Ranking College Football's Best Dynamic Duos in 2022
Every Maverick needs a good Goose (or Iceman, depending on your druthers). Having a good wingman in college football sometimes makes you an even bigger threat.
Next year is going to be full of explosive combinations throughout the sport. As a matter of fact, when you look at who didn't make the list, it'll give you a better appreciation of the 12 who did.
Excellent teammates like N.C. State defenders Tanner Ingle and Drake Thomas, Georgia pass-catchers Brock Bowers and Arik Gilbert and Houston offensive skill-position players Clayton Tune and Alton McCaskill IV were extremely close but just missed the cut.
Arizona's new offensive star hookup Jayden de Laura and Jacob Cowing received major consideration, as did Oregon's Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe (who would have made the cut if not for Flowe's injury issues). Pitt's Kedon Slovis and Jordan Addison were right there, too. But those six duos narrowly missed because of the production or potential of the others.
Those who did make it include some of the sport's brightest stars, and one team even managed to have a tandem on both sides of the ball. Let's take a look at college football's top duos for 2022.
12. Jaxson Dart and Zach Evans, Ole Miss Rebels
Nobody hit the transfer portal this offseason quite like SEC West foes Ole Miss and LSU, and the Rebels' gains may wind up propelling them into the role of Alabama's biggest competition in the division.
Coach Lane Kiffin rebuilt his team in a big way after the bulk of the production from last year's Peach Bowl team left Oxford. All that starts with the new nucleus of the offensive skill-position players.
USC transfer signal-caller Jaxson Dart was one of the jewels of the portal class at quarterback, along with new Trojan Caleb Williams and Texas transfer Quinn Ewers. People may forget about Dart, but they shouldn't. He is a star-in-the-making with a strong arm and a lot of swagger.
He will be joined in Kiffin's offense by running back Zach Evans, who left a crowded backfield at TCU for a place where he can be the featured back, with Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner off to the NFL Combine.
It's not every day you see two brand players in new environs on the list, but this tandem certainly belongs. Kiffin has done a great job coaching offense the past two years with his new team, and he has the stars to continue it now.
Look for Dart and Evans to acclimate quickly this spring and be SEC stars right away.
11. Tavion Thomas and Cameron Rising, Utah Utes
Utah also lost a lot of firepower from last year's Rose Bowl team on both sides of the ball, but the depth coach Kyle Whittingham has built in Salt Lake City will shine through.
There's no reason why the Utes can't be the class of the Pac-12 again in 2022.
Everything will start with the second offensive skill-position tandem on the list—running back Tavion Thomas and quarterback Cam Rising.
Thomas is one of the fastest, most explosive game-breakers in college football, and he will try to capitalize for at least one more year after recording 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground a season ago. But the offense really took off when Whittingham inserted Cam Rising at quarterback.
The sophomore from Ventura, California, settled into the gig a season ago, throwing for 2,493 yards, 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also ran for 499 yards and another six scores, perhaps shocking some with his athletic ability.
Yes, Whittingham is going to be searching for additional playmakers on both sides of the ball, but he has arguably one of the two or three best tandems of point-producers in the league, and if Rising and Thomas stay healthy, the Utes offense will be on firm footing with another conference title shot in sight.
10. Caleb Williams and Mario Williams, USC Trojans
Lincoln Riley's first offense in Los Angeles is setting up to have plenty of explosion with in-conference transfer running backs Travis Dye (Oregon) and Austin Jones (Stanford).
But everybody is excited to see what the passing game will look like with Caleb Williams at the helm of the offense, and he will have a familiar face around who followed him and Riley from Norman.
Rising sophomore pass-catcher Mario Williams had just 380 receiving yards and four touchdowns a season ago, and though Gary Bryant Jr. and Brenden Rice are strong options for Caleb Williams, Mario (no relation) will provide the necessary familiarity for a breakout campaign.
While Sooners fans seethe over two of their biggest stars making plays for the Trojans, these two youngsters are going to blossom in 2022. Luckily for OU fans, they're going to have plenty to cheer with their newcomers, too, but with Riley installing his offense at his new program, there's a lot to like about the Williams duo being around.
The receiver Williams has explosive ability, much like former Sooners star Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, and without as many options in L.A., this year, he will have the opportunity to make plays.
Caleb Williams was a revelation as a true freshman, but the signal-caller did have some ups and downs. Those downs will be fewer and farther between this year, and USC will take a big leap forward.
9. Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez Jr., Kentucky Wildcats
If you're looking for a sexy, high-flying offense, the Kentucky Wildcats aren't one that normally comes to mind. Plus, they'll have to replace coordinator Liam Coen, who left Lexington after one season to become the new play-caller for the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
But the Wildcats are an efficient, sneaky strong team you don't often think about.
Mark Stoops has some big-time playmakers coming back to help UK weather the storm of losing Coen and electrifying receiver Wan'Dale Robinson and give new OC Rich Scangarello some major building blocks.
Second-team All-SEC running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. is back for Big Blue after piling up 1,379 yards and nine scores a season ago, and his backfield mate Kavosiey Smoke returns, too.
But Rodriguez's biggest asset is the guy handing the ball off to him. Quarterback Will Levis was excellent for large portions of the season in 2021 in his first year starting after transferring from Penn State. In Coen's offense, the athletic junior got to showcase his skills.
He finished with 2,826 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and he added 376 more rushing yards with nine scores of his own. If Levis can cut down on the turnovers, the Wildcats should expect a prolific season.
With Rodriguez running the ball and Levis doing his thing, UK has enough balance to be a threat to Georgia in the SEC East. Stoops just has to hope he made the right call replacing Coen with Scangarello.
8. Sam Hartman and A.T. Perry, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The upcoming season will be a major mile marker for the Wake Forest football program.
A season after Dave Clawson's team was one of the biggest surprises—not only in the ACC but also the country—making it to the conference championship game before falling to Pittsburgh, they're back for an encore. Some offensive weapons like second-leading receiver Jaquarii Roberson are gone, but firepower is back.
That will come in the shape of redshirt junior quarterback Sam Hartman, who should be among the nation's top signal-callers yet again, and his leading pass-catcher, A.T. Perry.
A season ago, the Hartman-Perry connection hooked up for 1,293 yards and 15 total touchdowns, and Perry became one of the biggest stars you didn't know about.
Hartman has been producing for years, and with the Clawfense clicking, it's hard to stop him. Whether or not the Deacs can find enough defense to take another step forward is another story for another day, but this story is all about dynamic duos, and Hartman-Perry fits the bill.
Look for them to combine for even more yards in 2022, and while Wake needs to find some other targets for Hartman, Taylor Morin and Key'Shawn Williams are more than capable of posting big numbers and taking some of the pressure off Perry.
Big numbers await this duo again.
7. Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman, Tennessee Volunteers
At the beginning of the 2021 season, Tennessee's offense looked nothing like the elite unit it would to close the year.
Joe Milton III was the starting quarterback, and little-known redshirt junior receiver Cedric Tillman was an offensive afterthought.
Flash forward to the season's second game against Pittsburgh when an ineffective Milton went out with an injury, and Hendon Hooker replaced him. Ultimately, the Virginia Tech transfer wound up being the ideal guy to run first-year coach Josh Heupel's offense and never relinquished the gig.
Hooker finished the year with 2,945 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He added 620 rushing yards and five more scores and went from backup to one of the top playmakers in the SEC.
His top target emerged, too. Though Velus Jones, Jaylin Hyatt and JaVonta Payton had strong years, too, the Vols' best pass-catcher wound up being Tillman. The wideout from Las Vegas became one of the top deep threats in the country, finishing the year with 64 catches for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns.
After gaining just 78 yards in the season's first three games, Tillman and Hooker clicked, and he had huge games in some of UT's biggest showdowns—against Alabama, Georgia and in the Music City Bowl game against Purdue. Now, they're both back, and they could be one of the top tandems in the country.
With Heupel calling the shots and the familiarity between those two, big numbers should follow on Rocky Top.
6. Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, Wisconsin Badgers
If Wisconsin could only find some consistency from quarterback Graham Mertz, the Badgers would be hard to handle and may even contend with Ohio State and Co. in the Big Ten.
They've certainly got the running game down.
Last year began with Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi leading the way, and while he wound up with a strong season, he suffered a torn ACL that cut it short. He wound up with 815 yards and five touchdowns, and while he ran for just 4.7 yards per carry, he was steady.
Mellusi finished the season with 100-plus yard games against Penn State, Eastern Michigan, Illinois and Purdue.
But the real star of the Badgers came out of nowhere in Braelon Allen. The 6'2", 238-pound freshman from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, looks like the next big thing for a program that churns out megastar runners like Ron Dayne, Melvin Gordon III, Michael Bennett, Montee Ball and Jonathan Taylor.
Allen is big and fast and actually could wind up in the same category as Taylor, the last great back to come out of Camp Randall. After gaining 30 yards on seven carries early in the year against Eastern Michigan, Allen didn't play again until October 2.
In a stretch beginning October 9 against Illinois, Allen finished the year with eight 100-yard games in the team's final nine matches, finishing the year with 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns. Imagine what he would have done if he played all year.
If Mellusi can return from his injury 100 percent, this duo is going to be fantastic.
5. Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee, Clemson Tigers
Much like Chez Mellusi, Bryan Bresee's season was cut short after tearing an ACL.
Thankfully for the Tigers, at least it happened early in the year (September 25), so he should be a lot further along in his rehab. Coach Dabo Swinney told Gavin Oliver of Clemson Insider last week that Bresee would be a full participant in spring drills if not for shoulder surgery.
If the star redshirt sophomore returns from those setbacks the way he should, he's going to be one of the biggest impact defensive tackles in college football and is the kind of player who could be a high draft pick in next year's NFL draft.
As a freshman in 2020, the former 5-star finished with 23 tackles (6.5 for loss), 4.0 sacks, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a safety. Despite playing just four games last year, he was a third-team All-ACC selection.
Clemson gets to team him with Myles Murphy, who was a second-team All-ACC member as a sophomore and finished the year with 38 tackles, a team-high 14.0 tackles for loss, team-best 7.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups.
Both Bresee and Murphy were Freshman All-Americans two years ago, and between those two and Trenton Simpson, the Tigers have potential game-changing talent in the front seven.
There's no reason they have to take a step back without coordinator Brent Venables, and if Bresee and Murphy are anchoring the show, the defense will be the team strength again this year.
4. Bijan Robinson and Xavier Worthy, Texas Longhorns
Steve Sarkisian will have no shortage of weapons as he tries to turn around Texas in his second season.
The Longhorns pummeled the transfer market, scoring huge with quarterback Quinn Ewers (Ohio State) and wide receiver Isaiah Neyor (Wyoming). Those two are going to outfit the offense beautifully and give Texas enough playmakers to put up points with anybody in the Big 12.
But the incumbents are the ones who are in line to be the biggest stars and the beneficiary of Ewers' immense talent.
Running back Bijan Robinson is probably the nation's most talented player at his position, and though he suffered a season-ending injury a year ago, he will be a junior, and this almost certainly will be his final college season before he's a high draft pick next year.
As defenses focus on him, Ewers will be able to open up the offense to throw to Neyor, Jordan Whittington and especially Xavier Worthy.
During his true freshman season, the 6'1", 163-pound California native didn't have the most college-ready body, but he stretched the field with the best in the nation, catching 62 passes for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns. His big-play ability makes him a breakout candidate for an even bigger year as a sophomore.
Between Robinson and Worthy, Sark has two guys NFL teams will be drooling over soon.
3. Bryce Young and Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama returns the nation's best player on offense in defending Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young.
Now, it's just a matter of finding him weapons after Jameson Williams, John Metchie III and Slade Bolden left for the NFL.
Don't feel sorry for the Crimson Tide. Not only do they have a stable of young freshman and sophomore receivers who would be the envy of everybody in the nation, but UA also nabbed receiver Jermaine Burton (Georgia) and running back Jahmyr Gibbs (Georgia Tech) from the portal.
Gibbs is going to be special in Tuscaloosa. Think of former Tide receiver and special teams dynamo Jaylen Waddle, and now think of him as a running back. That's Gibbs, who is explosive every time he touches the ball.
Even at a place like the struggling Yellow Jackets program, Gibbs' immense talent was obvious. Now, the junior tailback can suit up for a program notorious for getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers. It's not out of the realm of possibility for him to wind up with 1,600 offensive yards in this offense.
Throw in Gibbs' special teams ability, and he may be the country's most versatile offensive weapon. Pairing him with Young is scary, and it makes every defense in the nation shake in their cleats. Yes, Alabama will have to find new guys to churn out yards, but the factory has a couple of shiny new toys for Young.
And he's the guy who makes everything click.
2. Will Anderson Jr. and Dallas Turner, Alabama Crimson Tide
It may not seem fair for Alabama to have two pairs of players on this list, but Nick Saban being the coach of the Crimson Tide has given new meaning of "unfair" for a decade and a half now.
Just like the Young-Gibbs combination on offense, Alabama has an even more dominant duo on the other side of the ball.
As good as Bryce Young was a season ago, the Tide had another Heisman Trophy candidate on defense in Will Anderson, who terrorizes quarterbacks and is probably the most impactful player in the nation.
Just how good was he? Anderson led the nation with 17.5 sacks, and his 33.5 tackles for a loss were 11.5 more than the No. 2 player in the nation, Utah's Devin Lloyd.
If Anderson's superstardom wasn't enough to make you shudder, the Tide paired him a season ago with true freshman Dallas Turner, whose playing time increased as the year progressed, and he simply couldn't be kept off the field.
As a true freshman, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native had 30 tackles and added 8.5 sacks of his own. The 6'4", 240-pound outside linebacker was an elite force by the end of the season, and with so much focus on Anderson, it's just a matter of time before he gets his own headlines.
Alabama has players all over the field, but there isn't a better pass-rushing combo in the nation than Anderson and Turner. The ridiculous thing is Turner hasn't even scratched the surface of his immense potential yet. He only needs to look at the other edge to see his ceiling.
These guys are elite.
1. C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State has to find a defense in 2022 because if the Buckeyes do, they will be in the College Football Playoffs with a legitimate chance at a national title.
If you had any doubts about the Buckeyes' offensive ability, all you had to do was watch last year's Rose Bowl when, even without Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, they were unstoppable.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback C.J. Stroud is probably an even better pro prospect than Bryce Young, and he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting a season ago. As the season progressed, he became an unstoppable force throwing the ball.
And as good as Olave and Wilson are, the team's top receiver a season ago was Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Everybody knows the Texas native for his 347-yard, three-touchdown performance in the season finale against Utah, but Smith-Njigba had 1,606 receiving yards throughout the season.
He's a technician running routes, has immense talent, catches everything thrown his way and will have plenty of help with guys like Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming and running back TreVeyon Henderson flanking him.
There are too many weapons for defenses to account for, and Smith-Njigba is just biding his time before every NFL team in the league comes calling for his services. Luckily for the Buckeyes, they've got him another season.
He and Stroud will work in tandem to become college football's premier duo.
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.