2022-23 College Football Teams with the Most to Prove this Season
The new age of collegiate sports has arrived. The FBS scene is filled with transfer portal headlines, recruiting scandals and frustrations within the coaching community.
It’s no longer a four-month competition to find the best teams in each conference; college football is a year-round business operation. There are multiple teams on the rise that need to prove their recruiting worth or confirm their improvement in the 2022 season.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons put on a scoring clinic last season, finishing the year with an 11-3 record and a Gator Bowl win. They scored 40 points or more in eight games last season and started the year on an eight game win streak.
Hartman’s 2021 season highlighted his admirable character as a teammate while showing scouts he has an NFL-caliber arm. The redshirt junior closed the season with 39 touchdowns and 4,228 yards, earning his name in the Manning Award and Maxwell Award categories. Hartman took a massive step forward as a leader, voicing to the media that his mental health and bond with his teammates are a definitive priority.
Hartman needs to improve even more for the Demon Deacons to win the ACC and contend for a national title, but it’s not Hartman that the Deacons are worried about. The weight and expectations now lie on the shoulders of a team that went 4-5 just two years ago.
Wake Forest finished with its best record since 2006, with players like A.T. Perry and Rondell Bothroyd having their best seasons in a college uniform, but the Deacons still lost in the ACC title game. There’s a small group in that locker room that’s ready for the bright lights, but Hartman needs to build faith in a couple of players who may not be prepared.
Texas is one of those teams that always have preseason buzz but rarely live up to the expectations. In 2021, first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian guided the Longhorns to a 5-7 season, losing six of their last seven games. Sarkisian managed to drop games against the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, and West Virginia. While the former quarterback is conquering the recruiting trail he needs to show success during the season.
National publicity is currently pointed toward the Longhorns, after the commitments of blue-chip stars Arch Manning and Johntay Cook II. UT is no stranger to extremely talented recruiting classes, currently holding the No.5 slot in the 2022 recruiting class and No.4 in 2023 (via, 247Sports). It’ll be Sarkisian and the coaching staff’s job to show reasoning for kids wanting to play in Austin and “bring back Texas.” Their recent resume doesn’t amount to the level of talent they’re bringing in, but it’s become well known that high-level prospects are starting to buy into Sarkisian’s vision.
Several highly touted prospects are already on campus, including the No.1 player in the class of 2021, Quin Ewers. The Texas native transferred from Ohio State last December, looking for a chance to get on the field sooner rather than later. Ewers has some talented weapons in his arsenal, with one of college football's top running backs, Bijan Robinson and two solid pass catchers in Xavier Worthy and Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor. If this offense is able to produce as their rankings reveal, the Longhorns could be in contention to win the Big 12 title.
Texas A&M Aggies
There are few teams with a spotlight as bright as the one that shines on Texas A&M. The rise of the NIL aided the revival of the Aggies, something that head coach Jimbo Fisher will never admit to. Fisher and his team held an 8-4 record in 2021, with their biggest triumph coming behind Seth Small’s legendary field goal against Alabama.
The Aggies are another program that knows how to show off for top talent in the offseason but hasn’t found the same success on the field. Fisher and his coaching staff earned commitments from eight five-stars and 20 four-stars in the class of 2022, holding the highest graded recruiting class in FBS history (via, 247Sports). While those true freshmen get accustomed to the college atmosphere, quarterback Max Johnson and safety Antonio Johnson should be seen as the commanding officers.
Texas A&M was on a 3-0 bowl game win streak, prior to the cancellation in 2021. But, the Aggies don’t play for mediocre bowl game appearances. College Station and the boosters that helped build the Aggie empire are ready for a national title run, and the impatience will dramatically grow if something of that caliber doesn’t happen soon.
Aside from their short-lived 2020 season, the Utah Utes have been riding the success of head coach Kyle Whittingham for the past several years. Since 2019, the Utes have owned the Pac-12 with a combined 20-4 conference record.
With the removal of USC and UCLA from the Pac-12, Utah has a chance to put its name at the top of the conference as a powerhouse next to Oregon. The excitement in the state of Utah has been roaring for several years, and the Utes have a chance to increase optimism if they can get a bowl game win.
The casual fan may not be invested in Pac-12 football, but eyes will start to veer toward the Utes in September. They’ve already proved that they’re a preseason Top 25 team, but it’s necessary to have a consistent season like 2021 for members of the football community to really trust their staff.
A double-digit win season, along with a bowl game victory can boost the Utah hype to a completely different level. With the loss of defensive star Devin Lloyd, cornerback Clark Phillips lll and quarterback Cameron Rising will have to lead the Utes. If success starts to trickle down to offseason recruiting then Utah can be closer to the CFP than many believe.
The SEC is currently recognized as college football's personal piggy bank. The southeast of the United States has been the hotspot for Heisman candidates, national title contenders, and NFL prospects for years. Arkansas has gained promotion from the conference stamp, gaining momentum with recruits and breeding first-round talent like wide receiver Treylon Burks.
The Razorbacks had back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019 with an abysmal 2-10 record. Head coach Sam Pittman has been picking up the broken pieces from Chad Morris’ stint with UA, from building the recruiting class to revamping the coaching staff. Arkansas is still in the early stage of true CFB competition, but last season seemed to be a preview for great times ahead. Their 9-4 record in 2021 can certainly act as a stepping stool for improvement.
Dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson found his rhythm during the 2021 season, getting comfortable with the college speed and athleticism. The junior from Mississippi ended the season with 21 touchdowns and 2,676 yards. Aside from a refined quarterback, the Razorbacks have a seasoned presence in the locker room with center Ricky Stromberg, safety’s Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher, along with linebacker Bumper Pool. Their roster has a genuine familiarity, and the addition of former five-star receiver Jadon Haselwood should excel them to compete for a double-digit win season, and another bowl game win.
The Cougars are the epitome of “one the rise.” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has made his voice heard, as he continues to search for Power Five credit. The wait was finally over when Sitake and the Cougars agreed to join the Big 12 in 2023.
The state of Utah has enjoyed first-class football over the last several years, and BYU has taken the helm. The Cougars are 21-4 in the last two seasons, fielding some of the highest scoring offenses in college football. Quarterback Jaren Hall cemented his name as the clear starter last season, closing the year with 20 touchdowns and 2,583 yards.
BYU went 5-0 against the Pac-12 last season, scoring 30 or more on six separate occasions. The Cougars started the season winning their first three matchups and ended the season on a five-game win streak. A towering offensive line featuring Kingsley Suamataia, Blake Freeland, and Harris LaChance should amount to another productive season from Hall and open gaps for running back transfer Christopher Brooks. A sufficient defense, and quality offense can lead the Cougars to their third straight season with 10 or more wins while being on the winning side of a bowl game next season.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions agreed to terms on a 10-year, $70 million deal in November of 2021. The contract extension was surprising at the time, considering they were fighting for a bowl game appearance.
Penn State ultimately finished the season with a 7-6 record, and a loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl. Franklin helped pilot Penn State’s incredible run from 2016-2019 with three double-digit win seasons. With the money in his pocket and the coaching staff’s improvement, the Nittany Lions should be ready to claw their way back into the star-studded Big Ten.
PSU’s defense was yet again a first class product, but their offensive efficiency led to late game struggles and issues in the red zone. The addition of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will be a boost to a talented defense that closed the season with the third-lowest conversion rate at 67.7% in the red zone. Penn State hasn’t lifted the Big Ten Championship Trophy since 2016 with issues in their offense almost every season. Although the Big Ten isn’t a place to gamble with hopes, the Nittany Lions will head into the 2022 season with fifth-year quarterback Sean Clifford and reevaluate their concerns in January.
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich enters his second season with Penn State with a clear understanding of his roster. The running back room isn’t a routine problem for the Nittany Lions but they’ll need to show further development after a substandard 2021 season. Along with questions in the run game, there should be more consistent play in the receiving room. If Penn State wants to compete against the top teams in the conference like Ohio State and Michigan, it’s vital that the offense is more consistent.
The Cornhuskers inked head coach Scott Frost in 2018 after an undefeated season with the UCF Knights just months before. Nebraska reached deep in their bag to buy out Frost for $3 million and ultimately extended him from 2018 through 2024 for $35 million. Since taking over the team in 2018, Frost has yet to hear “Hail Varsity” in true glorious fashion, currently holding a 15-29 record with zero bowl appearances.
Frost and his team finished the 2021 fiasco with a 1-8 conference record, tallying nine losses from single-digit scoring margins. There was the belief that Frost was the key to unlocking their Big Ten success, but there hasn’t been much excitement at Memorial Stadium in the past few years. Transfer quarterback Casey Thompson could be Frost’s missing piece. Thompson led Texas last year with 24 touchdowns on 2,113 yards in his third year with the Longhorns.
Nebraska kicks off their 2022 season in Dublin, Ireland against Northwestern on Week 0. The Cornhuskers demoralized the Wildcats last season in a 56-7 victory, so this game should be an incredible confidence boost to start their 2022 campaign. Thompson and linebacker duo Luke Reimer and Garrett Nelson will pilot an upgraded Cornhusker team that’s eager for a bowl game appearance. If Nebraska isn’t above .500 at the end of November, they could find themselves on another coaching search.
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