Winners and Losers of the 2022 College Football Season

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 20, 2023

Winners and Losers of the 2022 College Football Season

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    Stetson Bennett
    Stetson BennettJeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The trophy presentation has ended, the championship parade is over and the 2022 college football season is officially history.

    After stepping back to reflect on the recent campaign, Bleacher Report is taking one last trip around the Football Bowl Subdivision to highlight the biggest winners and losers of the year.

    We saw TCU's shocking rise. We watched Tennessee become a contender and the Pac-12 rebuild its fleeting reputation. But we didn't see Alabama, Clemson or other recent powers in the College Football Playoff, and hype dwindled quickly at several more big-name programs.

    While the list is subjective, the choices are intended to focus on storylines we are most likely to remember from 2022.

Winner: Big 12 Surprises

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    Max Duggan
    Max DugganAP Photo/Reed Hoffmann

    The headliner, of course, is TCU.

    When the program parted with longtime coach Gary Patterson in October 2021, short-term optimism was fleeting at best. Several top players transferred from a roster that hadn't cracked seven victories since 2018. Why expect anything more than another six-win campaign?

    Instead, the Horned Frogs leaned on quarterback Max Duggan—the Heisman Trophy runner-up—and new coach Sonny Dykes. They propelled TCU to a 12-0 mark in the regular season and a trip to the national championship.

    Elsewhere in the Big 12, Kansas made a long-awaited rise out of the league's basement.

    After totaling five victories in the last three seasons combined, the Jayhawks stormed out to a 5-0 start. They ultimately knocked off Oklahoma State to secure bowl eligibility for the first time in 14 years.

Loser: Texas A&M's Hype

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    Jimbo Fisher
    Jimbo FisherJack Gorman/Getty Images

    For the second straight year, Texas A&M landed at No. 6 in the preseason AP poll. For the second straight year, the Aggies tumbled all the way out of the rankings.

    And in 2022, the descent worsened.

    Texas A&M held a constant place in the spotlight during the offseason, largely thanks to a record-setting recruiting class—and the resulting feud between Jimbo Fisher and Alabama coach Nick Saban. But, hey, that simply built up the drama for their October showdown!

    Well, not really. Appalachian State stunned A&M in Week 2. Mississippi State trounced the Aggies in Week 5 before Alabama defeated them with backup quarterback Jalen Milroe. Four more losses followed.

    Texas A&M mustered a 5-7 finish, salvaging the season with an upset that formally knocked LSU out of title contention. Still, it was the program's worst campaign in 14 years.

Winner: Pac-12 Stabilizes

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 02: Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) holds up the trophy after the Pac-12 Conference championship game between the Utah Utes and the USC Trojans at Allegiant Stadium on December 2, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Although the Pac-12 fell devastatingly shy of the College Football Playoff, 2022 should be considered a success for the league.

    During the summer, the realignment bomb dropped: USC and UCLA would soon head to the Big Ten. Immediately—and understandably—the future of the conference came into question. Could the Pac-12 survive? Would other programs, such as Oregon or Washington, also join the Big Ten?

    The league regained some much-needed respectability.

    Utah recovered from a couple of early losses and earned its second consecutive Pac-12 title. Washington soared to 11 wins, while Oregon and Oregon State both notched 10. Colorado flat-out stunk but hired Deion Sanders, the flashiest name of the coaching carousel.

    Throw in a bowl bid for Washington State and Arizona's four-win improvement, and the future of the Pac-12 isn't so bleak anymore.

Loser: New Coaches in Florida

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    Billy Napier
    Billy NapierJames Gilbert/Getty Images

    As the 2021 regular season ended, Miami and Florida held significant roles in the coaching carousel. Miami swiped alum Mario Cristobal from Oregon, and Billy Napier left Sun Belt power Louisiana to lead Florida.

    Let's just say they didn't assemble a TCU-type season.

    Miami plunged to 5-7 and had embarrassing losses to Middle Tennessee, Duke and rival Florida State. Napier enjoyed a marquee win over Utah in his debut but dropped five SEC games—including a nightmarish setback at Vanderbilt—and also lost to rival FSU in a 6-7 year.

    Now, the recent departure of quarterback Jaden Rashada could be a stain on Florida's name, image and likeness efforts. Miami lost top prospect Cormani McClain too. But both coaches put together strong recruiting classes, regardless.

    The future, on paper, should be better. The path to improvement may have started with a frustrating 2022, however.

Winner: Tennessee's Rise

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    Hendon Hooker
    Hendon HookerBryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Two years ago, Tennessee was a program on the brink of nightmares. Jeremy Pruitt's unsuccessful tenure ended with a mass exodus and concerns of looming NCAA sanctions.

    But the Vols hired Josh Heupel. And they found a quarterback.

    Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker immediately provided a level of stability that UT's offense had lacked since Josh Dobbs' graduation in 2016. Hooker spearheaded a dynamic scoring attack and propelled the Volunteers to eight consecutive wins and a No. 2 national ranking.

    Georgia dashed UT's hopes of an SEC title, and a loss to South Carolina—during which a knee injury ended Hooker's tremendous year—removed the Vols from the national race.

    The setbacks are merely that, though.

    Tennessee won double-digit games for the first time in 15 seasons and signed a top-10 recruiting class. Georgia remains the undisputed front-runner in the SEC East, but Tennessee is back in the conversation.

Loser: (Most) Recent Powers

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    Brent Venables
    Brent VenablesSteven Branscombe/Getty Images

    Since the 2018 season, six programs—Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma—had reached the College Football Playoff in multiple seasons.

    Georgia and Ohio State returned to the CFP stage, but only UGA ended the 2022 season as a clear winner.

    Ohio State nearly advanced to the national championship. Clemson won the ACC. Any criticism about the programs should be tempered. Nevertheless, the Buckeyes fell to Michigan in blowout fashion, only sneaking into the CFP because of USC's loss in the Pac-12 title game. Clemson imploded in November and dropped two games.

    Notre Dame handed Clemson one of those setbacks, but early losses to Marshall and Stanford ushered in a pretty ugly beginning to Marcus Freeman's tenure as head coach.

    Alabama tallied a respectable-to-most 11 victories. However, it's fair to say Nick Saban is decidedly unhappy about losing to rival LSU and missing the CFP—both for only the second time in nine seasons.

    Oklahoma endured the roughest year, mustering a 6-7 record in Brent Venables' first season as head coach.

Winner: Group of 5 Ascents

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    Michael Pratt
    Michael PrattAlika Jenner/Getty Images

    Tulane is easily one of the best stories from the 2022 season.

    Head coach Willie Fritz ushered the Green Wave to three consecutive six-win seasons from 2018 to 2020, lifting the long-struggling program to a level of rare consistency. But it plummeted to 2-10 in 2021, setting up a campaign with minimal expectations.

    Tulane recovered from the awful year in remarkable fashion. Not only did the Wave match a program record with 12 victories, but they also won the AAC championship and toppled USC in the Cotton Bowl.

    Additionally, two familiar first-year coaches lifted UConn and New Mexico State out of the FBS cellar and into a bowl.

    Jim Mora oversaw a six-win campaign at UConn, which had totaled seven victories since 2017. New Mexico State hit seven wins behind Jerry Kill, nearly matching the eight triumphs of the previous four seasons.

Loser: Everyone Who Played Georgia

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    Nazir Stackhouse
    Nazir StackhouseKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Georgia needed a fourth-quarter comeback to side-step Missouri's upset bid in October. It also survived the Peach Bowl, a national semifinal, when Ohio State's last-second field goal stayed left of the upright.

    Otherwise, no one legitimately tested the Dawgs.

    Georgia bookended the season with emphatic wins against Top 25 foes, obliterating Oregon 49-3 in the opener and wrecking TCU 65-7 during the national championship. Along the way, UGA held Tennessee to its worst performance of the year and rolled LSU to secure the SEC title.

    Kirby Smart locked in legendary status, becoming the program's first coach to win multiple national titles. Stetson Bennett ended his Georgia career, improbably, as the greatest quarterback in school history.

    Sure, the Dawgs are losing a ton of NFL-bound talent and onetime prized recruits to the transfer portal. But that happened last offseason too.

    The road to the 2023 championship runs through Athens.

    Recruit rankings via 247Sports.