Football — actual on-the-field, snot-bubblin’ football — can’t get here fast enough.
Over the last three years, those of us on the front lines have been asked to become amateur epidemiologists (COVID-19, 2020), ambulance chasers (Texas-Oklahoma ditching the Big 12 for the SEC, 2021) and cartologists (mapping USC-UCLA travel routes to the East Coast, 2022).
Someone make it reign … football again. Thank (Eli) Gold, we’re only a month away; season No. 153 of college football is almost here.
From this vantage point, the sport itself looks like a shining city on the hill because, frankly, we’re just about tapped out on transfers; name, image and likeness; monster coaching contracts; and conference realignment.
Unfortunately, they’re as much a part of the game these days as Mike Leach’s sense of, ahem, fashion. Somebody, somewhere, snap the ball and instead of snapping your fingers to get to a new conference.
We’ll be watching as Nick Saban most likely chases another title at age 71. Dabo Swinney will try to rebound and keep his own dynasty alive at age 52. Kirby Smart is just getting started, now as the game’s highest-paid coach.
Blink and a lot of it might be gone. Will this be the last Bedlam game for a while? Is Cincinnati becoming a national power? Is there any purity left in the game at all?
We’re getting close to where we can finally talk and watch some ball. We’re thrilled to be back with 22 things to watch during the 2022 college football season.
22 for 2022
1. Alabama, rebuilt: No, really. Last season was supposed to be a gap year before the arrival and development of massive talent in 2022. Saban even recently called it a “rebuilding year” despite the Crimson Tide going 13-2, winning the SEC and leading Georgia with 10 minutes to go in the College Football Playoff National Championship. Still, the Tide are coming off a tie for their most losses since 2010. (Gasp!) When was the last time a team returned the best players on offensive (Bryce Young) and defense (Will Anderson Jr.)? Go ahead, I’ll wait. If Bama doesn’t win the SEC and again get to the playoff — at least — something is very, very wrong. The biggest concern is an offensive line that gave up 41 sacks. As long as Young is running around back there, the offense has a chance. Anderson could have 20 sacks.
2. Back-to-back Bulldogs? Why not? Georgia’s defense isn’t as good. In fact, we may never see the likes of it again. But it’s still going to be top 10 good, probably second behind Alabama in the SEC. Now add in a seasoned Stetson Bennett IV. Yes, I said “seasoned.” Georgia led the SEC with 41 plays of 30+ yards from scrimmage. The Dawgs should walk to the SEC East crown and then tangle again with the Tide for the league title. Georgia lost the SEC Championship Game last year and won the national title. Squint and you can see it happening again. Don’t dismiss the Dawgs.
3. The four playoff teams: Beyond Alabama and Georgia …
Ohio State: Ryan Day has his best team since the 2019 powerhouse that was upset by Clemson in the CFP semifinal. Day is 28-3 since then with one Big Ten loss to his name. So, yeah. If the defense comes together under new coordinator Jim Knowles, watch out.
Utah: Kyle Whittingham has reached the peak of his career entering Year 18. The Utes have the physically to match up with anyone and the ability to go undefeated. They open the 2022 season ranked No. 4 in the CBS Sports 131.
4. Conference realignment casts a shadow: You may be tired of it, but realignment will be a topic all season. Monsters have taken over the Earth. It remains to be seen only how big the SEC and Big Ten want to get. It’s unlikely that further expansion will happen during the season, but the shadow of those two conferences flexing will hover over much of the conversation. The SEC has won 12 of the last 16 national championships. The Big Ten has won one of the remaining four.