College Football Pick’em
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It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which teams will most likely reach the College Football Playoff before the season begins. I know because while I’m an idiot, I’ve done a good job of predicting the fields since the playoff was created in 2014.
What’s more challenging, however, is figuring out which teams could introduce a little chaos into the equation. Yes, there are roughly 10 programs capable of reaching the playoff, but there are only four spots and this is still college football. No matter how predictable the sport is, something unexpected happens every Saturday during the season with Goliaths falling to Davids along the line.
So which teams are likely to play the role of David in 2022? I’ve dug into the schedules of all the title-contending programs looking for candidates to emerge, and I found five poised to strike. Now, to be clear, to qualify as a “Chaos Team” in this exercise, you cannot be a contender for a playoff spot yourself. These five strike me as the teams most capable of unexpectedly destroying somebody’s season in 2022.
How could one write about chaos in college football and not mention Auburn at some point? Chaos is the only non-chaotic thing about the program, and 2022 will give Auburn a few chances to ruin things for a couple of different contenders. Nobody is quite sure what to make of the Tigers entering 2022. Bryan Harsin was forced to navigate some choppy seas during his first season on The Plains, which has led to lowered expectations in 2022.
Auburn is never more dangerous than when you expect nothing of it, so be wary, playoff contenders within the SEC. Auburn gets a home game against Penn State in the nonconference, but while the Nittany Lions want to compete for playoff berths, I don’t see them being a serious contender in 2022. Though, I suppose Auburn could put an early end to those dreams. Still, the games I’m looking at are at Georgia on Oct. 8, home against Texas A&M on Nov. 12 and the Iron Bowl at Alabama on Nov. 26. Auburn isn’t talented enough to compete for an SEC title in 2022. Still, it’s strong enough on the defensive side of the ball that it will be hard for either of those teams to blow out. Should the Tigers pair that defense with a good day on offense in those games, they could destroy somebody’s season.
Like Notre Dame, BYU is an independent program that schedules well. Unlike Notre Dame, the Cougars do not have an obvious path to the College Football Playoff without doing something extraordinary. However, that difficult schedule means the Cougars will play teams that do have a clear path, and they’re a team capable of knocking them off course.
In the first three weeks of the season, the Cougars will get a shot at defending Big 12 champion Baylor and Pac-12 runner-up Oregon. In early October, there’s a neutral-site game against Notre Dame in Las Vegas. While those three programs aren’t favorites for a playoff berth in the manner of Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State, Oregon and Baylor play in Power Five conferences with the chance to win their leagues. Notre Dame has reached the playoff twice. A loss to BYU would not hurt Oregon or Baylor in their quest to win the Pac-12 or Big 12, but it could be the deciding factor in their bid to become one of the top four.
You’ve likely raised an eyebrow reading Kent State’s name here, but don’t jump to a conclusion. Kent State plays in the MAC, which could be the most chaotic conference in the country. It’s nearly impossible to know what you’ll get from it from year to year, and Kent State is a dangerous team that will have a few chances to mess somebody up this season.
The Flashes’ nonconference schedule is comically brutal. The lone home game is against Long Island, but there are three road games against Washington, Oklahoma and Georgia. Kent State will be a considerable dog in all three of those games, but this team scores points and it scores them quickly. Sean Lewis’ team has averaged 30.88 points and 74.42 plays per game on offense since he took the program over in 2018. They move quickly and can strike even quicker. The defense is a whole other story, but if the Flashes find something that works against either of those three teams on offense, they will create quite a headache for them.
South Carolina fans are still in the honeymoon phase with Spencer Rattler, and nobody should blame them for it. It’s not often that a former five-star QB — particularly one who was ranked No. 1 in his class — transfers to your school. That said, it’s important South Carolina fans understand there’s a reason Rattler was in the transfer portal. Still, even if the former Oklahoma star never lives up to the hype that saw him as a No. 1 recruit or the preseason Heisman favorite in 2021, he’s a clear upgrade on what the Gamecocks had at QB last year.
The Gamecocks went 7-6 last year, so what might they do with above-average QB play? Well, it’s important to point out that the Gamecocks were outscored 114-27 in three games against Georgia, Texas A&M and Clemson last season. I’m not sure Spencer Rattler is enough to make up that gap on his own, but the Gamecocks will again get cracks at all three, as fate and the scheduling practices of the SEC are remarkably cruel to them. Still, you can look at the schedule as a burden or an opportunity, and given Shane Beamer’s sunny disposition, I have to believe he looks at it as an opportunity. Any man willing to have a bucket of mayonnaise dumped over his head is down to cause a little chaos.
Stanford earns a spot on the list because of the number of swings it gets. While the Pac-12 isn’t considered near the level of the SEC or Big Ten these days, it’s still a Power Five conference, and it’s a Power Five conference without a clear and defined alpha dog. Going through the league, you could make compelling arguments for Utah, USC, Oregon and Washington to win it. And if you win a Power Five conference, you have a shot at the playoff. Well, guess what? Stanford plays all four of those teams this year.
In their first four games, the Cardinal will play USC at home and then hit the road for Washington and Oregon in back-to-back weeks. In other words, Stanford is a team that could play a significant role in who wins the Pac-12 before we reach Oct. 2. It could even destroy the Pac-12’s playoff hopes. A couple of weeks later, on Oct. 15, the Cardinal will make the short flight (at least that’s what the Big Ten tells me) to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame. Then things ease up slightly until Nov. 12 when Stanford makes another road trip to Utah to take on the Utes.
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