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BamaCentral 22 for '22: Predicting This Year’s College Football Playoff Teams

Alabama is a heavy favorite to make a third straight trip to the College Football Playoff, but who else is will be playing for a national title this year?

After falling one win short of adding a 19th national title last season, Alabama will look to rebound and take the next step this year. The Crimson Tide returns a loaded roster, including reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young and a rebuilt offense as well as one of the most talented defenses in the Nick Saban era.

Alabama will open its season on Sept. 3 when it hosts Utah State inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. To help pass the time, BamaCentral’s Joey Blackwell, Tony Tsoukalas and Katie Windham will discuss 22 topics and questions concerning the 2022 season.

Today we continue our series by predicting which teams will make up this year’s College Football Playoff.

Blackwell's take

For me, picking the four teams for this year's playoff came down to two factors: 'Will there be two SEC teams?' and 'Will Ohio State beat Notre Dame?' For my predictions, I said yes to both questions. With those two hypothetical scenarios out of the way, here's my four teams:

Alabama  I mean, what can you say? Alabama is once again the favorite to win a national title, and with good reason. After a heartbreaking loss to Georgia in last season’s title game, the Crimson Tide returns 10 of 11 starters on defense — a unit that is looking to be the toughest in college football this year. Couple that with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young and a solid group of wide receivers, and many consider the title to be Alabama’s to lose.

Ohio State  Missing out on the playoff last season certainly hurt, but the Buckeyes are back with a vengeance this season. This season, Ohio State has the talent to not only beat Michigan — a feat that it failed to do last season — but also win the Big Ten title. CJ Stroud is back again at quarterback, and the Buckeyes defense looks very much improved.

Clemson — While flying under the radar last season after a rough start, Clemson quietly salvaged its season last year. After a 20-13 win over Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl, the Tigers will no doubt be out for blood next season — much like Alabama did after it’s 2019 Citrus Bowl win. With an offense having a new identity and a solid defense, look to Clemson to be back in the playoffs this season.

Georgia — The Bulldogs’ 2021 defense was something special. Expecting it to be just as good in 2022 is hardly realistic, but it will most certainly help clear a path for Georgia to the SEC title game. Like last season, I expect two SEC teams to be included in this year’s playoff. Combine the Bulldogs’ defense with a run-heavy offense and sixth-year quarterback Stetson Bennett, and you have to like their chances of making it to their second-straight playoff.

Tsoukalas' take

Last year, we saw a pair of abnormalities as a Group of Five team made the playoff for the first time while two teams from the same conference also got in. This year, I think we see a somewhat of a return to normalcy with four Power Five conferences represented.

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Alabama — This team has the potential to rival the 2020 squad as the best unit Nick Saban has assembled in Tuscaloosa. Alabama returns arguably the best players on each side of the ball in Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. It also has a manageable schedule and should be favored in each of its games. The Crimson Tide has seen talented rosters fail to live up to expectations in the past, but the fuel generated from last year’s national championship defeat should drive this year’s team to its full potential.

Clemson — After seeing its string of six straight ACC titles snapped last year, watch for Clemson to bounce back this season. The Tigers should have one of the best defenses in the country and could see a bounce-back year from quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei if they are able to provide him with more protection up front. Like Alabama, Clemson has a relatively easy road to the playoff and should be favored in all of its matchups.

Ohio State — While a late-season loss to Michigan prevented Ohio State from making last year’s College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes were still probably the third-best team in the nation behind Georgia and Alabama last year. Ohio State returns an absolutely scary offense headlined by Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud at quarterback along with five-star playmakers in receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and running back TreVeyon Henderson. The Buckeyes will need to see improvement on defense but should have enough firepower to return to college football’s biggest stage.

Oklahoma — The Sooners are a bit of a wild card considering the turnover they face heading into the season. Not only does Oklahoma have a new head coach in Brent Venables, it also has a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Lebby, a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof and a new starting quarterback in Dillon Gabriel. Still, they should have the talent to make a run in the Big 12.

Windham's take

Picking the exact four teams that will compete in the College Football Playoff can seem like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but only 13 schools have made an appearance in the eight-year history. Will we see a new face this season?

Alabama  — I think most Crimson Tide fans would agree that it will be a massive disappointment and underachievement if this team doesn't make the College Football Playoff. Like Joey and Tony mentioned, Alabama returns the best player on both sides of the ball and will have another roster loaded with talent and ready to avenge a championship loss in 2021. Plus, history shows us it's a pretty safe bet to pick Alabama for the CFP with the Crimson Tide only missing one playoff in eight seasons. 

Georgia — Will the SEC put two teams in the playoff for the second year in a row? I think so. With Alabama and Georgia being in separate divisions and not scheduled to meet in the regular season, it gives both teams a little more leeway to get back to the playoffs, even with a loss in the SEC Championship. The Bulldogs also bring back their championship-winning quarterback in Stetson Bennett. And while they lost a lot on defense to the NFL Draft, Kirby Smart also reloads with another top-five recruiting class.

Ohio State — I said that Alabama has the best player on both sides of the ball, but Buckeye quarterback CJ Stroud might just have something to say about that. Stroud put up ridiculous numbers in his freshman season, and is back to lead the Buckeyes for another year. Ohio State has one of the most talented teams in the country and will looking to make it back to the CFP for the fifth time after their biggest rival made an appearance a season ago. (However, watch out for both Michigan and Michigan State from the Big Ten.)

Notre Dame — Things have never ended well for the Fighting Irish once they have gotten to the Playoffs, but I don't think that will affect their odds for getting in. This is the most out-there pick for me because Notre Dame has a tough schedule as always. The likely most challenging games book end the schedule with a game at Ohio State to open the season and at USC to close out the year. It won't be easy, but if Notre Dame can split those two games under first year head coach Marcus Freeman, I think the Irish have a good shot at their third playoff appearance.