Top College Football Teams in Most Need of a Go-To Receiver

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJuly 26, 2022

Top College Football Teams in Most Need of a Go-To Receiver

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh watches from the sidelines during the College Football Playoff Semifinal game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Capital One Orange Bowl on December 31, 2021 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL.  (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Football is the ultimate team sport, so the saying goes. One concurrent idea, though, is that it's not about the X's and O's, but instead the Jimmys and Joes.

    X's and O's do make a difference, of course. But talent is crucial.

    There is good reason, after all, that a handful of programs—Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma—have largely defined the College Football Playoff era. They've consistently developed star offensive weapons.

    And while some exceptions do exist—Michigan in 2021, for example—most offenses for CFP qualifiers have featured a go-to target. Last season, Alabama (Jameson Williams), Cincinnati (Alec Pierce) and Georgia (tight end Brock Bowers) fit the mold.

    As the 2022 season approaches, several offenses on top contenders are lacking that standout player.

    Top contenders are defined as teams with +9000 national title odds or better on DraftKings, as of July 25.

Oregon Ducks

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 29: Oregon Ducks wide receiver Kris Hutson (14) cuts back to the inside following a second half pass reception during the football game between the Oregon Ducks and Oklahoma Sooners at the Alamodome on December 29, 2021 in San Antonio, TX. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Late in the 2021 season, Oregon may have found this answer.

    Kris Hutson totaled 31 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns as a second-year freshman, which is decent yet unspectacular. However, he reeled in 18 passes for 239 yards and two scores in the Ducks' last four games.

    Is that a breakout waiting to happen?

    Oregon will be hoping so, considering the No. 2 returning target is Troy Franklin and his 18 catches.

Miami Hurricanes

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 20:  Miami wide receiver Xavier Restrepo (7) returns a kickoff 50 yards in the first quarter as the University of Miami Hurricanes faced the Virginia Tech Hokies on November 20, 2021, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Miami struck gold in the transfer portal last season, bringing in Charleston Rambo from Oklahoma. He set program records in receptions (79) and yards (1,172), also grabbing a team-high seven touchdowns.

    But now, Rambo and Mike Harley—who broke Miami's career record for catches—are in the NFL.

    Key'Shawn Smith (33/405/3) and Xavier Restrepo (24/373/2) put up encouraging numbers as complementary pieces, sure. Their challenge, perhaps with tight end Will Mallory (30/347/4), is making the leap to stardom, though.

    For both Miami's benefit and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to remain a top NFL draft prospect, the 'Canes need a legitimate go-to player to emerge.

Texas A&M Aggies

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    ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25: Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Ainias Smith (0) catches a pass for a first down during the Southwest Classic game between the Texas A&M Aggies and the Arkansas Razorbacks on September 25, 2021 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Texas A&M is actually the impetus behind this piece—and that was before Ainias Smith was arrested.

    As of this writing, only four programs have shorter odds to win the national title. Texas A&M should have an elite defense, but the offense is full of questions after running back Devon Achane.

    Smith is suspended from the team but could be reinstated. If that happens, he's the Aggies' top returning target.

    He's posted back-to-back years of 40-plus catches, 500-plus yards and six touchdowns. Solid, but not overwhelming. Behind him, the Aggies have Jalen Preston (17/255/3) and Moose Muhammad III (10/153/4).

    There is real potential for a star to rise, but it's not a certainty.

Florida Gators

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    BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - OCTOBER 16: Justin Shorter #4 of the Florida Gators catches the ball for a touchdown on a Hail Mary pass as Jay Ward #5 of the LSU Tigers defends during the first half at Tiger Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Despite losing top receiver Jacob Copeland to Maryland, Florida has a couple of encouraging options.

    In the last seven outings of 2021, Justin Shorter (41/550/3) had three 90-yard performances and two more 50-yard games. Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall (48/580/4) brings a nice bit of production to the offense, too.

    Again, though, the need is a higher tier of playmaker—which UF boasted in 2020 with Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney.

    Shorter and Pearsall are nice players, but that doesn't beat Georgia. Florida needs them to be great players.

Michigan Wolverines

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    ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 28: Ronnie Bell #8 of the Michigan Wolverines runs after a first half catch against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Michigan should not be panicking, either.

    In 2019 and 2020 combined, Ronnie Bell notched 74 receptions for 1,159 yards and two scores. And after Bell's season-ending ACL injury in 2021, Cornelius Johnson (39/620/3) paced the Big Ten champions in all three receiving stats.

    Yes, the best version of Michigan's offense leans on the running game anyway. Still, the blowout Orange Bowl loss to Georgia showed why the Wolverines must have a more dynamic pass-catching group.

    Whether it's Bell regaining the spotlight or Johnson surpassing him as the lead target, Michigan is banking on them to carry the receivers in 2022.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 31: Jermaine Burton #7 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Alabama lost wideouts Jameson Williams (79/1,572/15), John Metchie III (96/1,142/8) and Slade Bolden (42/408/3) to the NFL from 2021's SEC-winning roster. So, the Tide hit the transfer portal for replacements.

    Jermaine Burton (26/497/5) arrived from Georgia, and Tyler Harrell (18/523/6) headed to Alabama from Louisville.

    Burton and Harrell join Ja'Corey Brooks, Traeshon Holden and JoJo Earle in a battle to become Bryce Young's primary weapon. Young, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, threw for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns last season.

    Even as Burton is the apparent favorite here, Alabama has plenty of candidates who could rise.

Clemson Tigers

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    SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 15: Clemson Tigers Wide Receiver Joseph Ngata (10) catches the ball with Syracuse Orange Defensive Back Adrian Cole (10) defending during the second half of the College Football game between the Clemson Tigers and the Syracuse Orange on October 15, 2021, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Throughout the last decade, Clemson has pumped out NFL receivers and productive college wideouts. That trend hit a screeching halt in 2021.

    Justyn Ross (46/514/3) didn't regain his production levels of 2018 or 2019 after returning from a major procedure to his spine. Joe Ngata (23/438/1) and Beaux Collins (31/407/3) were decent, each managing two 100-yard days.

    Given the mediocre passing game, it's not a huge coincidence that Clemson's conference title streak ended.

    Optimism for a rebound in 2022 is well-founded, but Ngata and Collins—along with potential slot receiver Brannon Spector—need to prove it.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 20: Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5), Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Chimere Dike (13), Wisconsin Badgers tight end Jake Ferguson (84) and the rest of the offense turn and look at the big screen before getting into the huddle durning a college football game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Wisconsin Badgers on November 20th, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    As with Michigan, no reasonable person is arguing that Wisconsin will suddenly have a pass-first philosophy. Running back Braelon Allen will be the foundation of the Badgers offense in 2022.

    The pass-catching unit is almost a complete rebuild, though.

    Danny Davis (32/478/2), tight end Jake Ferguson (46/450/3) and Kendric Pryor (32/416/3) are gone. Chimere Dike (19/272/1) is the only returning player with 100 career receiving yards, let alone a single 100-yard season for the Badgers.

    Fourth-year quarterback Graham Mertz must also improve substantially, but he'll need a boost from Dike or someone else in the receiving corps along the way.

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