College football gets knocked sometimes for its predictability at the top. Look no further than an SEC Championship Game rematch between Alabama and Georgia in last season's College Football Playoff National Championship for supporting evidence. However, a deeper look at the 2021 season reveals how surprises remain a part of the sport's fabric, even at the highest levels.
Coming off losing seasons in 2020, Baylor, Michigan and Michigan State began their 2021 campaigns unranked in the AP Top 25. By season's end, however, the trio was ranked in the top 10 of the final AP poll after playing in New Year's Six bowl games. Baylor won the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl; Michigan won the Big Ten and appeared in a playoff semifinal against Georgia; and Michigan State won the Peach Bowl while producing an unexpected Heisman Trophy contender in running back Kenneth Walker III.
The collective success of that group should give some hope to programs beginning the 2022 season on the outside looking in of the preseason AP poll. In fact, the "others receiving votes" category is comprised of so many big names that it wouldn't be surprising to see a few of them become factors on the national stage -- just as the Bears, Wolverines and Spartans did last season. .
As the beginning of the 2022 season creeps ever closer, here is a look the five unranked teams with the best chance to finish the 2022 season in the top 10.
With an 11-11 (8-10 in Big Ten) record over the past two seasons and a 2-6 finish to 2021, Penn State was easy for voters to overlook. However, that line of thinking ignores the Nittany Lions' 5-0 start last fall -- which could have been 7-0 had quarterback Sean Clifford not suffered an injury against Iowa.
Defensive coordinator Brent Pry's departure to become Virginia Tech's head coach would have been cause for concern -- he and coach James Franklin coached together for more than a decade -- but Franklin hit a home run by hiring Manny Diaz to replace Pry. With offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich in his second season, plus a healthy Clifford back with a loaded group of skill players around him, the Nittany Lions are capable of beating anyone on their schedule. That includes No. 2 Ohio State at home on Oct. 29. The offensive line is the biggest question mark, but if that group can facilitate even a serviceable rushing attack, this can be a top-10 team.