Way-too-early rankings: How Michigan, Michigan State football stack up in 2022

The Detroit News

Michigan and Michigan State both finished in the top 10 of the Associated Press college football poll for the first time since 1999. Judging by some early guesswork Tuesday morning, it might not be long before it happens again.

Georgia's 33-18 victory over Alabama in the national title game Monday night ended the 2021 season, and kicked off the usual slew of "way-too-early" national rankings for 2022. The Wolverines and Spartans are well represented, more often than not landing in the top 10, or hovering just outside of it.

Michigan and Michigan State are expected to be among the top 10 teams in the country to open the 2022 college football season by a number of national analysts.

Michigan, which finished 12-2 and No. 3 in the final AP poll after falling in the national semifinal to eventual champion Georgia, 34-11, in the Orange Bowl, is expected to at least be a contender for a College Football Playoff spot next season as well.

ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Athlon Sports' Steven Lassan each have the Wolverines No. 5 in their early rankings.

"It might have taken seven seasons, but Jim Harbaugh finally broke through what looked like a ceiling at his alma mater," Schlabach writes. "The season ended with a flop ... but that won't take away from a breakout campaign. The Wolverines defeated Ohio State for the first time in a decade, won the Big Ten for the first time since 2004 and reached the playoff for the first time.

"After there was mounting pressure to fire Harbaugh following the 2020 season, he shook up his coaching staff, and the changes paid off. First-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald did fantastic work, and he might have to do even more next season with (Aidan) Hutchinson and (David) Ojabo turning pro. Identifying (Hassan) Haskins' replacement and settling a quarterback battle between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy will be priorities this spring."

Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated, Bill Bender of the Sporting News, and 247Sports each have the Wolverines at No. 7, with Brad Crawford of 247Sports cautioning, "the anticipated onslaught of preseason love for Michigan we expect to see in 2022 comes with the caveat Jim Harbaugh is leading this program and doesn't bounce to the NFL."

Michigan State, which wrapped up an 11-2 season with a 31-21 victory over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl, isn't too far behind in most of the early peeks. That, despite like Michigan, being charged with replacing major contributors like running back Kenneth Walker III.

The Spartans finished No. 9 in AP's final poll, and won't fall too far off the pace in 2022 in the eyes of national analysts.

Crawford's 247Sports, which based its early rankings on the polling of its writers, has Michigan State at No. 9, while ESPN and Athlon Sports each have the Spartans at 10. Forde has MSU starting out at No. 11.

"Mel Tucker is convinced he can build a national championship-caliber program at Michigan State," Schlabach writes, "and he took a big step toward credibility in his second season. The nine-win improvement from 2020 is the biggest in school history."

Replacing Walker and improving a pass defense which ranked last in the country, averaging 324.8 yards per game, will be pivotal.

"Losing Kenneth Walker III’s production hurts," Forde writes, "but there are other weapons on hand. Payton Thorne had an excellent sophomore season at QB, and Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger arrives with a chance to fill Walker’s shoes and reenergize his career. The defense returns many of its key parts, and let’s face it — the secondary can only get better." 

A sampling of other analysts' early rankings for 2022:

► Bender has Michigan State at No. 15.

Yahoo! Sports has Michigan at No. 8, and Michigan State at No. 13.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports has Michigan at No. 11, and Michigan State at No. 20.