2021 was a crazy and nearly unpredictable year in college football. Shakeups were plentiful and we had our fair share of darkhorses that rose to the top.
In the end, we got a new champion– the Georgia Bulldogs– and two new College Football Playoff invitees, including the first-ever Group of Five participant. If you're just a fan of the sport, this was an incredible year.
Now, with this season in the books, it's time to look forward to 2022. Don't forget to bookmark this page so you can look back and laugh at how hilariously off-base these are.
What the Vegas Odds Say
To no surprise, Alabama and Georgia lead the odds to win next year's championship at 2-1 each. The Crimson Tide return Heisman winner Bryce Young and defensive superstar Will Anderson. The Dawgs have to replace Jordan Davis– winner of the Outland Trophy (given to the year's best defensive player)– Nakobe Dean, and starting quarterback Stetson Bennett.
Following the championship participants is Ohio State at 8-1. The Buckeyes return Heisman finalist CJ Stroud at quarterback and Rose Bowl star Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
A familiar team returns to the ranks in Clemson, who is listed at 10-1. It's worth noting Clemson lost both their offensive and defensive coordinators to other head coaching jobs. However, their recruiting prowess and notorious head coach Dabo Swinney keep them competitive.
2022 Outlook: The Risers
The coaching carousel and transfer portal were busy this year. Some teams were severely inhibited by the movement while other teams seriously benefitted.
This team was competing, even coming within a score of Alabama early on, until the locker room was lost. Dan Mullen, despite being a largely successful coach, was canned because his players no longer wanted to play for him. Say what you may, but it's the reality.
In comes Louisiana coach Billy Napier and an entirely new staff. During his tenure at Louisiana, Napier never won fewer than 10 games. Backup quarterback Anthony Richardson presumably steps into the role as full-time starter. He showed extreme star potential in limited action, but folded in his one full start. Given a full offseason to prepare to be the starting quarterback, Richardson could be one of college football's biggest weapons.
2021 Finish: 6-7, lost Gasparilla Bowl to UCF
Texas Tech Red Raiders
For those familiar with football in Lubbock in the past decade-plus, be ready to adjust your expectations: defensive prowess is on its way to town. In comes head coach Joey McGuire– a coach firmly rooted in Texas and on his way from Baylor, where he was an assistant. McGuire brings Oregon defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter in as their DC after a good season in Eugene.
May players return to Texas Tech, a strong endorsement on the new staff. While coaching turnover can often be an indictment on teams, it's a new and positive direction for the Red Raiders.
2021 Finish: 7-6, won Liberty Bowl over Mississippi State
This one's a layup. After a disappointing two seasons post-Joe Burrow, LSU football reached a low. Ed Orgeron was canned. Quarterbacks transferred out. They had 37 scholarship players available for the Texas Bowl.
How did LSU respond? By bringing in one of Notre Dame's greatest coaches in team history, Brian Kelly. Kelly made a championship game and two College Football Playoffs while in South Bend. Don't let his fake accent debacle fool you– Kelly is a player's coach and he's prepared to take this team back to its height.
2021 Finish: 6-7, lost Texas Bowl to Kansas State
2022 Outlook: The Fallers
Didn't Clemson already fall? Yes, they did. But the fall isn't over. For example, Vegas odds still pin Clemson as the fourth-most likely to win next year's National Championship at short 10-1 odds. For a team that failed to move the football against everyone last year, that's a firm vote of confidence.
The real concern for Clemson is the coaching staff lost. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables, the nation's previously highest-paid coordinator, left to be the head coach at Oklahoma. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott took the head coaching job at Virginia. Defensive line coach Todd Bates went with Venables to Oklahoma. This kind of staff exodus could be severe for Clemson.
2021 Finish: 10-3, won Cheez-It Bowl over Iowa State
2021 was an incredible season for Michigan and its fans: 12 wins, beat Ohio State, won their first Big Ten title in decades. We can't take that away from them, but the NFL can take away most of the players behind this success. Their offensive line loses three of five starters, a line that won the Joe Moore Award given to the nation's best, this offseason.
Lead running back Hassan Haskins is likely out for the NFL after scoring 20 touchdowns this year. Will head coach Jim Harbaugh follow? Rumors connect him to jobs like the Dolphins and Raiders and Harbaugh himself confirmed mutual interest. Michigan could be one of the freest-falling teams from 2021.
2021 Finish: 12-2, lost CFP semifinal Orange Bowl to Georgia
Oklahoma State Cowboys
To follow the trend of teams losing coaches and regression, Oklahoma State loses their most valuable piece: defensive coordinator Jim Knowels. Without Knowels conducting the defense, Oklahoma State was always good, but never great. He's out for Ohio State, who handed him a briefcase of money that the Pokes just couldn't match.
This team wasn't winning games primarily on the back of a potent offense– that was inconsistent all season long. But the 2021 version of Oklahoma State was the absolute ceiling for them. A fun year, but short-lived.
2021 Finish: 12-2, won Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame
Projecting the 2022-23 College Football Playoff Field
Well, this is fun. Except when you consider who have the best chance of being the final four next season.
Will there be teams that flounder and other teams that surprise? Absolutely. Am I able to project who the next Wake Forest is? No.
Next year, there's three teams that are clearly positioned to be strong frontrunners for the College Football Playoff and one wild card spot. I apologize in advance to anyone who hates chalk.
(1) Alabama Crimson Tide
(2) Ohio State Buckeyes
(3) Georgia Bulldogs
(4) Oklahoma Sooners
2023 National Championship Pick: Alabama Crimson Tide OVER Ohio State Buckeyes
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