College Football Players Poised for Bounce-Back Years in 2022

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2022

College Football Players Poised for Bounce-Back Years in 2022

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    Expectations tend to forecast an upward trend, but the reality of college football often brings a different story.

    Last year, dozens of players who enjoyed a productive 2020 season ended up with a frustrating few months in the fall. For some, an injury robbed them of a healthy year. For others, they simply didn't perform up to the level of their past performance.

    But 2022 is a prime chance to rebound.

    In most cases, the players are returning from an injury that sidelined them for at least half of the 2021 campaign. Arguably the biggest name on the list, however, opened the season in the Heisman Trophy picture and wound up benched. 

Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan

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    During the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Ronnie Bell established himself as Michigan's primary target. He recorded 74 catches for 1,159 yards and two touchdowns in the 19-game stretch.

    Bell immediately showed off his ability in the 2021 opener too. The wideout reeled in a 76-yard score and ripped off a 31-yard punt return. But the latter play doubled as a nightmare; Bell exited with a knee injury that halted his season as it began.

    This season, the reigning Big Ten champions will be expecting Bell to elevate the receiving corpsno matter whether Cade McNamara or J.J. McCarthy is running the offense.

    Cornelius Johnson was the lone Wolverines wide receiver who topped 25 receptions in 2021. Bell has an important role to regain.

Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

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    Bryan Bresee, the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2020 cycle, played up to that billing as a true freshman. The interior lineman made 23 tackles with 6.5 stops for loss, including four sacks.

    Even as Clemson endured a slow start to the 2021 season, he excelled. Bresee registered 12 tackles (three TFL, 1.5 sacks) and an interception in four games. However, a torn left ACL prevented a should-be breakout year for the imposing defender.

    It should happen in 2022, though.

    Bresee is still recovering from the procedure, but the normal timeline places him at (or near) full strength in September. He'll be a core contributor of a potentially dominant D-line.

Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss

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    After a wild recruitment, Zach Evans landed at TCU and rapidly became a pivotal part of the offense. He tallied 491 yards from scrimmage as a true freshman in 2020 and then totaled 778 and six touchdowns in just six appearances last season.

    As with Bell and Bresee, though, a health setbacka toe injury, in Evans' casestalled his season.

    Longtime TCU coach Gary Patterson agreed to part ways with the school, and Evans decided to transfer. The running back found a home at Ole Miss as a marquee replacement for Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish Jr., who combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards last season.

    The full expectation is Evans will be the Rebels' lead runner in 2022 and a strong contender for All-SEC honors.

Dillon Gabriel, QB, Oklahoma

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    McKenzie Milton's awful injury sent Dillon Gabriel into the lineup at UCF much earlier than anticipated in 2019. Nevertheless, he responded with consecutive years of 3,500-plus passing yards, throwing for 61 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions in 811 attempts.

    But in a cruel twist of fate, Gabriel exited the spotlight because of his own injury, a broken collarbone, last season.

    Following the year, he entered the transfer portal and headed to Oklahoma. Gabriel is slated to lead the Sooners after Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler departed for USC and South Carolina, respectively. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who coached Gabriel at UCF in 2019, has already named him the starter.

    Gabriel's arrival ensures Oklahoma will remain a primary contender for the Big 12 crown this season.

Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota

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    Mohamed Ibrahim only needed one game in 2021 to remind the college football world of his talent. The devastating part is that single appearance is all he made.

    In a hard-fought loss to Ohio State, the running back scorched the Buckeyes for 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Ibrahim left the contest in the third quarter because of a ruptured left Achilles tendon, an injury that ended his season.

    Provided his recovery has no setbacks, Ibrahim will reclaim his label as one of the nation's best running backs.

    Ibrahima first-team All-Big Ten choice in 2020has racked up 3,003 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns in 28 career games.

Phil Jurkovec, QB, Boston College

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    Phil Jurkovec has a familiar kind of QB story.

    In high school, he was a top-100 prospect who signed with a big program. After two years as a backup at Notre Dame, he left for Boston College in 2020 and won the starting job. Jurkovec threw for 2,558 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions that year.

    And then, the setback. The dual threat missed six games in 2021 because of a hand injury, returning late in the season but attempting just 96 passes in his six appearances.

    Jurkovec has a new offensive coordinator in John McNulty, but star wideout Zay Flowers will aid that transition. They connected 56 times for 892 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020.

Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina

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    Spencer Rattler, meanwhile, has a background that college football fans know well.

    A 5-star prospect, he redshirted in 2019 as Jalen Hurts propelled Oklahoma to a fifth straight Big 12 title. Rattler earned the starting nod in 2020, accounting for 3,191 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading the Sooners to a sixth consecutive Big 12 crown.

    Rattler opened the 2021 campaign as the Heisman Trophy favorite, but his efficiency tumbled. The ordinarily overwhelming OU offense did not look intimidating, and Caleb Williams' emergence in the rivalry win over Texas pushed Rattler to the bench.

    Ultimately, it led him to South Carolina.

    Though he must officially beat out Luke Doty in Columbia, Rattler has a solid opportunity to rebuild his reputation. His primary targets will likely be Josh Vann, Jaheim Bell and James Madison transfer Antwane Wells Jr., an FCS All-American last year.

Tykee Smith, S, Georgia

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    The good news? Tykee Smith celebrated a national championship during his first season at Georgia.

    The less-good news? Along the way, the versatile defender only entered two contests. Smith missed a few games in September due to a broken bone in his foot and Georgia's final nine outings after tearing an ACL. He managed five tackles.

    Georgia had much higher hopes for Smith, a third-team AP All-American at West Virginia in 2020. Consider those expectations merely delayed, though.

    This fall, the Dawgs are overhauling the defense. They need to replace eight NFL draft selectionsincluding five first-rounders.

    Must be nice to have an All-American ready to step in.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from, or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.