Monthly Archives: August 2022

2022 Top 35

1AlabamaNot unusual to see Nick Saban’s squad at pre-season #1, but this year’s team is an even bigger favorite than usual. A loss in the national title game provides the focus and motivation to win it all in 2022. The Tide return Bryce Young at QB, last season’s Heisman winner, and LB Will Anderson, who finished in the top 5 of the Heisman voting as a defensive player. The TIde loses 2 great WRs in Williams and Mechie, but brings in transfer WR and speedster Jermaine Burton from Georgia. Meanwhile, talk about the rich getting richer – RB Jahmyr Gibbs is a big time playmaker, completely under the radar on a struggling Ga Tech team, but will be a star for Bama. Pairing LB Dallas Turner (himself with 8.5 sacks in ’21) with Anderson and his 17.5 sacks, gives the Tide the top LB duo in the country. The “marquee” OOC game is at Texas (5-7 last season) and the Tide get Texas A&M at home (and no Georgia in the regular season). Anything less than an undefeated regular season will be a disappointment.
2GeorgiaThe Bulldogs finally had their breakthrough season under HD KIrby Smart, rebounding from an ugly loss to Alabama in the SECCG, to defeating the Tide for the National Title. With the talent Kirby has amassed in Athens over the last few years, the team should very much be in the hunt again in ’22. Many didn’t believe QB Stetson Bennett could lead a team to a title, but he did, and returns for his 6th! year. Although UGA’s top 2 RBs are gone, the former backups Kenny McIntosh and Kendall MIlton are poised to breakout. It was a blow when WR Jermaine Burton transferred to Bama, but TE Brock Bowers returns and they may finally get the services of the uber talented Arik Gilbert in 2022. Defense will require more re-building, but for a program like Georgia, it is definitely a re-load. LBs Nolan Smith and Robert Beal Jr are back and will help out the super talented but less experienced defensive front. The secondary should be ok with Kelee Ringo and Christopher Smith returning. The schedule features a very interesting OOC game in the opener vs a talented Oregon in Atlanta’ but one with an all new coaching staff (ironically the former UGA DC Dan Lanning takes over at HC). The Bulldogs are significantly ahead of the rest of the teams in their division and do not face Bama or A&M in the regular season. Another playoff appearance is likely; but can they beat Bama again?
3Ohio StateThe Buckeyes will feature as good of offensive talent as any team in the country. Returning to Columbus is Heisman candidate QB C.J. Stroud, who threw for over 4000 yards in ’21; his leading WR Jaxon Smith-Nigba, coming off 347 yards receiving in the Rose Bowl win over Oregon, and the leading rusher in TreVeyon Henderson. Even without other WR stars like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, the offense should be one of the nation’s best. But it was the defense that cost the Buckeyes in their 2 losses last year ( 35-28 to Oregon and 42-27 to Michigan). To address the issue, HC Ryan Day brought in DC Jim Knowles, who had built an excellent defense at Oklahoma State. The schedule features a fantastic opener in the Horseshoe vs Notre Dame and concludes with a visit from MIchigan. If Knowles can build a top 5 defense at OK State, then he can get a Buckeye defense to play well enough that the high powered offense can outscore the opponents.
4UtahExciting times in Salt Lake City as the hometown Utes come off their first ever Pac-12 championship and have even higher hopes for 2022. It starts with QB Cam Rising, who took over as the starter in the 4th game and lead Utah to wins at USC and 2 blowout victories over Oregon (the 2nd in the Pac 12 Championship Game). The dual threat Rising is joined by both the top RB, Taylon Thomas who scored 21 TDs, and the leader in receiving, TE Brant Kuithe. The defense does lose star LB Devin Lloyd, but with 6 starters back, the defense should be good as usual under HC Kyle Whittingham. The schedule starts with a bang, with the opener at Florida, hosts SDSU (which the Utes lost to last year) and has to travel to both Oregon and UCLA in conference. USC with new HC Lincoln Riley are a huge wildcard in the Pac-12, but the Utes are at least co-favorites in the conference and maybe more.
5ClemsonChange is in the air in the Southland, as the Tigers are coming off a year where they did not win the ACC or finish in the top 10 and now are replacing both of their long time coordinators. Clemson’s defense was superb, allowing only 14.8 pts per game and keeping them in every game, even when the offense struggled (which was a lot). Legendary DC Brent Venables finally left for a HC job (Oklahoma) and Dabo Swinney followed his normal MO and promoted from within. Not quite as confident in the D without Venables, but the talent is still there to be one of the elite D=lines in the country. The big question is on offense, where QB DJ Uagalelei struggled most of the season, surprising after performing so well when called into action in 2020. DJ has slimmed down and is focused on improvement and with more experience around him, the offense should improve – but will have to do so with new OC Brandon Streeter. Streeter is certainly experienced in the Clemson way, but has his work cut out for him. The schedule features a big OOC match-up with Notre Dame in November, and the upstarts in the division, Wake and NC State, earlier in the season. Clemson should rebound in ’22, but not confident enough in the offense to believe this is a playoff team.
6MichiganSo Jim Harbaugh finally breaks through after a number of good, but not great, seasons at Michigan, beating their nemesis in Ohio State, winning the Big Ten, making the playoffs and finishing in the Top 5 for the first time since 1999. Then it got crazy as Harbaugh flirted with leaving for the NFL, and while he stayed, both his DC and OC did not. Even with a new coordinator, the offense looks to stay strong with two experienced QBs back (J.J. McCarthy and Cade McNamara) a deep backfield with Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards and good receivers including Ronnie Bell back from injury. The defense made dramatic improvements from the previou season, going from allowing nearly 35 pts/game to only 17; but the D faces a rebuilding job with only 4 starters back (and none are Aidan Hutchinson or David Ojaboand) and the change at DC. The OOC schedule is wafer thin – Colorado St, Hawaii and UConn all at home; Wolverines do go to Iowa but get Penn St and Michigan St at home. Don’t expect another Big 10 championship this year, but the talent is there for another double digit winning season.
7Notre DameThis off-season has featured one bombshell move after another, and one of the biggest was the Irish HC Brian Kelly leaving to take over LSU. Kelly was the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, but struggled against the elite competition in the playoffs. His DC, Marcus Freeman, was the very popular pick to secede Kelly and already has raised the level of passion around the program. Freeman retained OC Tommy Rees who has announced former 4* recruit Tyler Buchner has won the starting QB job. He’s a true dual threat, with more yards rushing than passing in backup duty last year. Also, the 0 line developed into a strength in 2021 and the RB room is deep. They’ll need to develop a go to receiver beyond TE Michael Mayer. Freeman picked former Miami Hurricanes HC Al Golden as his new DC, and Golden will have a lot of talent to work with. Replacing star S Kyle Hamilton won’t be easy, but the addition of former Northwestern AA S Brandon Joseph helps make up for the loss. The schedule is the typical coast to coast barn storming the Irish have every season, featuring a wide variety of quality opponent. The season starts with a bang at Ohio State, with games vs BYU in Las Vegas, home against Clemson and ending at USC as the toughest ones on the schedule. The ‘popular players coaches’ aren’t always the most successful, but so far Freeman has the excitement level off the charts heading into 2022.
8Texas A&MThe Aggies followed their season with the breakthrough win over Alabama by signing the best recruiting class in history. The problem was the combination of injuries and inconsistent play at QB, A&M finished unranked with losses to 6-7 LSU and 7-6 Mississippi State. The talent level continues to improve under HC Jimbo Fisher, but better QB play is a must for the program to keep ascending. The QB room includes former starter Haynes King, injured in the 2nd game of the season; 5* prospect Conner Weigman and LSU transfer Max Hall. There is talent around whoever is the signal caller in WR Ainais Smith, speedy RB Devon Arhane and 2 Freshman All Americans on the oline. When DC Mike Elko left to take the HC position at Duke (?), JImbo wasted no time in bringing in another very big name replacement. DJ Durkin takes over after successful stints at Florida and Michigan, and will have a room full of blue chippers to mix and match on D. Look for the secondary to be one of the nation’s best. The schedule features a name OOC opponent in Miami, who has some upward momentum of their own; but also has a new coaching staff and is coming off a 7-5 season. At Bama looks to be a likely loss, but no Georgia on the schedule should result in A&M favored in 11 of 12 games.
9OklahomaSo OU HC Lincoln Riley was telling the truth when he insisted he was NOT leaving the Sooners to coach at LSU; but that did not diminish the bombshell announcement that Riley was leaving to coach USC. Oklahoma brought in arguably the most respected coordinator in the game, Clemson’s DC Brent Venables spent over a decade on Bob Stoop’s staff and seems to be the perfect fit to take over. Not only did Riley leave for USC but he also took his prolific QB Caleb Williams, that took over when uber recruit Spencer Rattler faltered. They’re both gone; but Venables brought in former UCF QB Dillion Gabriel, who was electric for the Knights, but missed most of last year due to injury. What will help is Venables also brought in OC Jeff Libby from Ole Miss, but who was at UCF for 2 years and knows Gabriel. The defense wasn’t great last year, but of all the coaches in major college football, Venables knows what he’s doing on D. The toughest OOC is at Nebraska, and in conference, both Baylor and OK State come to Norman. So much change makes this a difficult year to forecast, but in a Big 12 with no clear favorite, the Sooners are in the race as much as anyone.
10NC StateExpectations are sky high in Raleigh this year as NC State has a great opportunity for a rare 10 win season (first since 2002) after coming close in 2021. The optimism starts with QB Devin Leary, who threw for over 3400 yards, completing 65% and a 35/5 ratio. He will operate behind a senior led offensive line and could put up even better numbers in ’22. Meanwhile the defense returns 10 starters and should have one of the best D lines in the conference. And given all the coaching staff upheaval in the ACC in the offseason, State returns their entire coaching staff intact. The opener may be the toughest OOC game with a trip to East Carolina (always a tough out for state), but there’s also a home game with Texas Tech. Coming off the big home win over Clemson last year, this season’s game is in Death Valley, but the Pack don’t face Pitt or Miami from the Coastal. State has the talent and the schedule to have a special season, will the big question is whether they can live up to high expectations?
11OK StateCowboys came very close to winning the Big 12 and a possible play-off berth, but lost the last second Big 12 Champ game to Baylor. A thrilling come from behind win vs Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl capped a great season. QB Spencer Sanders is experienced and a dual threat, throwing for over 2800 yards and rushing for over 700 in ’21. The challenge is that the teams leading rusher and WR are gone, but the WR room is deep. The defense was dominant last year, leading the nation with 57 sacks. They lose every defender that had over 50 tackles, so a definite rebuild on that side of the ball. The OOC schedule toughest game is at home vs Arizona State, but games at Baylor and at OU will define the season.
12OregonThe incredible start to the year, a win against Ohio State in the Horseshoe, ended in the most surprising way possible – 2 blowout losses to Utah to lose the Pac-12, then HC Mario Cristobal leaves to take the job at Miami. Oregon respond to losing another coach to a rebuilding program in Florida by bringing in former Georgia DC Dan Lanning, fresh off the National Championship driven by one of the most dominant defenses in recent major college football history. The offense will likely be lead by transfer QB Bo Nix, a great dual threat talent, but certainly and up and down career at dysfunctional Auburn. It will help that he’ll be operating behind an O-line with 5 returning starters. The Ducks lose their star on defense in Kayvon Thibodeaux, but have some talent on that side of the ball, and Lanning certainly knows what he’s doing. The schedule again features a monster OOC game early as Oregon opens “at” Georgia in Atlanta, then includes a visit from FCS power Eastern Washington and a very good BYU squad. The conference schedule works out well, as there is no USC and both UCLA and Utah come to Eugene. Always hard to judge a team with a first year head coach, but the talent is there for Lanning to make a splash in his first year.
13BaylorAn incredible year for the Bears in HC Dave Aranda’s 2nd season, beating Texas and Oklahoma at home, winning the Big 12 Championship game and the following Sugar Bowl to finish #5 in the nation. There is some rebuilding to do but in a wide open Big 12, the Bears are one of the favorites in the race. QB Gerry Bohannon played well during the season but got injured late. His backup Blake Shapen took over and was the MVP of the BIG 12 CG. Shapen was named the starter in the Spring so Bohannon transferred. Their O-line should be good, but they lose both their top 2 WRs and RBs. The D improved dramatically from 2020, and their great LB Dillion Doyle returns, but it’s a rebuilding job at some other spots on D, including the secondary. The schedule features an interesting OOC game at BYU, and both Texas and OU are on the road this year. It will be hard to repeat last year’s success, but this is still one of the top teams in the conference.
14MiamiHopes are up in Coral Gables this year that the U will soon be back. It starts with the return of favorite son Mario Cristobal leaving Oregon to become Miami’s new HC. Last year’s preseason top 15 ranking disappeared quickly after blowout losses to Alabama and Michigan state early, but a 6–1 finish has fans optimistic. Fr QB Tyler Van Dyke is a big part of the optimism. He started the last 9 games of the season, and threw for over 300 yards in all 9, including the upset wins over NC State and ACC Champ Pitt. Van Dyke will operate the offense managed by new OC Josh Gattis, the Broyles Award winner last season as the OC at Michigan. The Cane’s defense wasn’t great last year, but veteran DC Kevin Steele has talent to work with. The schedule features an early tough one at Texas A&M, but then a lot of winnable games until the final two, at Clemson and home vs Pitt. Will likely be a few bumps in the road with a new coach, but a great QB and a manageable schedule should start the Cristobal era off with a bang.
15USCThe bombshell news of Oklahoma HC Lincoln Riley leaving to come to USC excited the Trojan fan base of a return to the glory last experience during the Pete Carroll era. The news got even better when he brought his QB Caleb Williams with him. USC lost some of their top offensive weapons, but Riley used the transfer portal well and brought in star replacements, including Biletnikoff winner, Jordan Addison from Pitt. The Trojan defense struggled in ’21, but Riley brought his well respected DC Alex Grinch with him and also added a lot of talent from the portal on the defensive side of the ball as well. The schedule offers opportunity for all the new pieces to come together before the tougher games happen later in the season – at Utah in mid October, and finishing at UCLA and home vs Notre Dame. No Oregon on the regular season schedule doesn’t hurt. A hard to team to judge with so many changes but dramatic upgrade in coaching staff and infusing of talent through the portal could lead to a significant turn around in Riley’s year one.
16Michigan StateHC Mel Tucker has done an incredible job since taking over the Michigan State program 2 years ago, both in expertly using the portal to raise the talent level and finding a way to win the close games. The stunning result was to go from 2-5 in the Covid shortened 2020 season to 11-2 and a top 10 finish in ’21. The offense loses their star, RB Kenneth Walker and his 1700 yds rushing, but does return QB Payton Thorne (3200 yds, 27/10 in ’21) and 1000 yd receiver Jayden Reed. The O-line is not as experienced though as in ’21. The defense last year was terrible against the pass, but did not allow opponents to convert all of those yards to points. With 9 starters back, this side of the ball should continue to improve (after a really bad 2020). The OOC includes a trip to Washington, but otherwise has 2 MAC teams. Sparty draws both Minnesota and Wisconsin from the West and has to go to Penn St and Michigan. MSU won a lot of close games last season, which tends to even out over time. Tucker should continue his success in 2022 but expect a drop-off in record from last year.
17ArkansasThe Hogs were only 3-7 in the Covid affected season of 2020, but the poor record masked some significant improvement. Arkansas had gone 0-8 in the SEC in back to back years, but against an all SEC schedule, won 3 games. But even so, the 9 win 2021 season was unexpected. The Hogs beat Texas a&M. LSU and long time rival Texas in an OOC game. A win over Penn State in the bowl game, meant a Top 25 finish for HC Sam Pittman’s squad. QB KJ Jefferson came into his own in ’21 throwing for almost 2700 yards, rushing for over 600 and a 22/4 ratio. The O-line returns 4 starters and a full stable of running backs. The defense has some rebuilding to do from a team that stiffened in key moments, but also gave up 29 ppg. DC Barry Odom is experienced though and brought in a number of transfers to shore up that side of the ball, including DBs from UGA and LSU as well as a DE from LSU. The schedule does not include UGA from the East this year, but features the tough West and OOC games vs BYU and Cincy. Don’t expect the Hogs to contend for the division but they will continue to be a tough out.
18CincinnatiThe breakthrough of all breakthroughs occurred last season when a G5 team finally made the playoffs – Cincinnati, undefeated and with a win at Notre Dame (and coming off a great season the year before) made the playoffs as the 4 seed. But a lot of that talent is off to the NFL, their QB Desmond Ridder and an incredible 6 draft picks on defense. But the Bearcats have an experienced O-line, brought in a RB transfer from LSU to replace their star RB and do still have a good receiving corp. Its a bigger reload on the defense, but HC Luke Fickell has been great at recruiting and developing that talent; it’s still going to be one of the top teams in the AAC even in a rebuilding year. The OOC schedule features an interesting trip to Arkansas and a key AAC matchup with UCF In the Bounce House. Houston is not on the regular season schedule. Fickell has done such a great job with this program, the thinking is there certainly is a drop off from last year, but this is still a Top 25 team.
19TennesseeVols were 3-7 in the Covid shortened 2020 season after facing a very tough all SEC schedule, and fired HC Jeremy Pruitt. After a roller coaster process that also saw the replacement of AD Phil Fulmer, UCF HC Josh Heupel was hired. Heupel is known as an offensive and QB guru, and it showed in the dramatic improvement from the Vols offense – from 21 pts/game in ’20 to 39 pts/game in ’21. QB Hendon Hooker’s first year in Heupel’s offense produced almost 3000 yards passing and a 31/3 ratio. With most of the offensive playmakers returning and another year in the system, the offense could be even better in ’22. The defense did not match the offense’s improvement though, but with 9 of the 12 top tacklers returning, the D should be better. The OOC features an interesting matchup with Pitt, after losing to the Panthers at home in ’21, the Vols head to Pittsburgh to face a Pitt team without QB Kenny Pickett. The SEC schedule is always tough with Alabama as their permanent partner from the West, but only Georgia in their division is significantly ahead in talent. Vols are definitely in the race for the 2nd best team in the East.
20HoustonIt took until Crazy Hair Holgorsen’s 3rd year as HC of Houston, but the Cougs broke through with a 12-2 season, win over an SEC team in the bowl and a Top 20 finish. QB Clayton Tune was thrown into the fire back in ’19 when QB D’Eriq King reshirted early in the year and he struggled. But he has improved dramatically since then, throwing for over 3500 yards last season with a a 30/10 ratio. His top 2 pass catchers are back, including Nathaniel Dell who caught 90 receptions for over 1300 yards in ’21. RB may be an issue as last season’s workhorse was injured in the spring, but there is still depth in the RB room. The defense was noticeably stingier in ’21, allowing right at 20 ppg (vs the 32 ppg the previous year). There are a few holes to fill especially in the secondary, but the Cougs have an experienced D-line. The schedule is very manageable, with OOC games vs Texas Tech and UTSA, and they do not draw Cincy or UCF in conference play in the regular season. With the defending AAC champs the Bearcats in at least a bit of a rebuild, Houston is very much in the race to win the conference.
21Wake ForestOne of the greatest coaching jobs in all of college football is what Dave Clawson has accomplished at little ole Wake Forecast. He led the Deacs to their highest AP ranking every (#10 after starting 8-0), 11 wins overall and the Atlantic Division championship. An encore begins with QB Sam Hartman, who threw for over 4000 yards and 50 TDs in 2021 and he’ll operate behind a very experienced O-line. The defense wasn’t great last season, but it only needs to be good enough to compliment the high powered offense. The schedule is extremely manageable with the best OOC opponent either Army or Liberty and facing Duke and Carolina from the Coastal. The Deacs have a golden opportunity for another double digit win season!
22WisconsinThe Badgers started 1-3 last season, including blowout losses to Notre Dame and Michigan. But it turned out, those were excellent teams, and Wisconsin rallied to win 7 straight and entered the season finale vs Minnesota with a change to win the Division (Badgers lost). HC Paul Chryst will rely on the programs strong points, running the ball behind a solid O-line, play good defense and then hope his QB can improve their passing game. Most of the RB room returns, including the 2 leading rushers in Braelon Allen (1280 yards rushing) and Chez Mellusi (800+yards). Graham Mertz returns at QB, but needs improvement after only throwing for 10 TDs in the ’21 season (vs 11 INTs). There’s optimism for improvement as this will be his 3rd year in the system; but his leading WR’s depart. The defense only returns a handful of starters, but is in good hands in respected DC jim Leonhard; the Badgers have been able to reload in defense even without a lot of experience. The schedule includes trips to Ohio State and Michigan State and a visit to defending Division champ Iowa.
23KentuckyHC Mark Stoops has done a great job with Kentucky program, with last year’s first ever 2nd place SEC East finish, and a rare 10 win season. NFL prospect and dual threat QB Will Levis returns to lead the offense, but was up and down in 2021. Wildcats also get RB Chris Rodriguez back after rushing for over 1300 yards! in ’21. Otherwise on offense, they do have some holes to fill in the WR corp and on the line. The defense was solid as usual under Stoops, but has some holes to fill up front and in the secondary. The OCC schedule is typical with the only challenge vs Louisville at the end of the season, and the Cards have been no match for Kentucky in recent years. The West teams are a rebuilding Ole Miss team and Miss State. Their 2 biggest division games though, UF and Tenn are both on the road. This Kentucky program often times exceeds expectations, but it appears they won’t match last years 10 wins.
24Kansas StateA nice rebound from 2020 has the Wildcats positioned as a sleeper in the Big 12 race, a lot hinging on an intriguing new QB. Adrian Martinez, who had a very good Fr year at Nebraska, then up and down thereafter, transferred to K State in the offseason. His running ability will be paired with RB (and receiver) Deuce Vaughn to provide an electric combination of play makers on offense. They have 7 starters back from a defense that was much better in ’21 than ’20, so the improvement should continue. At Big 12 Media Days, the team with the most players preseason all conference – K State! (with 6, including the DL Felix Anudike-Uzomah, defensive player of the year).The toughest OOC game is a home date with Missouri, and the Wildcats get 5 road games in the Big 12, including top contenders OU and Baylor. A very interesting team to watch in 2022 if only to see how Martinez plays outside of the hard luck Nebraska program.
25IowaThe Hawkeyes used a solid run game and a ball hawking defense to start 6-0, and a home upset over the then #3 Penn State Nittany Lions moved Iowa up to #2 in the polls. The limitations on offense caught up though as the squad dropped back to back midseason games to division foes Purdue and Wisconsin, and then ended the year with losses in both the Big Ten CCG and the bowl. The defense returns 7 starters, led by their two leading tacklers in ’21, LBs Jack Campbell and Seth Benson. Campbell led the nation with 143 tackles last season. As has become a hallmark of the program, the D was excellent at forcing turnovers – +16 in non garbage time, tops in the nation! The challenge is on the other side of the ball, where even in a 10 win season, the Hawkeyes ranked 121 in the nation in passing offense. The hope is that Spencer Petras will take a step forward now that he’s a Senior as there is plenty of room for improvement over ’21s numbers of 11 TDs and 10 INTs. The schedule features the usual early season matchup with in-state rival Iowa State, but the conference schedule is tougher as Iowa draws both Ohio State and Michigan from the East (not facing either in the regular season last year). Expect another great defense from the Hawkeyes as usual; but also as usual, will likely be held back by the offense.
26PittA dream season for the Panthers, featuring a big OOC win at Tennessee and ending as ACC Champions and a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl. To repeat 2021’s success, will mean a lot of new faces need to step up, especially on offense. QB Kenny Pickett (1st round NFL draft), WR Jordan Addison (Biletnikoff winner transferred to USC) and OC Mark Whipple have all left the ‘Burgh. But HC Pat Narduzzi brought in transfer QB Kedon Slovis from USC to step in for the departing Pickett and do have 8 starters back on offense. Pitt led the ACC in rush defense and held teams to 23 ppg overall. They return 3 of their 4 DBs and should have one of the better D Lines in the conference. An interesting OOC features old rival West Virginia and the return visit from Tennessee. Pitt doesn’t draw Clem, Wake or NC State from the Atlantic, and the season ender at Miami could decide the division.
27PurdueThe Boilermakers are coming off their best year under HC Jeff Brohm and their first 9 win season since 2003, and just missed the final AP Top 25 (finishing #29). Purdue returns their QB Adian O’Connell who threw for over 3700 yards and 28 TDs in ’21. His top WR is off to the NFL, but Brohm brought in WR Charlie Jones from Iowa as a transfer to take the spot. The defense was solid last year, giving up just 22 ppg last season, but new DC Ron English has some holes to fill. The schedule starts with a bang, as Purdue hosts Penn State in the opener, but the Boilermakers avoid Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State from the East. In a very wide open Big Ten West, where now team finished in the Top 20 last year and each has holes to fill, the easier conference schedule could make the difference.
28Mississippi StA weird up and down season for the Bulldogs, with big wins over Texas A&M, Kentucky and NC State, but losses to Memphis and a struggling LSU team resulted in a 7-5 regular season. The good news though was the HC Mike Leach Air Raid offense emerged, with QB Will Rogers setting school records for yards (4,739) and TDs (36). Both top RBs Joiquavioius Marks and Dillon Johnson return and while the top WR is gone, the receiver room is talented. On defense, all 5 of the starting D linemen are back, and this from the defense that finished in the top 30 in total D. The challenge is going to be the schedule. A long trip to Arizona and another regional matchup with Memphis highlight the OOC schedule, but the SEC West plus Georgia makes for a difficult schedule. Mike Leach has had breakthrough years with a very experienced QB and the offense should be elite. The schedule keeps them from a true breakthrough though.
29BYUThe Cougs lost star QB Zack Wilson heading into last season and appeared to be rebuilding, but instead went 5-0 vs the Pac 12 and were ranked #12 in the country before getting upset by UAB in their bowl. This season, not only is QB Jaren Hall back, but so are his 2 leading receivers and an experienced O-line. The defense took a step back last season, but had some injuries and brings back a whopping 11 starters! The schedule is brutal though this year with home games against Baylor and Arkansas, on the road at Oregon, LIberty and Boise St and face Notre Dame in a neutral site at Las Vegas. This team is better and more experienced than last year, but so are the opponents. The Cougs will really have to work for a 10 win season in ’22.
30UCLAThe Bruins finally broke through in HC Chip Kelly’s 4th year at the helm, going 8-4 with a home win over LSU and a road victory against the cross town rivals USC. Any chance of matching or exceeding last season’s successes start and end with QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He somewhat surprisingly returned for a 5th year, after leading the conference’s highest scoring offense (36.5 ppg). What will help to keep the offense humming is his bruising RB Zach Carbonnet returns, after 1100+ yards rushing and 13 TDs in ’21. Most of the top pass catchers depart, but Duke transfer Jake Bobo is expected to become the go to guy, after 74 catches and 3rd team all ACC in ’21. The passing defense struggled last season and Kelly brought in former NFL assistant Bill McGovern as his new DC. Not a lot of starters return, but there is talent on the line and a couple of transfers should help. The schedule starts with Bowling Green, Alabama St and South Alabama all at home; and Washington, Utah and USC come to the Rose Bowl as well. At Oregon will be tough, but 5 home games in the conference help. This could be a really special offense and if the defense is good enough, UCLA could make some noise in the Pac 12.
31UCFLosing star QB Dillion Gabriel to a season ending injury in only the 2nd game could have completely derailed the program, but backup Mikey Keene was solid as a Fr, leading the Knights to a 7-3 record including a win over Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl. Keene returns with the season under his belt but will have to hold off Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumee, a dual QB threat, the type that thrives in a HC Gus Malzahn offense. UCF’s leading WR Ryan O’Keefeis back after 84 receptions and 7 TDs. Add in a transfer WR from Auburn and a transfer TE from Florida (the Gators 3rd leading receiver last season) and there are plenty of weapons for either QB. The defense improved significantly from 2020 to 2021 and returns 7 starters. The secondary is the strength of the D but the big guys upfront will get some pressure on the opposing QBs. The schedule features home OOC games with Ga Tech and Louisville with American rivals Cincy and SMU also at home; and Houston is not on the schedule. WIthout divisions in 2021, the home games vs Cincy and SMU will likely determine whether UCF makes the conference title game.
32Penn StateThe Lions opened the season 5-0, including a home win over Auburn, and moved into the top 5 of the rankings. While leading Iowa, PSU lost their starting QB Sean Clifford, fell behind and lost that game. Clifford struggled after his return and the Lions lost several more close games to close the regular season 7-5 and unranked. Clifford is back as is now So Christian Veileux but both will be pushed by incoming freshman QBs. Better health and depth at the QB position should result in improvement and the RB and WR rooms are solid. The o-line is the weak spot and may hold the team back again. Six starters are back on defense from last year and the hope is new DC Manny Diaz can get improved production, even if some key starters from last year are gone. The schedule includes a big OOC game at Auburn, plus a key road opener at Purdue, then also get Michigan on the road. Ohio State comes to Happy Valley. Look for a team not as bad as last year’s finish, but without enough offense to contend at the top of the division.
33TexasA solid win over Louisiana to open the season was followed by a blowout loss at Arkansas before the Longhorns appeared to have righted the ship. A monumental 2nd half collapse vs Oklahoma began a downward spiral that ended with a loss to dreadful Kansas (as a 31 pt favorite). HC Steve Sarkisian has his work cut out for him to rebound from an inaugural 5-7 season. He doesn’t have to worry about running back though, as Bijan Robinson returns after rushing for 1100+yards, 11 TDs and oh also almost 300 yards receiving as the Horn’s 4th best receiver. He will get the ball from… either Hudson Card, who began last season as the starter, but was replaced by Casey Thompson (who transferred to Nebraska) and Quinn Ewers, who transferred in from Ohio State after being the nation’s number 1 recruit in 2021. Ewers hasn’t played since a high school senior in the Texas playoffs in 2020, but he is such a highly rated talent, I’d expect him to become the starter sooner vs later. The defense was a disaster last year, but the hope is there is much more talent than the play on the field suggested; meanwhile surprising hire of new “analyst” Gary Patterson may help a lot here. The schedule features a monster home OOC game vs Alabama, OU in the traditional neutral site and tricky road trips to Texas Tech and K State. There are a lot of new pieces to put into place , but there’s more talent than 5-7. The Alabama game likely won’t go well, but maybe some improvement over 2021 is possible.
34MinnesotaA successful season for the Gophers, with 9 wins, including a rare victory over Wisconsin and closing with a win vs West Virginia in the bowl. But an even better season was in their grasp, but losses to a terrible Bowling Green team and a struggling Illini squad held back a truly special year. QB Tanner Morgan returns for his 6th (!) year and is one of 3 other 6 year players for the Gophers. Morgan was a good game manager, but Minnesota’s passing attack overall was not good. HC PJ Fleck fired their OC and brought back Kirk Ciarroca, the OC in 2019 when Morgan had by far his best year. The skill position players are there, but the o-line needs some rebuilding. Ciarroca will try to recapture the successes of 3 years ago. The defense was much improved from 2020, finishing in the top 10 in both scoring (17 ppg) and total defense last season. There are some losses from last year on D, especially on the line, but some transfers have been brought in to help fill in the holes. The OOC schedule is very manageable, with New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado coming to Minneapolis. And the Big Ten schedule makers were kind to the Gophers, neither Ohio State nor Michigan appear on the schedule. The division is up for grabs with a number of teams all in contention, but no great team standing out; PJ Fleck can elevate the program with back to back good seasons.
35Air ForceWhat G5 teams won double digit games last year? Did you include Air Force? The Falcons went 9-3 in the regular season, including a win at Boise, then upset Louisville in the bowl to finish 10-3. Their successes begin with QB Haaziq Daniel, a rare third year starter that is a big playmaker with his arms and legs. He owns the school record for longest pass play and longest rush from scrimmage (90+ yards each). The 8 other starters back on offense include FB Brad Roberts, whos rushed for nearly 1400 yards last year, 3rd most in school history. The defense returns 6 starters from a squad that finished 6th in the nation in total defense. Air Force is 21-6 in their last 27 games, and are unusually experienced for a service academy team. A huge OOC game comes the 2nd week of the season as the Falcons host Colorado, and with Boise, CSU and Navy all coming to Falcon Field, another double digit win is very possible