Five 2022 College Football Playoff Sleeper Contenders

Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Five 2022 College Football Playoff Sleeper Contenders

Football

Five 2022 College Football Playoff Sleeper Contenders

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Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images 

N.C. State

The Wolfpack in 2021 were the least talked about really good team in college football. After an early season disappointment on the road against Mississippi State, N.C. State followed that by going 6-2 in ACC play (both losses came by a combined four points), and their bowl game against UCLA was canceled due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the UCLA program. The Wolfpack reminds me a lot of last year’s Cincinnati: a returning strong veteran quarterback in Devin Leary, who threw for 35 touchdowns last season, a return of the top receivers with Devin Carter and Thayer Thomas, and a return of nearly all of the production from a defense that finished second in the ACC and 14th nationally in scoring defense.

First-Team All-ACC linebacker Drake Thomas leads the way, alongside Isaiah Moore who missed last season with a knee injury, and Payton Wilson, N.C. State’s leading tackler in 2019 and 2020, who missed last season with a shoulder injury. If this unit stays healthy, it’s a top three linebacker core in America. The secondary is really strong with First-Team All-ACC safety Tanner Ingle returning, alongside the corner duo of Shyheim Battle and Derrek Pitts. The schedule works favorably for them, with a home game against Texas Tech, and getting Clemson at home, in which they got over that hump last year. This is a team that’s gotten better each of the past two seasons and I’m actually picking N.C. State to make the College Football Playoffs this season and very excited to watch them. 


 

LSU

This is NOT going to be the Joe Burrow 2019 LSU team, but it doesn’t have to be for this team to contend in the SEC. Enter Brian Kelly, a coach who has won over 80% of his games since 2007. LSU has had top seven recruiting classes each of the past three years that Kelly takes heir to now. The team has a very interesting quarterback competition between Myles Brennan, Jayden Daniels, and Garrett Nussmeier, in which I lean that Daniels will be the starter. The Tigers have one of the nation’s best wide receivers in Kayshon Boutte, who in six games last year went for 509 yards and nine touchdowns. BJ Ojulari on the defensive line is one of the SEC’s best pass rushers, and the Tigers landed a plethora of talent on the defensive side in the transfer portal such as Sevyn Banks from Ohio State, Greg Brooks Jr., and Joe Foucha from Arkansas, and Mekhi Garner from Louisiana. As long as the offensive line improves, which Kelly has specialized in at Notre Dame, this team will be ready to contend in Kelly’s first year. 

 

Baylor

Baylor won the Big 12 last year, won the Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss, and somehow is still being heavily slept on going into 2022. First off, the Bears are upgrading at quarterback with sophomore Blake Shapen, who completed 72% of his passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in his limited play. The Bears return plenty of strong production on the offensive line who will be prepared to block for Shapen and new starting running back Craig Williams, who was injured in 2021. Even with the loss of Tyquan Thornton to the NFL, Baylor has some solid young receivers I think will step up in Monaray Baldwin and Josh Cameron. The Bears return their entire defensive front, led by last year’s Big 12 First-Team nose tackle Siaki “Apu” Ika. Matt Jones will take Terrel Bernard’s linebacker role and former LSU linebacker Josh White, a former four-star recruit, will also be added to that core. In the secondary, cornerback Al Walcott and free safety Christian Morgan are the lone remaining starters but keep an eye on Lorando Johnson to be a future star safety in the back end. Even with losing some key pieces to the NFL, the idea of system over individual will prove itself yet again for Dave Aranda to put Baylor in contention to compete for a Big 12 title. 

 

Miami

When you have one of the best quarterbacks in the country, you’ll have a chance to win every game you play in. That’s the case for the 2022 Miami Hurricanes. Tyler Van Dyke is coming back after finishing 2021 as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in his final six games. Here is what his final six games were in comparison to some of the best seasons we’ve seen in recent years from college football quarterbacks.

 

Mario Cristobal comes over from Oregon where in the past three seasons he has won a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl, won another Pac-12 Championship, and went 10-2 but lost the Pac-12 title with Anthony Brown at quarterback. The Hurricanes have a young receiving core surrounding tight end Will Mallory with Xavier Restrepo, Key’Shawn Smith, Romello Brinson, and Brashard Smith all in their sophomore years ready to make an impact. The defense is similar, with plenty of juniors and sophomores in starting spots, including guys like Tyrique Stevenson and Daryl Porter Jr. making up a good secondary. Miami plays in a light ACC Coastal division, and if they can pull off upsets against Clemson and/or Texas A&M, the Hurricanes will be in the playoff discussion.

 

UCLA

This is a major dark-horse team, but UCLA might just be the team that everyone thinks USC is. The Bruins return All-Pac-12 quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and stud running back Zach Charbonnet, who ran for nearly 1,200 yards and 13 scores in 2021. Duke transfer Jake Bobo replaces Kyle Phillips at the top receiver spot, and guys like Kazmeir Allen and Kam Brown will have much more of an impact running and catching the ball. The offense has the ceiling to score points at will as they did in 2021, and the defense rushed the passer well and was solid in all other facets. In a rather weak Pac-12, if UCLA racks up some wins and can upset two of Oregon, Utah, or USC to get to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Championship Game, they can make some noise in November and December. 

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