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Preseason Football Coaches Poll: Three Cal Opponents in Top 25

Three Pac-12 teams are ranked in the poll released Monday, but the Golden Bears don't face the highest ranked one

The AFCA coaches preseason football poll was released on Monday, and Cal faces three of the teams ranked in the top 25.

Alabama was the overwhelming pick as the No. 1 team, receiving 54 of the 66 first-place votes. Ohio State is second, defending national champion Georgia third and Clemson fourth.

Notre Dame is No. 5, and Cal faces the Fighting Irish in the Bears’ third game of the season on Sept. 17 on Notre Dame’s home field. The other two ranked teams Cal faces this season are 12th-ranked Oregon, which comes to Berkeley on Sept. 29, and USC, which hosts Cal the following week on Nov. 5.

Oregon and USC are two of the three Pac-12 team ranked in the top 25. Utah is the highest-ranked Pac-12 team, coming in at No. 8, but Cal does not face the Utes this season.

UCLA and Oregon State are among the other 30 schools that received votes, but Cal did not receive a single vote.

Five Pac-12 coaches are among the 66 coaches who vote in the coaches’ poll: Kalen DeBoer of Washington, Jake Dickert of Washington State, Hem Edwards of Arizona State, Jedd Fisch of Arizona and Kyle Whittingham of Utah.

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox does not vote in this poll, but the two men who preceded Wilcox as the Golden Bears’ head coach do: Sonny Dykes, now at TCU, and Jeff Tedford, now at Fresno State.

The Associated Press media poll is scheduled to be released next Monday (August 15).

Here is the USA Today preseason coaches poll (with first-place votes in parentheses, followed by total voting points).

1. Alabama (54) 1,634

2. Ohio State (5) 1,565

3. Georgia (6) 1,542

4. Clemson 1,356

5. Notre Dame 1,284

6. Michigan 1,232

7. Texas A&M 1,219

8. Utah 1,134

9. Oklahoma 1,227

10. Baylor 891

11. Oklahoma State 859

12. Oregon 734

13. North Carolina State 726

14. Michigan State 711

15. USC 602

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16. Pittsburgh 450

17. Miami 433

18. Texas 383

19. Wake Forest 381

20. Wisconsin 362

21. Kentucky 353

22. Cincinnati 339

23. Arkansas 334

24. Mississippi 327

25. Houston 257

Others receiving votes:

Iowa 248; Penn State 246; Tennessee 163; Brigham Young 152; Louisiana State 143; Auburn 98; Central Florida 55; North Carolina 34; San Diego State 25; Fresno State 21; Mississippi State 19; Florida 17; Utah State 12; Air Force 12; UCLA 10; Boise State 10; Appalachian State 10; Minnesota 6; South Carolina 5; Kansas State 4; Iowa State 3; Army 3; UL Lafayette 2; Southern Methodist 2; Purdue 2; Oregon State 2; Coastal Carolina 2; Texas-San Antonio 1; Louisville 1; Florida State 1.

The USA TODAY Sports AFCA Board of Coaches is 66 head coaches at Bowl Subdivision schools. All are members of the American Football Coaches Association. The board for the 2022 season: Tom Albin, Ohio; Tom Allen, Indiana; Blake Anderson,Utah State; Marcus Arroyo, UNLV; Dino Babers, Syracuse; Mike Bloomgren, Rice; Brent Brennan, San Jose State; Neal Brown, West Virginia; Troy Calhoun, Air Force; Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina; Paul Chryst, Wisconsin; Dave Clawson, Wake Forest; Sonny Cumbie, Louisiana Tech; Kalen DeBoer, Washington; Jake Dickert, Washington State; Dana Dimel, Texas-El Paso; Dave Doeren, North Carolina State; Stan Drayton, Temple; Sonny Dykes, TCU; Herm Edwards, Arizona State; Mike Elko, Duke; Luke Fickell, Cincinnati; Jedd Fisch, Arizona; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; James Franklin, Penn State; Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame; Hugh Freeze, Liberty; Willie Fritz, Tulane; Scott Frost, Nebraska; Danny Gonzales, New Mexico; Jeff Hafley, Boston College; Will Hall, Southern Mississippi; Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois; Tyson Helton, Western Kentucky; Brady Hoke, San Diego State; Dana Holgorsen; Houston; Butch Jones, Arkansas State; Chris Klieman, Kansas State; Rhett Lashlee, SMU; Lance Leipold, Kansas; Tim Lester, Western Michigan; Sean Lewis, Kent State; Mike Locksley, Maryland; Mike MacIntyre, Florida International; Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio); Joey McGuire, Texas Tech; Jeff Monken, Army; Joe Moorhead, Akron; Jim Mora, Connecticut; Billy Napier, Florida; Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh; Ken Niumatalolo, Navy; Sam Pittman, Arkansas; Brent Pry, Virginia Tech; Nick Saban, Alabama; Scott Satterfield, Louisville; Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Kirby Smart, Georgia; Jake Spavital, Texas State; Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee; Jon Sumrall, Troy; Jeff Tedford, Fresno State; Jeff Traylor, Texas-San Antonio; Mel Tucker, Michigan State; Kyle Whittingham, Utah, Ken Wilson, Nevada.

USA Today provided a brief look at each team in the top 25, and here is what it said about the three Pac-12 teams that are ranked (with its 2021 record in parentheses)

8. Utah (10-4)

Points: 1,134. Previous ranking: 12. Opens: Sept. 3 at Florida (ESPN, 7).

Kyle Whittingham’s decision to promote Cam Rising to starting quarterback turned last season around for the Utes after a 1-2 start. It ended with a conference title and memorable shootout loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Rising returns with RB Tavion Thomas, who had 21 touchdowns on the ground. TE Brant Kuithe was the team’s leading receiver and position mate Dalton Kincaid was right behind him. The defense again will be strong up front with Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate slotting in at linebacker and filling a big need. The biggest worry is the secondary that was torched by the Buckeyes. DB Clark Phillips is an elite player but needs help.

12. Oregon (10-4)

Points: 734. Previous ranking: 21. Opens: Sept. 3 vs. No. 3 Georgia (ABC, 3:30).

The first issue new coach Dan Lanning must address is figuring out who is his starting quarterback. Bo Nix transfers in from Auburn after three roller-coaster seasons and will compete with Ty Thompson, who redshirted after joining the program as one of the nation’s top recruits. Lanning’s second task will be sorting out the defense. That might be a more comfortable endeavor as he built one of the country’s elite units at Georgia. Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe have the makings of a standout linebacker duo if the latter can stay healthy after two injury-plagued seasons. The one area Oregon will be able to count on is offensive line, where most of last year’s starting group returns and should pave the way for a strong running game.

15. Southern California (4-8)

Points: 602. Previous ranking: Not ranked. Opens: Sept. 3 vs. Rice (Pac-12, 6).

There’s talk about the Trojans possibly being playoff contenders or winning the Pac-12 in Lincoln Riley’s first season. But there are major concerns on both sides of the ball after last year’s team imploded. Caleb Williams transferred with Riley from Oklahoma and will take over the quarterback spot. He showed moments of brilliance and inexperience as a freshman at Oklahoma. Joining him are more than a dozen other transfers, including running back Travis Dye from Oregon and Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison from Pittsburgh. There are problems to address on the offensive line and throughout the defense. So while USC might score more, they’re going to have to stop people without the requisite talent.

USA Today also listed five schools it believes are overrated in the coaches poll, and USC was one of those:


The arrival of Lincoln Riley surely will improve things at USC. How much worse can the Trojans get after a 4-8 campaign that was the worst record for the program since 1991? That said, the idea that one offseason is going to change the Trojans into Pac-12 contenders and potential College Football Playoff participants is overly optimistic. Yes, Caleb Williams brings excitement at quarterback after following his former coach at Oklahoma. Just don’t overlook how much he struggled against Baylor and Oklahoma State last year. There’s talent at the receiver position. Points will be scored. That alone doesn’t win games. The offensive line has to get better, and the defense has holes throughout. A host of transfers were brought in to address these concerns. Molding the pieces together won’t be easy for Riley, who is starting from scratch – unlike his situation with the Sooners. It’s going to take time to be title contenders and it won’t happen this year. 

But CBS Sports says Utah was underrated at No. 8, saying this about the Utes:

Underrated: No. 8 Utah

The negative stigma associated with the Pac-12 seems to have cost the Utes here. They boast a big-time one-two punch with dual-threat quarterback Cameron Rising and running back Tavion Thomas. Plus, they're also almost always stout up front, and the presence of coach Kyle Whittingham makes them the best-coached team in the conference (yes, USC with Lincoln Riley included). Defensively, it seems like they are getting knocked for the dramatic Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State despite being razor thin in the secondary.

Utah isn't just the best team in the Pac-12, it should be considered a legit playoff contender. Apparently, the rest of the coaches in the country haven't caught on yet. 

Cover photo of USC quarterback Caleb Williams is by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports


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