Every season, a few college football teams surprise on different levels. A significant increase in wins, a conference contender, or even a national title contender. As the 2022 season approaches, here are the teams that have the potential to turn heads and defy the football betting odds.
Michigan (No. 9) finally took the Big Ten from Ohio State (No. 3) en route to its first playoff appearance after years of frustration. Ohio State lost first-round receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, but C.J. Stroud returns as the quarterback, with Jax Smith-Njigba as the top route runner. The Stroud-Smith-Njigba combination will most likely be the best in the FBS, and both are Big Ten Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy favorites. TreVeyon Henderson, who rushed for 1,248 yards last season, also returns for the Buckeyes. Almost everyone in the starting lineup on offense is a future NFL player.
Last season, the defense was an issue, but the Buckeyes still held opponents to 22.8 points per game. That was the fifth-lowest season total in school history. They were 34th in sacks last season after ranking 49th in 2020. Veterans like Tyler Friday, who missed last season due to a torn ACL, can help. Any defensive issues that arose last season appear to have been resolved this season.
Mario Cristobal helped Oregon become a national recruiting power, and he’ll now try to do the same for his alma mater. Keep an eye on the Hurricanes’ two new play-callers: Kevin Steele and Charlie Strong on defense, who have some returning talent, and Josh Gattis on offense, who led Michigan to the College Football Playoff last season. Tyler Van Dyke returns as the starting quarterback after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards, 25 touchdowns, and six interceptions last season. He didn’t commit a turnover in seven games, and the Canes went 5-2 during that span. Only eight combined points prevented The University from going undefeated in ACC play in 2021.
Few expect Steve Sarkisian’s Texas Longhorns to improve significantly in year two after a 5-7 record in his first year as coach. Quinn Ewers’ arrival, however, could be the missing link. Last year’s starter, Casey Thompson, has since transferred to Nebraska, leaving Ewers as the sole QB1. While Ewers is an athlete some consider the top college quarterback prospect in his class, he has the advantage of sharing the offense with Bijan Robinson, possibly the best running back in the country. In addition, Robinson is the main cog in this scoring attack, so Ewers won’t have to carry the team on his back immediately.
The Georgia Bulldogs put on a clinic against Oregon in Week 1. Stetson Bennett needed only two quarters to accumulate 254 passing yards and an absurd 85.7% completion rate against Dan Lanning’s defense. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ defense forced turnovers and shut down Oregon’s rushing attack. Long term, Alabama may be the better team, but a win over a top-12 program should instill confidence in the Bulldogs.
Last summer, it was widely assumed that the Jim Harbaugh project at Michigan had run out of steam after six years of diminishing returns. Instead, the 2021 team delivered one of Ann Arbor’s most surprising and satisfying seasons. The Wolverines ended their infamous losing streak against Ohio State en route to the Big Ten title — Michigan’s first since 2004 — and a subsequent playoff appearance, where even a blowout semifinal loss to Georgia felt more like a footnote than a defining moment. But, of course, keeping that momentum going is a different story. Finally vindicated at his alma mater, Harbaugh jumped at the chance to return to the NFL in January, though his well-publicized deal with the Minnesota Vikings fell through.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide is an easy pick to win the SEC West and to be the No. 1 team in college football in 2022. Bryce Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, leads a high-powered offense, with Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs poised for a breakout year as an all-around threat at running back. New receivers must emerge but transfers Tyler Harrell (Louisville) and Jermaine Burton (Georgia) should help offset the loss of Jameson Williams and John Metchie III.