors per recreation over their ultimate 9 video games in 2021. Venables’ observe document is obvious — he inherited a shaky Clemson protection and made it one of many nation’s finest inside three years — however can he and coordinator Ted Roof make faster work of turning across the Sooners’ D? It will likely be exhausting to contend for nationwide titles once more till they do. — Invoice Connelly

2021 document: 12-2
Opening week recreation: vs. Albany, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. Oklahoma State, Oct. 1

X issue: Craig “Sqwirl” Williams. Coach Dave Aranda says the 5-foot-8, 168-pound Williams is Baylor’s most electrical participant, and with the departures of Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner to the NFL, the Bears might make the most of him of their ground-heavy assault. However Williams, a fifth-year junior, has been restricted to only 32 carries in simply eight video games since 2018 due to extreme MCL and ACL accidents, however averaging 7.7 yards on these makes an attempt. If he might bounce again, he might add a dynamic risk to Baylor’s offense.

Greatest query mark this season: The Bears had a magical season in 2021, claiming a Massive 12 title and heading into this 12 months because the media’s preseason favourite. However the Bears misplaced 62% of their offensive manufacturing, based on Invoice Connelly’s calculations, and may have a brand new beginning QB to enter the season in Blake Shapen, who received the job in spring observe after filling in for the injured Gerry Bohanon final 12 months. Aranda is a defensive wizard, however the trick might be if offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes can discover the items to switch departed stars. — Wilson

2021 document: 9-3
Opening week recreation: at East Carolina, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Clemson, Oct. 1

X issue: QB Devin Leary. The Wolfpack have launched an unofficial Heisman marketing campaign for his or her veteran quarterback, in order that tells you all that you must learn about why he is the largest key to their possibilities this season. Whereas it’s true that they’ve veterans returning throughout the board on offense and protection, what provides coach Dave Doeren and his gamers confidence of their potential is what Leary brings to the desk — a savvy chief who makes the suitable performs and infrequently turns the ball over (35 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions a 12 months in the past).

Greatest query mark this season: On the sector, the Wolfpack need to discover a No. 1 receiver to switch Emeka Emezie and a much more constant floor camp to enrich Leary. Off the sector, the largest query surrounds how this group handles the heightened preseason expectations. NC State has historically performed higher when it feels disrespected. However this offseason, there was much more reward heaped upon the gamers and this system primarily based on what occurred a 12 months in the past. How Doeren and the gamers deal with that hype will completely be a storyline to observe. — Andrea Adelson

2021 document: 4-8
Opening week recreation: vs. Rice, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Utah, Oct. 15

X issue: It will be straightforward to fit Caleb Williams on this spot and name it a day, however the actuality is that USC’s working again room might be simply as important because the Williamses and Jordan Addisons of the world. Oregon switch Travis Dye appears to be the shoo-in for the highest spot within the backfield, however between Austin Jones, Darwin Barlow and incoming five-star Raleek Brown, there’s ample room for the whole depth chart to convey one thing to the desk. As Lincoln Riley might be fast to level out, his offenses are extra reliant on good working again play than meets the attention. With Dye as an anchor and the aforementioned trio shoring up the remainder of the backfield, the working backs have the potential to arrange this USC offense for achievement.

Greatest query mark this season: Protection, protection, protection. Between all the Riley hype and the offensive firepower USC has added this offseason, the largest purpose for skepticism, on paper, is the protection. The state of the unit has been dire in earlier years, however new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is hoping to get it again on observe with a brand new system and new additions. Alabama switch linebacker Shane Lee has slipped comfortably into the function of defensive chief alongside the Trojans’ finest returning defensive participant: lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. USC has lacked physicality the previous few seasons on that aspect of the ball, so it in all probability behooves the remainder of the protection to comply with the connection to the Tide as intently as attainable. — Paolo Uggetti

2021 document: 10-4
Opening week recreation: vs. Georgia in Atlanta, Chick-fil-A Kickoff Sport (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. Utah on Nov. 19

X issue: Bo Nix. After an up-and-down season for Anthony Brown final 12 months, the Geese badly want some constant quarterback play that does not simply contain recreation administration. Including Auburn’s Nix to the combo has been a step in the suitable course. There is a volatility that comes with Nix’s recreation that is likely to be good for Oregon’s offense, and having his former quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham as offensive coordinator will definitely assist as nicely. Ought to the Nix experiment go awry, Oregon continues to be set as much as present fireworks from that place with the electrical redshirt freshman Ty Thompson, who has proven flashes of greatness already.

Greatest query mark this season: The working recreation. It flew a bit beneath the radar, however the job Travis Dye did to maintain the working (and pass-catching) recreation afloat for the Geese after CJ Verdell suffered a season-ending damage might be exhausting to copy. Verdell declared for the NFL draft and Dye determined to bolt for greener (or cardinal, on this case) pastures and switch to USC. Between Byron Cardwell and Sean Dollars, the Geese are usually not with out expertise on the place. However given the turnover there and at quarterback, there’ll must be a fast studying curve to get the offense rolling. — Uggetti

2021 document: 12-2
Opening week recreation: vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 1
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Oklahoma, Nov. 19

X issue: Receiver Brennan Presley. OSU’s receiving corps received hit exhausting by accidents final season, and quarterback Spencer Sanders discovered himself much more reliant on freshmen than supposed. Speedster Braydon Johnson (who missed most of 2021) might stretch defenses on the surface, and final 12 months’s freshmen are actually sophomores, however a star flip from the tantalizing Presley might give Sanders and the general offense the enhance they want.

Greatest query mark this season: How a lot will the protection regress? The lack of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, four-fifths of a dynamite secondary and sure-tackling linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper all however assures some stage of drop-off. However the Cowboys may need one of the best set of defensive ends within the nation, and in the event that they nonetheless play at a top-25 stage or so, the offense would possibly be capable of decide up sufficient slack to maintain OSU in Massive 12 competition. — Connelly

2021 document: 11-2
Opening week recreation: vs. Western Michigan, Sept. 2
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Michigan, Sept. 29

X issue: Quarterback Payton Thorne led the offense final season and goes to need to take one other step up if the Spartans need to have one other good season. Thorne is shedding working again Kenneth Walker III and receiver Jalen Nailor however nonetheless has main receiver Jayden Reed. Thorne goes to have extra on his shoulders this season, and the offense must undergo him.

Greatest query mark of the season: How efficient will the offensive line be? The Spartans misplaced Walker however introduced in switch working backs Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger. The run recreation was a giant a part of the offense final season, and for that to proceed, the offensive line wants to remain wholesome and enhance rapidly. The group misplaced Kevin Jarvis, AJ Arcuri, Matt Allen and Blake Bueter from final season and would not have a ton of skilled depth. There are solely six offensive linemen on the roster with recreation expertise, so the unit goes to need to mature in a rush. — VanHaaren

2021 document: 7-5
Opening week recreation: vs. Bethune-Cookman, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Texas A&M, Sept. 17

X issue: QB Tyler Van Dyke. Miami was picked because the preseason selection within the Coastal Division primarily based largely on the return of Van Dyke, who commanded the highlight a 12 months in the past after changing an injured D’Eriq King and emerged as top-of-the-line younger quarterbacks within the nation. Van Dyke threw for two,931 yards, 25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 2021 and appears to enhance on these numbers this 12 months beneath first-year coordinator Josh Gattis. To do this, Miami has to discover a go-to receiver to switch Charleston Rambo and discover extra depth with that place group particularly.

Greatest query mark this season: There may be renewed pleasure and optimism in Miami because of first-year coach Mario Cristobal, who is aware of what it takes to win championships at Miami. Having mentioned that, Cristobal has tried to de-emphasize exterior expectations and put the deal with getting again to work on the observe area. Along with discovering extra explosive performs and depth within the receiver group, linebacker is one space the place Miami completely has to enhance over a 12 months in the past, as too many gamers missed tackles and assignments. — Adelson

2021 document: 9-4
Opening week recreation: vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Auburn, Oct. 29

X issue: The SEC is loaded with big-name quarterbacks whether or not it is final 12 months’s Heisman Trophy winner, Bryce Young, or a pair of potential first-round picks in Will Levis and Anthony Richardson. However a reputation will get ignored too typically within the nice QB debate: Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson. All he did as a sophomore final season was throw for two,676 yards and 21 touchdowns, and rush for 664 yards and 6 scores. As coach Sam Pittman mentioned, “He makes us go. He units the tone for our soccer group.”

Greatest query mark this season: How do you exchange Treylon Burks? He was Arkansas’ go-to goal final season, racking up 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns receiving, and working the ball 14 instances for 112 yards and one rating. The Razorbacks went into the switch portal and located two receivers they hope can fill his footwear: Matt Landers, who caught 5 touchdowns at Toledo final season, and Jadon Haselwood, a former No. 1-ranked receiver within the 2019 class who caught six touchdowns at Oklahoma final 12 months. — Scarborough

2021 document: 9-4
Opening week recreation: vs. Illinois State, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at Iowa, Nov. 12

X issue: Quarterback Graham Mertz. Wisconsin continues to be ready for the highest-rated quarterback recruit in group historical past to blossom. After scuffling with turnovers for many of 2021, Mertz will get a clear slate with new playcaller Bobby Engram, who desires to boost the Badgers’ passing recreation. Wisconsin’s protection will at all times give the group an opportunity to win the Massive Ten West Division, however Mertz might want to ship in huge moments and keep away from the errors which have surfaced too typically.

Greatest query mark this season: Coordinator Jim Leonhard’s defenses have been reliably elite, however cornerback options new faces after multiyear starters Faion Hicks and Caesar Dancy-Williams depart. The Badgers went to the switch portal for Justin Clark (Toledo), Cedrick Dort Jr. (Kentucky) and Jay Shaw (UCLA). Clark and Shaw arrive with 9 profession interceptions mixed. Leonhard will lean on all three to regulate to his scheme. In the event that they do, Wisconsin’s cornerback depth might change into a power, and can assist the protection stay on observe. — Rittenberg

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Braelon Allen burst onto the scene final season and appears to be subsequent in line at working again for Wisconsin.

2021 document: 11-3
Opening week recreation: vs. West Virginia, Sept. 1
Most necessary recreation of the season: West Virginia

X issue: QB Kedon Slovis. Though Pitt’s quarterback competitors to switch Kenny Pickett stays open, Slovis is the favourite to win the beginning job primarily based on his previous expertise at USC. In his breakout freshman 12 months with the Trojans, Slovis threw for 3,502 yards with 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The Panthers are relying on Slovis to recapture the shape that allowed him to succeed that 12 months. He may have an skilled offensive line in entrance of him to assist.

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Greatest query mark this season: How do the Panthers do with out Pickett and receiver Jordan Addison? The reigning ACC champions misplaced the majority of their offensive manufacturing, leaving query marks not solely with Slovis taking up however at receiver as nicely. Jared Wayne, the group’s second-leading receiver a 12 months in the past, returns, and the addition of freshman All-American Konata Mumpfield will definitely assist. Add in a brand new offensive coordinator in Frank Cignetti Jr., and it’s straightforward to see why the majority of the questions on this group middle on what the Pitt offense will seem like in 2022. — Adelson

2021 document: 10-3
Opening week recreation: vs. Troy, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. Alabama, Nov. 12

X issue: It has been a whirlwind for Zach Evans, however maybe he’s discovered a house at Ole Miss. The Rebels definitely hope they’ve discovered their go-to working again after Evans transferred from TCU. As a highschool senior, Evans was one of the crucial gifted working again prospects within the nation and initially signed with Georgia. He was launched from his letter of intent and wound up at TCU, the place he averaged greater than 7 yards per carry every of his two seasons there. Ole Miss misplaced nearly all of its dashing manufacturing from a 12 months in the past, and Lane Kiffin’s offense is based upon working the soccer. Evans figures to get as many carries as he can take.

Greatest query mark this season: The Rebels introduced in a number of high-profile transfers, together with former USC quarterback Jaxson Dart. He is a gifted passer who ought to match nicely into Kiffin’s system, however changing Matt Corral at quarterback could be a tall order for any participant or for any group. He was the center and soul of Ole Miss’ group final season and willed the Rebels to various wins in a number of key video games along with his passing, working and grit. These sorts of gamers do not come round daily. — Low

2021 document: 13-1
Opening week recreation: at Arkansas, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at SMU, Oct. 22

X issue: The quarterback, whoever that’s. Cincinnati was recognized for its protection for the previous two seasons, however there is no denying Desmond Ridder was top-of-the-line quarterbacks within the nation as nicely. Eastern Michigan switch Ben Bryant and Evan Prater might be competing for the job, which can include base behind an offensive line that returns all 5 starters (three of which had been 2021 first-team All-AAC picks).

Greatest query mark this season: How does the protection rebound from an inevitable drop-off? The Bearcats misplaced six defensive gamers to the NFL, together with faculty soccer’s finest cornerback duo in Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner. Cornerback Arquon Bush might be one of the crucial skilled gamers within the defensive backfield, together with returning beginning security Ja’Von Hicks. Defensive finish Malik Vann and linebacker Deshawn Pace are additionally anticipated to be key items for this unit in 2021. Regardless of their losses, the Bearcats are anticipated to be a high contender within the AAC. — Harry Lyles Jr.

2021 document: 10-3
Opening week recreation: vs. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: vs. Tennessee, Oct. 29

X issue: In his first season with the Wildcats, quarterback Will Levis put up spectacular numbers (24 passing TDs and 9 dashing TDs) after transferring from Penn State. As he enters his second season at UK, there’s rising discuss that he might be a first-round decide in subsequent 12 months’s NFL draft. Kentucky wants a giant season out of Levis, particularly with high receiver Wan’Dale Robinson headed to the NFL and high working again Chris Rodriguez‘s standing unclear after pleading responsible to DUI this summer season.

Greatest query mark this season: The Wildcats need to discover a solution to be extra constant in defending the go, and that is not all on the secondary, both. A number of defensive again contributors from a 12 months in the past are gone, and rising expertise Vito Tisdale additionally suffered a season-ending damage within the spring. Bringing in Ole Miss switch Keidron Smith ought to assistance on the again finish, however the Wildcats are additionally seeking to exchange all three defensive-line starters. — Low

2021 document: 5-7
Opening week recreation: vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: Oklahoma, Oct. 8

X issue: Hudson Card. Sure, Quinn Ewers was a star recruit and a ballyhooed switch from Ohio State. However Card was chosen as Steve Sarkisian’s starter final 12 months earlier than shedding the job to Casey Thompson, who has since transferred to Nebraska. Nonetheless, Card has Sarkisian’s confidence and will nonetheless maintain off Ewers, who didn’t try a go for the Buckeyes. Between Bijan Robinson and receivers Xavier Worthy and freshman speedster Brenen Thompson, there are big-play choices for the Longhorns. If an improved Card holds on to the job, that is solely excellent news for Sarkisian, who would have high quality choices, particularly with a Week 2 showdown with Alabama looming.

Greatest query mark this season: The protection. Sarkisian took a web page from Nick Saban’s playbook, hiring a head coach as an off-field staffer when he landed former TCU coach Gary Patterson as a particular assistant, and his observe document of defensive excellence can solely assist. The Longhorns ranked 99th in scoring protection (31.1 PPG), 100th in whole protection (425.6 YPG), 91st in crimson zone D and 101st in third-down conversion charges allowed. Texas will rating factors. How the protection holds up will go a great distance towards turning issues round for Sarkisian after a disastrous debut season. — Wilson

2021 document: 12-2
Opening week recreation: at UTSA, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: at SMU, Nov. 5

X issue: QB Clayton Tune. The Cougars needs to be potent on offense with seven starters returning, and Tune is the straw that stirs the drink. In 14 video games final 12 months, Tune threw for 3,544 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions whereas finishing over 68% of his passes. If he stays wholesome, Tune will seemingly be the American Athletic’s finest quarterback whereas main one of the crucial gifted groups within the convention.

Greatest query mark this season: How do the brand new defensive items match? The Cougars misplaced three gamers to the NFL draft from the 2021 protection that was sixth within the nation in whole protection. Defensive coordinator Doug Belk advised ESPN the protection might be youthful in some spots the place it must mature quick, however he additionally feels there are a number of guys who might be within the NFL subsequent season. He additionally touted linebacker Donavan Mutin as a Peyton Manning-type on protection due to his on-field mind. “I really feel fairly assured about what we’re going to have the ability to do,” Belk mentioned. — Lyles Jr.

2021 document: 10-3
Opening week recreation: at USF, Sept. 3
Most necessary recreation of the season: Baylor, Sept. 10

X issue: WR Puka Nacua is coming off a breakout season wherein he caught 43 passes for 805 yards with six touchdowns after making simply 16 grabs over the earlier two seasons. After the departure of Tyler Allgeier (fifth-round decide of Atlanta), Nacua’s presence is ever extra necessary as QB Jaren Hall tries to construct off his sturdy 2021 season.

Greatest query mark this season: Can the Cougars get off to a robust begin? As a result of they’re going to face Baylor and Oregon within the second and third video games of the season, a 1-2 begin is clearly on the desk. If that occurs, the remainder of the rationale will not have critical stakes as a result of they’re an unbiased group. It is exactly the state of affairs to indicate why becoming a member of the Massive 12 might be such an important transfer for this system. If the Cougars can get by means of these two video games, although, 5-Zero seems doable heading into the sport towards Notre Dame in Las Vegas. — Bonagura