Each offseason, dating back to 2014, we here at CBS Sports have compiled some of the biggest names, games and stories to commemorate the 100-day countdown to college football’s kickoff. It’s a great point in the offseason calendar as we’ve just crossed the midway point and soon will begin breaking down the win totals and making official predictions for what’s about to unfold this fall.
This year, the annual 100-item guide to getting pumped for the season ahead focuses on the storylines, stars, burning questions and bold predictions, plus the annual breakdown of top nonconference games and the College Football Playoff picture.
What this doesn’t feature is too much consternation about name, image and likeness, the transfer portal, CFP expansion, NCAA governance or other big-picture, existential questions about the future of college sports. These are significant off-field issues, and I’m glad smart people are writing those stories and asking those tough questions, but they’re going to take a back seat to the players and teams competing on the field once the season starts 100 days from today.
So, it’s a sharpened focus on the season ahead that we’re proud to celebrate the beginning of the offseason’s end with 100 names, games, stories and more to get you excited for the 2022 season.
1. Lincoln Riley tries to put USC back atop the sport: We’ll get more into the full list of new coaches below, but it’s impossible to avoid the buzz around one of the biggest coaching moves in modern college football history. Riley has utilized the transfer portal to immediately make the Trojans contenders to win the Pac-12, this while carrying the charge of leading the program back to national title contention. There are former Oklahoma Sooners on the field and on the sideline to add to the drama of the exodus — a move from one blue blood to another being somewhat of a rarity for a coach, especially at this stage in his career — making how the season goes for Riley and the Trojans one of the most interesting stories in the sport.
2. Does Brian Kelly “fit” at LSU? The only “culture fit” that matters at LSU is winning. Much has been made about how the former Notre Dame coach and Massachusetts native might mesh with Bayou culture, but that’s likely heightened by him taking over in the wake of the Ed Orgeron experience. Kelly has been a winner everywhere he’s been, and now he’s got more resources and in-state talent than he’s ever had as a coach. As long as he is delivering wins, LSU will embrace Kelly. Nick Saban is from West Virginia, and both he and Les Miles rose the coaching ranks outside of SEC country, proving you don’t have to be as Cajun as Coach O to lead the Tigers to a title.
3. What’s next for Georgia? Outside of the NFL Draft weekend, when Georgia broke the modern record with 15 players selected across the seven rounds, things have been pretty quiet for the reigning champions. Replacing five first-round picks on defense would be a massive issue for most programs, but at Georgia — thanks to the way Kirby Smart and his staff have recruited — there is another wave ready to step in and play right away. But having that talent does not guarantee elite results, as evidenced by all of those frustrating years between titles for talent-rich Georgia teams that came up just short. No program in the country looks more prepared to be the “next Alabama,” but to fully take on that role, you need to be winning more often than once every 40 years.
4. No shortage of elite quarterbacks: After the NFL Draft circuit highlighted what was deemed a bad year at the quarterback position, college football is set to deliver a monster group in 2023-24 with many of those prospects leading some of the best teams in the country this fall. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young are at the front fo the line and will garner the most attention, but second-year stars like Texas’ Quinn Ewers and USC’s Caleb Williams are equally likely to have fans considering the way-way-way too early mock drafts after watching these quarterbacks flourish on Saturdays.
5. Passing of the torch at Clemson: This offseason, Dabo Swinney told his team the torch had been passed following a wild couple of months for a program that had become predictably steady. On the field, Clemson had salvaged its season with six straight wins through widespread injury issues to finish with 10 wins after starting 4-3. Then, both defensive coordinator Brent Venables (Oklahoma) and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott (Virginia) got head coaching opportunities, and their exits prompted other shake ups on the sidelines. Clemson did its usual routine of promoting from within or tapping familiar faces to fill out the staff, and the new blood has given a spark to what was already a program competing with an extra edge of looking to reclaim its position as a title contender.
6. Michigan starts its own new chapter with reset expectations: After finally beating Ohio State for the first time under Jim Harbaugh and then winning the outright Big Ten title for the first time since 2003, a cloud has been lifted over Michigan football. After the loss to Georgia in the playoff, Harbaugh discussed the season as a turning point and new beginning for his Michigan program. Then both coordinators took other jobs and Harbaugh interviewed for an opening with the Minnesota Vikings on National Signing Day, leaving the aftermath of this breakthrough season with little continuity. So, what’s ahead for this new era of Michigan in the wake of all this success and plenty of player and coach turnover? Few are calling for a repeat in the Big Ten, but the expectation is that the floor is still very high for last year’s league champs.
7. Bryan Harsin offers an on-field answer to off-field turmoil: All throughout the rumors, reporting and university investigation, Auburn coach Bryan Harsin stayed the course. His steadfast commitment to doing the job his way has both created consternation within the Auburn family and also prevented him from losing his job in the wake of that dissatisfaction. Harsin now has a chance over 12-13 games to prove that doing things his way will be in the best interest of the school, allowing for on-field results to either silence or stoke the hysteria we saw around Auburn this spring.
8. The Pac-12 makes the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2016: The big news of the week was not only the NCAA rolling back its rules about conference championship games but the Pac-12 announcing that it was moving to a new format immediately. Allowing the top two teams regardless of divisions play for the league championship is meant to improve the league’s odds for producing a playoff team, but my confidence here has more to do with the great combination of contenders across the league. There’s the high-floor proven commodity in Utah, the high-ceiling potential of USC and two programs with playoff experience starting fresh with new coaches (Oregon and Washington, more them below in “Burning Questions”). You wouldn’t pick any of those teams as surefire No. 1 or No. 2 seeds here in May, but if two of those contenders are highly ranked heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game, the “win and you’re in” scenario could make things easy on the CFP Selection Committee.
9. NC State will win 10 games: NC State has only won 10 once in program history, going 11-3 in 2002. That group, led by Philip Rivers, beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl threw a parade to celebrate the season’s success. Beating Clemson last year gave fans the kind of satisfaction you’d get from a parade-worthy season, but the last-minute cancelation of the Holiday Bowl prevented the opportunity for a 10th win. Devin Leary has a chance to be the ACC’s best quarterback and the Wolfpack defense, when fully healthy, is among the best in all of college football. The 2022 team will challenge Clemson for the ACC Atlantic (the two teams play in Death Valley on Sept. 30) and finish the season with double-digit wins.
10. Ewers will win the Heisman Trophy: I’ve reached the point of ruling out heavy preseason favorites to win the award when it comes to these bold predictions. Early season missteps loom too large given the expectations that a Heisman favorite will play like a Heisman winner every single week. Stroud was outstanding in 2021 but written off following an early-season loss to Oregon, plus he missed time because of injury. If he’s not excellent against a strong Notre Dame defense in Week 1, will Heisman voters apply the same harsh treatment? That’s why I’m bypassing him and Young (the Archie Griffin standard is too high) and looking at a quarterback that can win without having to compete for a national title. If Ewers is the face of a resurgent Texas program that’s even just competing for a conference title, he’s got the ability and the offense to be a Heisman winner at season’s end.
11. No team will finish the season undefeated: Since the split of FBS and FCS, about one out of every four seasons has finished with no undefeated teams. I think that rate will increase here in the modern playoff era, and we see it again in 2022. The top favorites to win the national championship (Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State) have notable, challenging nonconference opponents (Texas, Oregon, Notre Dame, respectively) to go with difficult conference slates, and the teams with more manageable schedules have too many questions to put faith in an undefeated season.
12. Minnesota will win the Big Ten West: The Golden Gophers nearly won the division in 2021 despite significant injury issues. It just flew below the radar because many wrote off P.J. Fleck’s team following their loss to Bowling Green. Minnesota’s ability to figure out difference ways to win suggests the program does have a strong foundation, and one of the keys to establishing that foundation is back with Kirk Ciarrocca returning as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Ciarrocca was Minnesota’s OC for three seasons, last in 2019 when the Golden Gophers went 11-2, and I think his return sparks a breakthrough Big Ten Championship Game appearance.
13. What are reasonable expectations for Mario Cristobal in Year 1? Cristobal is so passionate about his alma mater and seems to have perspective on the year-over-year work required to restore Miami’s glory, but patience doesn’t come easy to college football fans. What’s worse (or better, depending on your perspective) is that even unbiased logic suggests Miami’s expectations for 2021 should include competing for an ACC title. The Hurricanes have the reigning ACC Offensive Freshman of the Year at quarterback with Tyler Van Dyke and an impressive coaching staff assembled by Cristobal. They are also staring down a division that just saw three schools change their coach and two others lose their quarterbacks to the NFL Draft. How Miami stacks up against Texas A&M will dictate the national conversation, but closer to home, it’s fair to think that anything short of playing in the ACC Championship Game is a disappointing season.
14. Who gets the early edge as the Pac-12 North hits the reset button? Oregon, Washington and Washington State all have new head coaches heading into 2023, and those changes aren’t coming because the division is being dominated by Stanford, Cal and Oregon State. The Oregon-Washington dynamic has often determined who has the leverage up north, and now, Dan Lanning and Kalen DeBoer are both starting fresh at the same time. They’ll be compared to each other often, starting with which coach can get the closest to leading their program back to the playoff the fastest.
15. What’s ahead for the best 3-9 team in America? Nebraska had the honor of being the only team in all of FBS with a 3-9 record and a positive point differential in 2021. The Cornhuskers lost eight games by one score and all nine defeats were by less than 10 points, the largest margin being a nine-point loss to Ohio State. The improved level of play has brought another round of confidence in a breakthrough season for Scott Frost, who has yet to make a bowl game as head coach of his alma mater.
16. How will Brent Venables and Steve Sarkisian add to the Red River Showdown? Much like the Oregon-Washington dynamic mentioned above, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the recent coaching changes impact the rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma. Blowing a lead against the Sooners in a 55-28 loss starting a tailspin for the Longhorns last year, but there’s a new set of circumstances with both Riley and Wililams off to USC. Sarkisian needs a bounce back after going 5-7 in 2021, and Venables wants to prove early that there won’t be a drop off from Oklahoma usual positioning against its conference and biggest rivals. All these layers make the always-entertaining showdown at the Cotton Bowl all the more intriguing as we look to the season ahead.
17. Will Jim Knowles be the missing piece at Ohio State? Ryan Day been coach of the Buckeyes for 38 games and has no bad losses. Yet the narrative heading into 2022 is OSU looking for a bounce back. Any season without a Big Ten title is somewhat of a disappointment for this program, and missing the playoff because of a loss to the Buckeyes’ biggest rival left no room to be satisfied heading into the offseason. Day went and hired one fo the hottest defensive coordinators around to address the team’s biggest deficiency, and Ohio State fans are hoping those changes make the one or two-game difference that keeps the Buckeyes in the national championship race throughout the entire season.
18. What team(s) will benefit from Cincinnati crashing the playoff? Cincinnati got more favorable treatment in the rankings last season thanks to the success it had in 2020, and the Bearcats success in making the playoff will help it again if Luke Fickell can run off another long string of wins in 2022. But that rankings equity might be transferrable to other teams from the American (Houston) or other strong Group of Five teams contending for top spots (Coastal Carolina). This is not a bold statement suggesting a Group of Five team will make the playoff, but I think both the poll voters and the selection committee will give a boost to the best of that bunch in the wake of Cincinnati’s 2021 campaign.
19. Will Penn State get strong quarterback play? Sean Clifford has had a ton of offensive coordinator turnover and some nagging injury issues throughout his career. The best of his performances suggest he’s capable of leading Penn State to a Big Ten title, but the entire body of work has a couple clunkers. Still, he’s pacing to break the program’s career passing yards mark this season and has three seasons of starting experience under his belt. He’s the starter in Happy Valley until injury or performance dictates otherwise, which is what makes 2022 so interesting. Five-star freshman Drew Allar was the No. 3 overall prospect in his class, according to 247Sports, the player of the year in the state of the Ohio, and he picked Penn State over Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State. At 6-foot-5, 229 pounds he’s got the tools to be a program-changing quarterback, but when will he be called into action to lead the Nittany Lions offense? Both Young and Stroud spent their first seasons as backups, and I’m sure the hope is that Clifford is playing well enough that Allar can take a season to develop and get settled in the program. But if performance or injury provide the circumstance we could see Allar before 2023, maybe even in that showdown with the Buckeyes on Oct. 29.
New faces, new places
After seeing just 17 jobs change hands in the last offseason, odds favored a year with a lot of movement. But that movement — 22.3% of FBS programs will have a new head coach for 2022 — was heightened by the caliber of teams and coaches involved in the carousel. The massive moves by Riley to USC and Kelly to LSU take the headlines, but we’ve also got Florida and Miami making new investments in their future and pivotal hires by Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Oregon to try and sustain success that helped their previous coaches get other jobs.
20. Akron: Joe Moorhead
21. Colorado State: Jay Norvell
22. Duke: Mike Elko
23. Florida: Billy Napier
24. FIU: Mike MacIntyre
25. Fresno State: Jeff Tedford
26. Georgia Southern: Clay Helton
27. Hawaii: Timmy Chang
28. Louisiana: Michael Desormeaux
29. LSU: Brian Kelly
30. Louisiana Tech: Sonny Cumbie
31. Miami: Mario Cristobal
32. Nevada: Ken Wilson
33. New Mexico State: Jerry Kill
34. Notre Dame: Marcus Freeman
35. Oklahoma: Brent Venables
36. Oregon: Dan Lanning
37. Temple: Stan Drayton
38. SMU: Rhett Lashlee
39. TCU: Sonny Dykes
40. Texas Tech: Joey McGuire
41. Troy: John Sumrall
42. UConn: Jim Mora
43. UMass: Don Brown
44. USC: Lincoln Riley
45. Virginia: Tony Elliott
46. Virginia Tech: Brent Pry
47. Washington: Kalen DeBoer
48. Washington State: Jake Dickert
We’re going to lean on the national title odds at Caesars Sportsbook to set some tiers to the national title race, starting with the teams at the very top. This first group is smaller, only including teams with odds of 30-1 or better. We’ve listed those teams below with a note on their chances to cash in as national champs at the end of the season.
49. Alabama (2-1): These odds assume there’s a 33.3% chance that Alabama not only makes the College Football Playoff but wins the national championship. That still might be too low, and there might actually be some value (though I’d never recommend betting the odds on favorite in May).
50. Georgia (13/4): It would be hilarious if the Bulldogs ran it back after waiting four decades to win the program’s second national championship, and I believe there could be an intangible benefit from finally meeting those championship expectations. But there are four or five opponents on the schedule that could be problematic if Georgia lets any complacency bleed over into the upcoming season.
51. Ohio State (9/2): Here’s where you get the best combination of likelihood and payoff because the Buckeyes really should — and I know I’ve said this before on the Cover 3 Podcast and had thrown back in my face — score 40 points every time they get off the bus.
52. Clemson (14-1): The Tigers will have one of the best defenses in the country and either a bounce back year for D.J. Uiagalelei or the emergence of Cade Klubnik should bring a return to the playoff for Clemson. Winning the next two games is a trickier proposition unless the quarterback play is elite, like it was for the Tigers titles in 2016 and 2018.
53. Texas A&M (22-1): Stockpiling talent has given Texas A&M a nine-win or 10-win floor for the next couple of seasons, but it’s going to take a big leap offensively before I’m willing to settle into a position of picking the Aggies to win it all.
54. USC (28-1): Favorite value play on the board. Your betting on the big experiment and well positioned if Riley’s Transfer Portal All-Stars can even make it to the playoff.
While there’s only six teams between 2-1 and 30-1, things get a little more crowded and harder to separate in the next tier. Our second tier includes those teams listed between 30-1 and 50-1, again with thoughts on the path or likelihood of one of these dark horses breaking through.
55. Oklahoma (35-1): The Sooners already underwent one coaching change and still maintained their grip on the Big 12, so I get why the oddsmakers think they’re the top pick from that conference. Venables leading Oklahoma to a national title in Year 1 would be an incredible story, but it’s not a bet I’d recommend.
56. Notre Dame (40-1): The Fighting Irish could be an excellent football team in 2022 and still lose two or three games, staring down a schedule that includes road games at Ohio State and USC plus a home date against Clemson.
57. Oregon (40-1): Everything hinges on the season opener against Georgia. If you think the Ducks can pull off an upset against the reigning champs then buy now at this price. If Oregon beats Georgia it can afford one loss, but not two, in conference play and maintain its playoff positioning. Otherwise steer clear because it’s a razor thin margin for error to even make the playoff after starting 0-1.
58. Utah (40-1): Utah is the most important piece of the USC narrative and it’s usually well below the fold of the Trojans Hype newsletter. The reigning Pac-12 champions have a stud quarterback in Cam Rising and a roster that’s absolutely capable of running it back in 2022. The Rose Bowl thriller against Ohio State only further affirms the notion Utah is a national dark horse, and it’s part of why I like the Utes among the teams in this tier.
59. Michigan (40-1): There’s far too much turnover on defense to be prepared to trust Michigan to repeat its 2021 success and return to the playoff.
60. Wisconsin (40-1): Paul Chryst has finished lower than second in the Big Ten West just once and won the division three times in his seven year tenure, but the Badgers are yet to win the conference since Bret Bielema led the team to three league crowns between 2010 and 2012. Before we talk national championship, let’s win that 13th game in Indianapolis to open the door to national title contention.
61. Florida (40-1): There’s a groundswell of optimism behind Napier and his efforts to solidify the program’s foundation and operations, but I’m hesitant to jump on board with the notion that translates to an immediate leap to the top of the sport.
62. Texas (50-1): One side of the argument is that Texas, with a schedule that includes a visit from Alabama in Week 2, deserves none of your attention for national title futures. The other side is “yeah but what if Texas beats Alabama?” Like USC, there’s a potential that Texas is more entertaining than successful in its pursuit of championship contention but I don’t hate a flyer given the quarterback talent and offensive expectations.
Best nonconference games
Starting with the renewal of the Backyard Brawl in Sept. 1, these top-tier nonconference games will set the conversation in motion for how we judge the difference teams and leagues before conference play takes over in October. We haven’t limited this list to the first month of the season, picking at least one game to spotlight for October, November and December, but in our countdown to the season’s kick off these cross-conference showdowns have us fired up for the season ahead.
63. Sept. 1: West Virginia at Pitt
64. Sept. 3: Georgia vs. Oregon (Atlanta)
65. Sept. 3: Notre Dame at Ohio State
66. Sept. 3: Cincinnati at Arkansas
67. Sept. 3: Utah at Florida
68. Sept. 4: Florida State vs. LSU (New Orleans)
69. Sept. 10: Alabama at Texas
70. Sept. 10: Tennessee at Pitt
71. Sept. 10: Baylor at BYU
72. Sept. 10: Arizona State at Oklahoma State
73. Sept. 17: Miami at Texas A&M
74. Sept. 17: Penn State at Auburn
75. Sept. 17: Michigan State at Washington
76. Sept. 17: Oklahoma at Nebraska
77. Sept. 24: TCU at SMU
78. Sept. 24: Notre Dame at North Carolina
79. Oct. 15: Arkansas at BYU
80. Nov. 5: Clemson at Notre Dame
81. Nov. 26: Notre Dame at USC
82. Dec. 10: Army vs. Navy (Philadelphia)
Heisman Trophy contenders
The Heisman picture doesn’t really become a “race” until we get at least midway through the season and the consensus list of players eligible to be named the most outstanding player in college football has been narrowed by the action on the field. But what the preseason Heisman discussion does successfully is set some expectations for the biggest stars in the sport. Below we’ve included everyone listed with Heisman odds of 50-1 or better at Caesars Sportsbook, giving us a healthy group of preseason A-listers for fans to keep tabs on in the early weeks of the season.
83. CJ Stroud, Ohio State QB (3-1)
84. Bryce Young, Alabama QB (7/2)
85. Caleb Williams, Oklahoma (10-1)
86. Tyler Van Dyke (25-1)
87. Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss QB (25-1)
88. TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State RB (30-1)
89. Quinn Ewers, Texas QB (30-1)
90. JT Daniels, West Virginia QB (30-1)
91. Bijan Robinson, Texas RB (30-1)
92. DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson QB (35-1)
93. Will Anderson, Alabama LB (40-1)
94. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State WR (40-1)
95. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina QB (40-1)
96. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest QB (40-1)
97. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin RB (40-1)
98. Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma QB (40-1)
99. Kedon Slovis, Pitt QB (45-1)
100. Anthony Richardson, Florida QB (50-1)