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Kramer: An early look at my top five teams in college football

By Adam Kramer  (VSiN.com) 

January 26, 2022 09:25 PM
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When the game ended, a few hours after I snuck onto the Lucas Oil Stadium field for a picture, a new reality started to set in: Georgia had won, Alabama had lost and the season had ended.

Amid the many thoughts, a lovely future cash (thank you, Georgia) and the sadness of the offseason setting in, I couldn’t help but look ahead to 2022. As a fan of the sport, as a gambler and as someone who can’t help but obsess over college football, it’s only natural.

The ratings for both the semifinals and championship game once again underwhelmed, largely because the same teams find themselves in these games time and time again. That's at least one theory, and it's a good one. 

If that is indeed the case, well, it seems distinctly possible that the sport will become even more top heavy in 2022 and beyond.

Maybe, just maybe, NIL and the ability to transfer more freely will change that. But as the sport struggles to find an expanded playoff format it likes, there’s a lingering reality that seemed to spread throughout Indy all weekend long.

Are we simply waiting for Nick Saban to retire for things to be normal again?

If that is the case, we are likely to be waiting for some while. Saban seems intent on coaching a while longer. He returns a monster roster in 2022, and I’ll talk about that in a bit. But it does feel like the sport’s inner circle is growing smaller.

If you could bet Alabama (+ 225), Georgia (+ 275) and Ohio State (+ 575) vs. the field right now in 2022, what would you do? 

I know what I would do. I would take those three and not look back. Give me a price, and I will pay it.

Yes, I’m curious where quarterback Caleb Williams will play. I like what USC is doing with Lincoln Riley. I think Clemson could rebound in a big-ish way. And I even think Jim Harbaugh, if he returns, will field a quality team at Michigan.

There will always be surprises. Greatness will be realized in places we don’t expect. But excellence is limited, and it might be limited to a select few moving forward.

What does it mean for the sport? Not much for me. I will watch and obsess and seek out value, just like always. But if you are looking for variety next fall, it once again might be hard to come by.

The Appetizer: Offseason Storylines to Watch

1. Where will QB Caleb Williams land? The decision, of course, will have a dramatic impact on betting odds, win totals and more. While many, including myself, assume that USC is the likely destination, NIL has changed a lot. If a school can pony up a few million dollars in sponsorship opportunities, it could change everything. As of now, even without a team, Williams is 14-1 to win the Heisman.

2. What will Jim Harbaugh do? The buzz at the national championship game was that Harbaugh is seriously considering bolting to the NFL after leading Michigan to the College Football Playoff. Whether that is legitimate or not will be determined in the coming weeks. The Raiders seem like the most likely destination, although they might have company. Michigan, after cutting his pay in half before last year, could also pony up a massive new contract. This one could go either way.

3. Who will be Georgia’s starting QB next fall? This one is fascinating on a few fronts. While former walk-on Stetson Bennett led the Bulldogs to a national title, he was noncommittal when asked about his plans to stay with the program or transfer this offseason. (Granted, the emotions of it all were still fresh.) JT Daniels, who was expected to be the starter this year, is still on the roster; as is Brock Vandagriff, the talented true freshman poised to take over. Stay tuned, as there’s intrigue galore. 

4. How is Brian Kelly going to assemble a competitive team? Long term, I like the Kelly hire at LSU even if he isn’t the most likable human. But when you consider how much talent this team lost and how few players the Tigers had for their bowl game, Year 1 under Kelly could be a struggle. LSU will have to get creative with the transfer portal and look for some quick fixes as the program looks for stable ground.

5. What the hell is going to happen with the College Football Playoff? It feels like things are at a standstill. At least that was the impression coming out of Indianapolis when influential members of the sport met to discuss playoff expansion. They didn’t get anywhere. I’m curious to see if this discussion evolves as the months progress. Right now, however, things seem to be somewhat deadlocked.

Adam Kramer’s Way Too Early Top Five

1. Alabama (+ 225)

Nick Saban will begin his offseason with the projected No. 1 and No. 2 NFL Draft prospects commanding his offense and defense. Having QB Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. back is enormous. And as good as Young is, Anderson might be one of the best defensive players the sport has seen in the past decade. But Alabama has also received some tremendous news when it comes to players returning: linebacker Henry To’o To’o, defensive tackles D.J. Dale and Byron Young, offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor Jr. and safety Jordan Battle have all made the decision to return. Add in the arrivals of cornerback Eli Ricks, running Jahmyr Gibbs and others, and Alabama is poised to be improved come fall.

My only concern? Who will catch passes. The losses of John Metchie and Jameson Williams to the NFL are huge holes to fill, and the development of young wideouts will be something to watch over the coming months. Still, this team is loaded. In my eyes, Alabama is a clear-cut choice for No. 1 and a deserving favorite.

2. Ohio State (+ 550)

It gets interesting here. While I went back and forth with this pick, I landed on Ohio State. Quarterback C.J. Stroud is poised to be better, and the end result could be scary. And while the Buckeyes said goodbye to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming could wind up being the best group of wideouts in America. The position is that loaded. Throw in TreVeyon Henderson, one of the best young running backs in America, and the offense is poised to lead the nation in scoring next year. On top of it all, Ohio State hired Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to run its defense. With a wealth of talented young players, especially up front, I expect drastic improvements on that side of the ball.

3. Georgia (+ 275)

Let’s begin with the bad news. Georgia loses a ton of talent, which is to be expected considering how good this team was. Linebacker Nakobe Dean, defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Travon Walker, safety Lewis Cine, wideout George Pickens, offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer and running backs Zamir White and James Cook will all say farewell. None of this was unexpected, but it’s all nevertheless significant. Still, Georgia, which has recruited better than any team in college football over the past five years, returns a ton. The biggest question, of course, is what will happen at quarterback. There are options there, as we discussed. And the roster is still ripe with four- and five-star players. But can it reload the way Alabama has after an exodus? We are about to find out.

4. Texas A&M (22-1)

Full disclosure: the vibes I had for Texas A&M last season were much like the vibes I feel right now. Granted, that was before the Aggies lost their starting quarterback early in the season. It was also before A&M signed the top recruiting class in college football. Both sides of the ball lose a bit, although both sides of the ball have plenty of talent to replenish. I’m particularly intrigued to see what happens at QB as Haynes King, who began this year as starter before going down with injury, will battle LSU transfer Max Johnson and five-star freshman Conner Weigman. As for what it will amount to, it might be one year early for the Aggies. But the talent on the roster, and coming in, is robust. And while the competition will be enormous, there is a lot to like here.

5. Utah (40-1)

I could have easily made Clemson or Michigan my No. 5 team. I also thought about Notre Dame. That is a nice way of saying that there is competition for this spot. But I really like the Utah’s foundation, especially on offense. Quarterback Cameron Rising feels like he could blossom into a star, and running back Tavion Thomas morphed into a bruising, successful back in 2021 with 21 rushing touchdowns. They lose production on defense, which is certainly a concern. And unlike some of the teams referenced above, there is no direct talent pipeline pumping five-stars directly into the depth chart. Still, this team has a lot to like. An opening game against Florida, while many, many months away, will be a fascinating measuring stick for the Utes. 

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