Updated: Aug 27, 2022
Having looked at some of the headlines of a tumultuous off-season, and highlighted some of my must-see games to watch, I'm taking a look at some of the new coaches and my ten players to keep us entertained as the 2022 college football season kicks off.
Changes on the Coaching Carousel
Lincoln Riley - Oklahoma to USC
Lincoln Riley's $110 million move to Southern California has reignited the Trojans' ambitions of being relevant in the national championship conversation. The former Oklahoma coach, and Quarterback Whisperer, kept the Sooners in the playoff picture, nurturing NFL-bound quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts in the latter stages of their college careers. Following him to Los Angeles will be another promising signal caller. Caleb Williams announced himself to the Heisman voters with a spectacular cameo in the Red River Rivalry before an assured debut vs. TCU.
Dan Lanning - Georgia to Oregon
Joining Riley in a promisingly competitive looking Pac-12 is former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. Fresh from masterminding Georgia's national championship with a defense that saw five players taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, Lanning lands in Oregon on a six-year deal worth a reported $29 million. The Ducks will want to wrestle the conference title away from Utah and will be mindful of USC's growing threat. Lanning's first game? A reunion with former team Georgia in one of the must-see games of the season in Week 1.
Mario Cristobal - Oregon to Miami
One of the new season's most intriguing reunions will see former Oregon coach Mario Cristobal return to his alma mater, the University of Miami. The Hurricanes have invested $80 million in their former player, who has developed a reputation for hard work ethic derived from his upbringing as a Cuban-American native to Dade County.
Miami are spending big. An improved practice facility and new 65,000 stadium are in the works. Cristobal will be expected to return the Hurricanes to the glory days of the early 1990s under Jimmy Johnson, where he won two national titles as a player.
Brent Venables - Clemson to Oklahoma
Brent Venables returns to Norman after ten years at Clemson to take the Boomer Sooners' reins as Oklahoma's new head coach. Venables was co-defensive coordinator under Bob Stoops before leaving to carve out a strong defense at Clemson, winning the Broyles Award for the nation's top assistant coach in 2016 and being instrumental in Clemson's national championship success in 2018. Jeff Lebby, fresh from coordinating some outstanding offenses at Ole Miss, moves from Oxford to join Venables, creating a dynamic nucleus for the Sooners this season.
Brian Kelly - Notre Dame to LSU
Having tried to land Jimbo Fisher from Texas A&M and been rejected by Lincoln Riley, it's all change at LSU. Out goes Ed Orgeron and into Baton Rouge comes Brian Kelly from Notre Dame, complete with a slighty dodgy and quickly adopted Louisiana accent. Kelly is a CEO-type head coach who will come in to rebuild the organisation whilst strengthening the team. Kelly is a proven winner as his resume demonstrates. Consistently successful seasons at Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Central Michigan will give LSU hope he can rebuild a program to threaten in the SEC.
Marcus Freeman - Defensive Coordinator to Head Coach, Notre Dame
After just 11 months in South Bend, Marcus Freeman replaced Brian Kelly as head coach. It's a huge challenge for the former defensive coordinator, who had previously excelled in a similar role at Cincinnati under Luke Fickell. This is a bold statement from the Fighting Irish, who will want to return to national prominence under this highly talented defensive coach. Freeman is well respected by his players, it's a brilliant opportunity to take a huge next step and show he can elevate this historic program to regular Playoff competition.
Billy Napier - Louisiana to Florida
Impressing in assistant coach roles with Clemson and Alabama, Billy Napier revitalised an average Louisiana program, leading them to a 39-12 record during his tenure. The Ragin' Cajuns ranked in the AP Top 25 in the last two years.
Napier has his work cut out in Gainesville but has made a strong early impression. His attention to detail and insistence on cultural change have ushered in a new wave of optimism and patience among Gator fans who are aware that transitioning to a successful program will not be a short-term fix.
“It’s a team sport. I think as much as we can do to create that culture, the better,” (Billy Napier)
Ten Players to Watch
With points to prove, a Heisman trophy to chase, impressing in a new home or chasing a future in the NFL, these are some of my players to watch in what promises to be a compelling season of college football...
1. Will Anderson Jr. - LB, Alabama
The most outstanding defensive player in college football. Anderson was curiously neglected as a Heisman trophy finalist whilst Alabama lost their crown last year. He will have a chip on his shoulder coming into this season. Anderson registered 17.5 sacks last season and 34.5 tackles for loss. He should win the Heisman Trophy and should be a top five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. If it wasn't for NFL teams' insatiable need for quality quarterbacks. he would be the consensus No.1 pick.
2. C.J. Stroud - QB, Ohio State
Fourth place in Heisman voting last year after an outstanding freshman season for the Buckeyes. Stroud threw for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions in a frustrating season for Ohio State who posted an early season loss to Oregon and then dropped a ten-year winning streak to old rivals Michigan. He will be keen to lead the Buckeyes back to the Big Ten title.
3. Bryce Young - QB, Alabama
Young passed for 4,872 yards, 47 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in a Heisman-winning season. He is hoping to emulate Archie Griffin as the only back-to-back winner of the trophy for the best player in college football. Georgia's national championship win and a likely battle with C.J. Stroud for the top pick in next year's draft will fuel the fire in Young to eclipse an impressive first season for the Crimson Tide.
4. Bijan Robinson - RB, Texas
An electric talent with high acceleration, physicality and dual threat receiving ability, Robinson will be one to watch this season. This 6'0", 220lb running back ran for 1,127 yards last year and will get the chance to impress early this season in a mouth-watering clash with Alabama in Week 2. His candidacy for the Heisman will depend on the success of a Texas team continuing to rebuild, but he should be under consideration as a first-round pick, a rare spot for a running back these days, and will certainly be fun to watch.
5. Jaxson Smith-Njigba - WR, Ohio State
Excelling alongside NFL-bound receivers Garrett Wilson III and Chris Olave last year, Smith-Njigba held his own in hallowed company. His 95 receptions broke the school record and his 1,606 receiving yards broke a 20-year old Big Ten record. This year, he takes centre stage for an Ohio State team seeking revenge over Michigan and a return to the Playoff. Can he emulate DeVonta Smith with a Heisman win and national championship?
6. Caleb Williams - QB, USC
The hype around Lincoln Riley's hire in LA will be matched by the interest in Caleb Williams' continuing development as a quarterback of some promise. Williams excelled in the latter stages of a disappointing season for Oklahoma and joins some prodigious talents in Southern California. He has an opportunity, to write a new chapter into the storied history of USC football.
7. Spencer Rattler - QB, South Carolina
Love him or hate him, Rattler remains an outstanding talent who, only a year ago, was talked about as a potential top pick in the Draft. Ousted from the starting job at Oklahoma by Caleb Williams to a chorus of boos, it has been quite the fall from grace for Rattler, who had featured on QB1 - Beyond The Lights as high school sensation before his move to Norman. At South Carolina, he can press reset and test himself in the brutal SEC under one of the game's most promising young head coaches in Shane Beamer.
8. Quinn Ewers - QB, Texas
I'm intrigued to see how this highly-touted talent with a superb mullet performs under center in Austin. Ewers was the No.1 high school recruit in 2022, reclassifying to 2021 when he had the chance to leave early to join Ohio State. Beaten out for the starting job by C.J. Stroud, Ewers transferred back home to Texas, where he should take the reins as QB1 for the Longhorns under the tutelage of Steve Sarkisian.
9. Dillon Gabriel - QB, Oklahoma
A talented gunslinger who passed for 70 touchdowns and over 8,000 yards in just over two seasons at UCF, Gabriel broke his collar bone just three games into his third season, ruling him out for the year. Initially transferring to UCLA, Gabriel decided to reunite with former coach Jeff Lebby at Oklahoma, who have a knack for rejuvenating quarterback careers. See Baker Mayfield and Jalen Hurts.
10. Tyler Van Dyke - QB, Miami
Passing for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns, Van Dyke won the ACC Rookie of the Year Award. He was one of the bright spots in a disappointing season for the Hurricanes, adding himself to the watch list of a number of NFL general managers. Van Dyke will work with new coach Mario Cristobal, who had Justin Herbert as his quarterback at Oregon. Not a bad precedent and it will be interesting to see where he lands in April's NFL Draft. An early test against Texas A&M in Week 3 will shed some insight into his development under Cristobal.