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College football rankings: 10 teams that had the best offseason

Hope springs eternal in the college football offseason, when teams that appear on the verge of something great can make the moves and get into contention.

Teams that finished just on the outside of the final four rankings or were just edged out of their conference race all think they have a shot to make the push this season.

News of the long offseason gives those schools a chance to make the right coaching hire or sign the right recruiting class or add a few choice transfer players.

Of course, not all offseason hype is created equally.

Last summer, Iowa State was the sexy pick, and earned its highest-ever preseason ranking at No. 7. Then came the losses and the Cyclones' chances went up in smoke.

Having a good offseason doesn't mean you're going to have a good season, but it's certainly the first step in putting itself in position to potentially do something great.

Which teams have done that so far?

Ranking college football teams with the best offseason in 2022

10. Nebraska

A traditional college football power, Nebraska has struggled to maintain its dominance in the 21st century.

Previous Top 25 ranking: Unranked

2021 record: 3-9

College Football HQ preview: You get the feeling this is Scott Frost's last chance at his alma mater. He's yet to have a winning season, and is coming off a 2021 outing in which the Cornhuskers lost every game by single digits. Which is strange, considering they out-ran, out-passed, and out-scored everybody on their schedule. All of which suggests issues in situational coaching and play-calling.

After getting word he still had a job, Frost got aggressive addressing the issues on his staff and on the roster. Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple comes over in the same role following an ACC title effort coaching Heisman finalist QB Kenny Pickett. 

He has another star to work with in athletic Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson, who led the Big 12 in TD passes last fall. Former TCU edge fixture Ochaun Mathis, a stellar pass rusher who brings needed athleticism up front, also comes over after considering Texas in a major coup for the Huskers.

9. Miami

mario cristobal

Previous Top 25 ranking: Unranked

2021 record: 7-5

College Football HQ preview: The U wasn't messing around when they decided to move on from Manny Diaz. The school went big, hiring Mario Cristobal, the former Oregon coach, a Miami native, and 2-time national champion with the Hurricanes as a player, to lead this program.

In short order, Cristobal revamped the Canes' coaching staff, on and off the field. He brought in Josh Gattis from Michigan to call the offensive plays. Then he added Kevin Steele and Charlie Strong to re-work the defense.

Next came Miami legend Ed Reed along with Dolphins great Jason Taylor to man the off-field staff, and the school is pledging to pour major dollars into upgrading facilities.

Miami may not see the profits from these additions right away, but with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke leading this offense again, the Hurricanes have more than a fighter's chance in the wide-open ACC Coastal.

8. South Carolina

south carolina gamecocks

Previous Top 25 ranking: Unranked

2021 record: 7-6

College Football HQ preview: Shane Beamer was already ahead of schedule when he won seven games in Year 1. That's the kind of job that most people thought awaited him when he landed with the Gamecocks. Now, that job appears to have gotten better after Beamer landed a consensus top 15 transfer class that includes two former Oklahoma starters: quarterback Spencer Rattler and tight end Austin Stogner.

Rattler brings mobility and deep-field accuracy that should bolster a Gamecock offense that last fall placed 13th in passing, 11th in rushing, and 13th in scoring among SEC teams.

But he's no good to this team if its offensive line can't protect him. One of the SEC's worst pass-blocking units, it surrendered 31 sacks last season. Rattler can run, but he won't be much help if he's running all the time. USC also gets help from some other transfers in safety Devonni Reed, Juice Wells and Corey Rucker at receiver, and backs Christian Beal-Smith and Lovasea Carroll.

7. Ole Miss

Ole Miss was aggressive in the college football transfer portal, signing former USC quarterback Jaxson Dart, among others.

Previous Top 25 ranking: No. 11

2021 record: 10-3

College Football HQ preview: When you lose the bulk of an offense that ranked top 10 a year ago, you have to get aggressive. And that's just what self-proclaimed "Portal King" Lane Kiffin did in an active offseason.

The Rebels' fast-moving offense pulled down some choice replacements in quarterback Jaxson Dart, running backs Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley, and receiver Jordan Watkins to play behind one of the better offensive lines in the SEC.

Dart had 1,353 yards with 9 TDs and five picks at USC and brings an element of mobility that will remind fans of Matt Corral. Evans and Bentley look to beef up a backfield that just lost almost 2,600 yards of production; the backs bring a combined 2,622 yards and 24 touchdowns between them.

A trio of transfers — LB Troy Brown, DE Jared Ivey, and DB J.J. Pegues bring — highlight an improved defensive unit that boasts strong depth especially up front.

6. Oklahoma

Arguably the best defensive strategist in college football, Brent Venables returns to Oklahoma as the Sooners' head coach.

Previous Top 25 ranking: No. 10

2021 record: 11-2

College Football HQ preview: Maybe no other big-time program, aside from USC, will look more different than the Sooners, who had to do major surgery on their coaching staff and roster on very short notice after the Lincoln Riley-led exodus that included eight outgoing transfers and 14 lost starters in total.

OU appears to have landed on its feet, though, after hiring Brent Venables as head coach. Venables spent much of the last generation building a reputation as the most respected defensive mind in the game, most recently at Clemson, winning two national championships. His intensity and enthusiasm has already earned him high praise at Oklahoma, whose defense he coached during the 2000 national title run.

Among the 10 transfers OU added was quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who should get along fine with new OC Jeff Lebby. The two engineered a top 10 offense at UCF a few years ago, but need to sort out their receiving options from a rotation that features a lot of speed potential outside, but is yet to live up to its skill.

5. Ohio State

Jim Knowles coached the No. 3 defense in college football before taking the same position with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Previous Top 25 ranking: No. 6

2021 record: 11-2

College Football HQ preview: Nobody doubts the ability of Ohio State to move the ball after ranking No. 1 in total offense a year ago, and with more firepower still to unleash.

But it was a defense too often out of place, missing tackles, surrendering big plays, and lacking in physicality that cost the Buckeyes in losses to Oregon and Michigan.

Enter Jim Knowles. Last season, he coached Oklahoma State's defense to a No. 3 ranking and led the nation in TFLs and sacks.

Now, he brings an aggressive, DB-led approach that will look to throw opponents off schedule with a variety of formations and coverages. Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown will lock up the corners while safety Josh Proctor returns from injury and Okie State transfer Tanner McCalister, who played well under Knowles, followed his coordinator to the Big Ten.

This unit should be one of the most improved nationally. Which, when combined with an attack led by Heisman finalist CJ Stroud, should put Ohio State in the driver's seat for another College Football Playoff berth.

4. LSU

The winningest coach in Notre Dame history, Brian Kelly moves to LSU to resurrect a proud SEC college football power.

Previous Top 25 ranking: Unranked

2021 record: 6-7

College Football HQ preview: Just three short years ago, LSU was the undisputed king of the sport, the undefeated national champion playing behind arguably the greatest offense ever put on a field. Since then, the Tigers are just 11-12 and working in a new head coach to revive a program that's won three titles this century.

And what a hire LSU made, pulling Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame to do it. He was aggressive in the transfer portal to beef up positions of need like offensive line and defensive back and he scored two important quarterbacks: convincing Myles Brennan to stay on and signing Jayden Daniels from Arizona State.

Kelly signed four important defensive pieces in the portal, including DBs Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks to go with cornerbacks Mekhi Garner and Jarrick Bernard-Converse. But maybe most important of all was that Kelly convinced Kayshon Boutte, one of the best wide receivers in college football, to return this fall.

3. Texas

Texas landed 5-star quarterback Quinn Ewers in the college football transfer portal, a major addition for the Longhorns.

Previous Top 25 ranking: Unranked

2021 record: 5-7

College Football HQ preview: Texas needed all the help it could get defensively this offseason after failing to finish so many games last fall. UT gave up more than 31 ppg and over 200 rushing ypg and failed to generate a consistent pass rush.

Transfer linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey, a budding star from the FCS ranks, fills a badly-needed hole right away in the middle of this alignment, as does Ohio State transfer corner Ryan Watts on the back end.

Both will complement a solid top 5 recruiting haul that focused heavily on linemen both offensive and defensive. Quinn Ewers steps in at quarterback low on experience but possibly stratospheric on potential, already earning first-round draft grades from analysts.

2. Texas A&M

Texas A&M could emerge as a contender in the College Football Playoff rankings under Jimbo Fisher.

Previous Top 25 ranking: Unranked

2021 record: 8-4

College Football HQ preview: Brushing aside all the offseason furor between Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban, let's not lose sight of what A&M has done over the last few months. 247Sports calls the school's 2022 recruiting class the highest rated in modern history, and it's just what Fisher needed in what has been an up and down tenure with the school.

The up? A&M beat No. 1 Alabama last fall. The down? It lost four other games and didn't place in the AP Top 25. Good thing the Aggies have eight 5-star recruits coming in, all at positions of need, including defensive line (4 of those 8 play there), wide receiver (Evan Stewart and Chris Marshall), and quarterback (Conner Weigman).

Fisher signed four of the 10 best defensive line prospects in the nation: No. 1 Walter Nolen, No. 3 Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, No. 6 Lebbeus Overton, and No. 7 Shemar Stewart. 5-star corner Denver Harris also signed with the Aggies. The pieces are there; now Jimbo has to put them together.

1. USC

usc football lincoln riley (1)

Previous Top 25 ranking: Unranked

2021 record: 4-8

College Football HQ preview: The USC offseason hype train has been running at full speed, and it's up to Lincoln Riley to make sure it stays on the tracks. The first-year coach has some elite credits behind him, like taking Oklahoma to three straight College Football Playoffs.

But he didn't win any of those games, and this is really Riley's first chance at compiling a full roster.

He's signed some major transfers, like quarterback Caleb Williams and Biletnikoff receiver Jordan Addison, to go with running backs Travis Dye and Austin Jones, and some important pieces like Shane Lee at linebacker and Latrell McCutchin at cornerback to beef up this 89th ranked defense.

Riley's arrival is clearly meant to be the moment USC returns to glory. And even with the additions he's made, a game-changing quarterback, and a manageable schedule, this is still a roster undergoing major transformation at nearly every position.

More from College Football HQ

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