Following an offseason that again delivered a taste of conference realignment (USC and UCLA to the Big Ten in the future) and typical college football controversy (Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher going at it over recruiting), time has come to concentrate on what’s actually going to happen on the field throughout the 2022 season. There’s no better way to do that than with some prognostications, so CBS Sports is here to do our part with predictions, expert picks and opinionated takes with just days until kickoff of Week 1.
Who will be the four teams in the latest iteration of the College Football Playoff? Alabama and Ohio State are clearly the leaders the claim two of the four spots. The Crimson Tide are off Saban’s so-called “rebuilding year,” one in which they made but did not win the national championship, while the Buckeyes boast arguably the most talented offense in the country, a unit filled with Heisman Trophy candidates at three difference positions. The actual defending champions, Georgia, return their starting quarterback and a handful of key players, though they also saw a record number of departures for the NFL Draft (notably on defense).
Meanwhile, perennial CFP contenders Clemson and Oklahoma are facing uncertain futures. The Tigers are coming off their first three-loss season since 2014 (also the last time they missed the playoff), while the Sooners saw their coach and starting quarterback depart for USC. Those Trojans — along with Texas A&M, Texas and Utah — join the aforementioned programs as the most likely to make the CFP, according to Caesars Sportsbook, though there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns ahead with the season about to unfold.
In addition to projecting the playoff and national champion, we decided to take a look at which teams may just miss the four-team field, which programs are the most overrated and underrated nationally, and which coaches and players stand the best chance at winning year-end honors.
Let’s take a look at our experts’ takes as we settle in for what should be the type of college football season we have come to know and love over the years.
Most overrated team
Texas A&M: It seems like the hype surrounding the 2022 recruiting class has bled into fall prognostications, which isn’t fair to the Aggies or coach Jimbo Fisher. Nevertheless, it’s unavoidable at this point. The truth is that the quarterback situation is questionable; banking on their ability to take the top off of opposing defenses through the air is based on hope more than reality. Texas A&M also lacks experienced depth up front on the defensive line — something championship-caliber teams absolutely need in order to win at a high level. There’s no doubt that, when Texas A&M is on, it can beat anybody (see: Alabama last year). Consistency has been the problem under Fisher, and this team isn’t built to reverse that narrative. That is much more likely to happen next year. — Barrett Sallee (also Dennis Dodd, Shehan Jeyarajah)
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are not overrated in the traditional sense (people shout about Notre Dame being overrated all the time). The truth is Notre Dame hasn’t actually been overrated in a long time. Rather, the Irish are starting the year in the top five of both major polls, and it’s mostly because nobody is sure who else to put there. Notre Dame will still be good in 2022, but with a schedule that starts with Ohio State, includes a game against Clemson and finishes on the road against USC, there’s a strong chance this team won’t finish near the top five. — Tom Fornelli (also David Cobb)
Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy is good for giving the Cowboys a run at the Big 12 title every few years, but we will see OSU fall back to the pack in the league this year. The loss of defensive coaching (Jim Knowles to Ohio State) and talent (to the NFL and the transfer portal) suggest a step back on that side of the ball. Don’t forget: This is a team that had seven games in the regular season without scoring 30 points. If Oklahoma State needs more from Spencer Sanders and the offense in 2022 to match its 2021 success, a few of those close games are going to break the other way. — Chip Patterson
Texas: We hear the “Texas is back!” cry sometime early in most seasons these days, but it’s usually Texas fans actually crying by the Thanksgiving. The Longhorns have won more than five conference games only twice since their appearance in the 2009 BCS Championship Game. Those were in 2013 (Mack Brown’s final season) and 2018 (Sugar Bowl appearance). Otherwise, Texas has been pretty darn mediocre, especially for a program with the resources at their disposal. In fact, its only seasons that finished with overall records above .500 with the four coached by Tom Hermann. Naturally, he was fired. Texas may eventually get back, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The Longhorns better hurry though. If they struggle to compete in the Big 12, just wait until they get to the SEC. — Jerry Palm
Most underrated team
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are in danger of joining that group of programs that are considered blue bloods in name only. While I don’t put a lot of stock in the 2020 season, this is still a team that has only won half its games since going 11-2 in 2019. It’s unlikely that Penn Stat gets back to 11 wins this year, but I expect we’ll see them recover to being ranked in the top 20 — and possibly the top 15. — Fornelli (also Patterson)
Utah: The Utes have surpassed Oregon as the toughest team west of the Rockies. Let’s not limit things geographically. Utah played Ohio State to its knees in the Rose Bowl and are going to Florida to open the season as a two-point favorite. To me, the Utes are a playoff team this year with a talented returning quarterback in Cameron Rising, a stout defense and (spoiler alert!) my 2022 coach of the year in Kyle Whittingham. — Dodd
Ole Miss: Look, I love Matt Corral, but the 2021 Ole Miss team that went to the Sugar Bowl was much more than its quarterback. The identity of the program under coach Lane Kiffin is much more important to the long-term success of the Rebels, and Kiffin brought in a perfect mix of skill players to fill the void left by multiple departures. Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley IV are the perfect transfer tandem at running back, the wide receiving corps is as versatile and diverse as any in the country, and the defense only has to be “average” in order to put the Rebels in SEC West contention. Kiffin has established the recipe, and as long as the eventual winner of the quarterback battle doesn’t make game-changing mistakes, the ingredients will be just as tasty. — Sallee
Kansas State: The Wildcats boast perhaps the best offensive player in the Big 12 (RB Deuce Vaughn), the best defensive player (DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah) and the most preseason All-Big 12 selections in the conference. Still, the Wildcats ranked just 37th receiving votes in Preseason AP Top 25 despite an eight-win season and three-touchdown thrashing of LSU in a bowl game. By the end of the year, Kansas State will be pushing for top 15 ranking and a Big 12 title game berth. — Jeyarajah
Oklahoma: The Big 12 looks wide open at the top as five programs, which translates to half the league, received at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll. But that scattershot of opinions discounts how well-equipped Oklahoma is to thrive in Year 1 under new coach Brent Venables. The offense won’t miss a beat with UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel at quarterback, and the defense should immediately improve after years of mediocrity under former coach Lincoln Riley. With Baylor’s questions at the skill positions, Oklahoma State’s significant defensive losses and the general inconsistency of Texas, it’s Oklahoma that still stands out as the class of the Big 12. — Cobb
BYU: The Cougars are the only independent besides Notre Dame that is consistently successful. Like the Irish, they have a strong national following and the resources to compete. BYU has not quite been able to get the kind of schedule that gives them a shot at the playoff, though. However, the Cougars are coming on at a good time. They finished the 2021 season No. 13 in the CFP Rankings, a program-high. BYU needs to keep that momentum going as it enters the Big 12 next season. Maybe then it can earn the attention that comes with a program of its quality. — Palm
College Football Playoff predictions
First two out
2022 national champion
Alabama: Legendary coach Nick Saban viewed Alabama’s 2021 season as something of a rebuilding year, yet the Crimson Tide still won the SEC championship and reached the CFP National Championship. With reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young back at quarterback and CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year Will Anderson Jr. anchoring the defense, the Tide are an easy pick to finish the job and win the national title. With Vanderbilt as its rotating opponent out of the SEC East this season, Bama is a virtual lock to finish no worse than 11-1 in the regular season and cruise into the playoff. — Cobb (also Dodd, Fornelli, Jeyarajah, Palm)
Ohio State: Success in the modern college game is often determined by the ability to win one-on-one battles in the passing game on offense and apply pressure to the quarterback on defense. The Buckeyes clearly have the offensive part covered with Jaxon Smith-Njigba leading a wide receiver room that can overwhelm any secondary in the country by creating options for C.J. Stroud, the Heisman favorite. Ohio State should also have the defensive part figured out under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. The advantage created by scheme will pair with the existing talent advantage Ohio State carries into almost every matchup, creating a perfect compliment to that high-powered, Stroud-led offense. This is not a controversial pick as Ohio State is clearly one of the two or three top selections on the board, but what has me choosing the Buckeyes over the Tide or a repeat from the Georgia Bulldogs is considering the lessons learned by a team that took its first regular season losses of the Ryan Day era last season. — Patterson (also Sallee)
Coach of the Year
Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Whittingham has spent 17 years getting the Utes to the point of becoming a national power. In Year 18, he has a physical, accomplished bunch who are coming off a Pac-12 title. I have them as a playoff team and repeat Pac-12 champion. In the last four years, Whittingham has a better winning percentage than James Franklin, Paul Chryst, Mark Stoops and Mike Gundy. — Dodd (also Sallee, Jeyarajah)
Ryan Day, Ohio State: Jim Harbaugh got in his jokes with the “born on third base” jabs, but if Ohio State is able to meet its national championship expectations — as I’m predicting here — then it will be time to reassess where Day stands among the best coaches in the sport. Now in his fourth full season as the Buckeyes coach, Day has a roster that is the full realization of what he thinks this team needs to be in order to win championships. By focusing on recruiting the wide receiver position and making key staff hires like bringing in Knowles, Day has built a team that’s going to overwhelm opponents on the perimeter and be disruptive defensively at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State might be a job where you are “born on third base,” but it takes elite coaching to bring it home. — Patterson (also Fornelli)
Brent Venables, Oklahoma: The Sooners’ steady athletic leadership picked the perfect replacement for Riley by hiring a coveted name with Oklahoma roots in Venables, the long-time Clemson defensive coordinator. Though defense is his speciality, he already avoided the trap of pigeon-holing his program into a one-dimensional box by hiring Jeff Lebby as offensive coordinator. Venables and Lebby have been among the best coordinators in the sport for several years, and their coalescence at a university of personal significance to both is a recipe for immediate success. Venables will get the Sooners headed in the right direction defensively while implementing elements of Clemson’s culture in a way that keeps this team in national title contention. — Cobb (also Palm)
Heisman Trophy winner
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State: He’s the leader of what will likely be the most explosive offense in the country. While you can go up and down the depth chart and find potential Heisman candidates on Ohio State’s offense, they’ll all be sharing touches. But you know who is going to be touching the ball on every snap and getting credit for all those passing yards and touchdowns? Yep, it’ll be Stroud. He’s going to have video game numbers at the end of the season, and unlike Young, he won’t have the additional expectations that are always placed on reigning Heisman winners by the voters. — Fornelli (also Patterson, Sallee, Cobb, Palm)
Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama: Heisman voters have quietly been getting more open-minded over the years. In 2020, a wide receiver, DeVonta Smith, won the top award for the first time since 1991. Last year, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson finished runner-up with 78 first-place votes. In 2022, Anderson has a shot to put together the perfect storm for a defensive Heisman winner. Most consider Anderson the best player in the nation. (Hey, we named him our Preseason Player of the Year.) His numbers should be unbelievable once again after a record-breaking sophomore year at Alabama. And most importantly, Anderson will be the most dynamic player on the presumed national champions. No defense-only player has ever won the Heisman, but Anderson is a special case. — Jeyarajah (also Dodd)