For the past several seasons in college football, a handful of teams have become the dominant players when it comes to the College Football Playoff. Defending national champion Georgia, fellow SEC foe Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson have been the cream of the crop for the past several years. It should come as no surprise that those four teams are the top-4 in most everyone’s preseason 2022 college football poll.
Texas A&M is on the rise and Michigan had an outstanding run last season. Oregon is extremely talented and Notre Dame has been winning double-digit games for most of the last decade. What about the rest of the country? There are plenty of quality programs out there that could surprise the masses of college football. Cincinnati anyone?
Who will it be in 2022? Here are five college football sleepers heading into the 2022 season.
The Trojans decided it was time to make a move. After over a decade of mediocrity, USC fired Clay Helton and brought in former Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley. All he did was go 55-10 in five seasons in Norman and he brought some quality transfers and key recruits with him.
Helton was fired during the season last year and the Trojans wound up 4-8. Over the last USC was 22-21. Riley was hired to change that and he just might make a big turnaround in 2022. He brings QB Caleb Williams with him from Oklahoma. He has a number of other transfers too. RB Travis Dye comes from Oregon and RB Austin Williams moves over from Stanford. The Trojans will also have the son of Jerry Rice – Brenden – at wide receiver.
The defense needs to improve, but the schedule is conducive to a bright season. The Trojans will start with Rice and Fresno State is at home in Week 3. The Pac-12 is loaded with some gimmes. Riley and USC could pull off a double-digit win season.
Steve Sarkisian enters his second year in Austin and after a 5-7 campaign that included a brutal loss to Kansas he may have something special. Quinn Ewers will likely take over at quarterback. The Ohio State transfer will have the Big 12’s best running back, Bijan Robinson, behind him. He will also have breakout star WR Xavier Worthy who had 62 catches for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
The Longhorns do play Alabama in Week 2, but get Louisiana-Monroe and UTSA as their other non-conference games. The defense will have to improve, but the offense could be enough for the Longhorns to surprise in the Big 12.
Head coach Sam Pittman’s team went 9-4 last season and has the potential to be even better in 2022. The Razorbacks return QB KJ Jefferson who passed for 2,676 yards and ran for another 664. Pittman must replace WR Treylon Burks, but four starters are back on the offensive line.
The defense was a top-50 unit against the pass, total defense, and scoring defense. Only three true starters return, but the two-deep is littered with players that have tons of experience. Arkansas will have to prove it can beat the best in the SEC. They lost three straight to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Auburn in the middle of the season. The schedule gods have been good to the Razorbacks too. They avoid a crossover with Georgia this year.
Scott Frost and Nebraska Make or Break Season
This is the year for Scott Frost and the Cornhuskers. It has to be or Frost is likely out the door. In four seasons at his alma mater, Frost is 15-29. The Huskers went 3-9 last year losing eight games by a single possession. They are close, very close.
The defense has improved and allowed 22.7 points a game last year, which tied for 36th in the country. The offense gets a new offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple, who has coached guys like Kenny Pickett and Ben Roethlisberger among others. Whipple will have transfer Casey Thompson to guide his offense. Thompson threw for 2,113 yards and 24 touchdowns last season at Texas. He played much of the season with a thumb problem.
The Cornhuskers will start with Northwestern, North Dakota, and Georgia Southern. From there, they will navigate a Big Ten schedule that avoids Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State.
Mario Cristobal takes over the once-proud Hurricanes program after a successful run at Oregon. He returns to his alma mater where he was part of the 1989 and 1991 national champions. Miami has had just one double-digit winning season since 2003.
This year, the Hurricanes return one of the better quarterbacks in the country in Tyler Van Dyke who is one of seven returning offensive starters. A defense which gave up 28.2 points a game last year needs to improve, but the talent is there. The schedule is also a bonus with early-season games against Bethune-Cookman, Southern Miss, and Middle Tennessee.