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It’s not easy to go undefeated over the course of the college football regular season. Last year, we had just two teams in the entire country—Georgia and Cincinnati—finish the regular season with an unblemished record.
Going undefeated during the regular season isn’t a requirement to make it into the College Football Playoff. But it certainly helps. Both the Dawgs and Bearcats made it into the final four by selection Sunday. And of course there are also non-power conference teams that go undefeated that fail to even make it into the CFP conversation. Most notably that was UCF in 2018, but teams like Coastal Carolina and San Jose State went unbeaten in 2020 as well.
As we look ahead to the 2022 season, let’s take a look at which teams might be primed for an unbeaten regular season. Most of these teams will have real playoff chances next season, too.
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Key games: vs. Notre Dame (Sept. 3), at Michigan State (Oct. 8), at Penn State (Oct. 29), vs. Michigan (Nov. 26).
Ohio State narrowly missed the playoff last season after losing to Michigan at the end of the season. But don’t be surprised if Ohio State goes unbeaten during the regular season in 2022.
The Buckeyes opening the season with Notre Dame will be a big test Week 1, but getting the Irish at home is huge. The road games against Michigan State and Penn State look daunting, but the Buckeyes have won the last 11 games combined against both opponents.
The Bucks will host bitter rivals Michigan this year. Michigan hasn’t defeated Ohio State in Columbus since 2000, when John Cooper and Lloyd Carr were the head coaches for OSU and Michigan, respectively.
The biggest reason OSU may go unbeaten? The return of Heisman finalist quarterback C.J. Stroud. Stroud threw for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions during his first year as a starter last season. Ohio State gets back a lot of talent back from 2021, too. The Buckeyes rank 24th in returning production rankings per ESPN’s S&P+, including 70 percent on offense. OSU will get 82 percent of its defense back, as well.
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Key games: at Texas (Sept. 10), at Arkansas (Oct. 1), vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 8), at LSU (Nov. 5), at Ole Miss (Nov. 12),vs. Auburn (Nov. 26).
As long as Nick Saban is still in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide have a chance to go undefeated every year. Although the Tide ranks just 65th in S&P+’s returning production rankings, Alabama is no stranger to having to rebuild.
Losing receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie III, as well as running back Brian Robinson Jr. on offense will hurt. But the good news is that Heisman winner Bryce Young will be returning at quarterback. His comfort level after a full season of running Alabama’s offense under his belt should increase his production next season, too.
The Tide will return 70 percent of its defense from last season, including starting safeties Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams. Also returning will be linebacker Henry To’o To’o, cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry and defensive linemen DJ Dale, Byron Young and Justin Eboigbe.
Unlike years past for the Tide, Alabama won’t open with a neutral-site game in Week 1. That’s likely because in Week 2 Bama has to travel to face Texas in Austin. Alabama will likely be the road favorite, but it’ll be a big road test for the Tide so early in the season.
The lone team to upset the Tide during the regular season last year in Texas A&M will have to travel to Tuscaloosa this time around. LSU, Arkansas and Ole Miss look like tough SEC West games, but Bama should still be favored in all of them.
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Key games: At Wake Forest (Sept. 24), vs. NC State (Oct. 1), at Florida State (Oct. 15), at Notre Dame (Nov. 5), vs. Miami (Nov. 19).
Clemson had a down year last season, finishing 10-3 and missing out on both the ACC Championship in College Football Playoff. But Dabo Swinney and the Tigers look primed to make a playoff run next season.
The biggest question surrounding the Tigers entering 2022 is how much can quarterback DJ Uiagalelei improve? The signal-caller struggled significantly last season, throwing for just 2,246 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Uiagalelei is expected to be the starter next season, but Clemson also has 2022 5-star QB prospect Cade Klubnik on its roster. Klubnik was the No. 1 overall QB prospect from the class of 2022.
The Tigers get a lot of talent back next season, too. Clemson’s whole defensive line will return in 2022, including star defensive end Xavier Thomas. Clemson will get back leading rusher Will Shipley, as well as receiver Joseph Ngata, in addition to Uigalelei.
Clemson’s schedule shakes out nicely, too. The Tigers will face NC State, who upset Clemson at home last season, at home. Divisional road games against Wake Forest and Florida State look intriguing, but the Tigers should be favored in both of those.
The biggest test on Clemson’s schedule will be going on the road to face Notre Dame. Clemson lost 47-40 to the Fighting Irish the last time it traveled to South Bend in 2020. Aside from that loss, Clemson has won three out of the last four meetings between these two. The Tigers beat ND again later in the season during the 2020 ACC Championship.
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Key games: at Florida (Sept. 3), vs. USC (Oct. 15), at Washington State (Oct. 27), at Oregon (Nov. 19).
Utah won the Pac-12 last season. If the Utes hadn’t dropped three games in the regular season, they would have been in the playoff conversation. I recently wrote about Utah as a dark horse CFP team for 2022, and Utah’s schedule sets up nicely for them. Sure, opening on the road against an SEC team like Florida sounds daunting. But it’s no secret the Gators are struggling, and Utah will likely out-match Florida in Billy Napier’s opener in Gainesville.
Not on Utah’s schedule next season is BYU or San Diego State, who both handed the Utes losses last season. Utah will also face Oregon State, which beat Utah 42-34 last year, at home. Getting a Lincoln Riley-coached USC team at home is big for Utah, as well.
The biggest hurdle for Utah to go undefeated will be going on the road to face Oregon on Nov. 19. The Utes haven’t won in Eugene since 2015. But as with any team that has a first-year head coach, like Oregon does with Dan Lanning, there’s no telling how good it’ll be in Year 1.
The other good news for Utah is that it will get starting quarterback Cameron Rising back in 2022. Rising threw for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, rushing for another 499 yards and six scores. Leading rusher Tavion Thomas will be back as well.
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Key games: at UTSA (Sept. 3), at Texas Tech (Sept. 10), at Memphis (Oct. 7), at SMU (Nov. 5), at East Carolina (Nov. 19).
I wanted to include a non-power conference team in this list. Thanks to Coastal Carolina and UTSA playing some tough out-of-conference opponents (Army, Virginia and Texas), I went with the Cougars here. Houston finished 12-2 in 2021, and played Cincy for the AAC Championship. 2021 marked the third time in school history that Houston reached 12 wins.
Speaking of UTSA, that’s who Houston will face on the road to open the season. These two played each other in 2013 and 2014. Houston won in 2013, and UTSA won in 2014. Ironically, the road team won in both of those matchups.
Houston will have another road trip to Texas Tech in Week 2. Tech, who hired first-year head coach Joey McGuire in November of last year, has beaten Houston in the last three meetings between these two.
The remainder of Houston’s AAC schedule includes opponents it beat last season, including Navy, SMU, ECU and Memphis, to name a few. Starting quarterback Clayton Tune will be back in 2022, as well as leading receiver Nathaniel Dell. Cougars running back Alston McCaskill tore his ACL over spring practice, so Ta’Zhawn Henry, who had 513 yards and seven touchdowns last season, will need to step up.
If Houston can get past its first two opponents, going undefeated could potentially put the Cougars in the playoff conversation.
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Key games: vs. Oregon (Sept. 3 in Atlanta), at South Carolina (Sept. 17), vs. Auburn (Oct. 8), vs. Florida (Oct. 29 in Jacksonville), vs. Tennessee (Nov. 5).
It’s incredibly hard for teams to repeat as national champions. Alabama was the last to do so in 2011 and 2012. But thanks to how Georgia’s schedule is set up next season, don’t be surprised if the Dawgs are in the playoff hunt once again.
Georgia opens with a tough opponent in Oregon, who will have Auburn transfer Bo Nix at quarterback, assuming he wins the job. But this game being in Atlanta essentially makes this a home game for the Dawgs. Not to mention new Oregon head coach Dan Lanning opening against his former team and the defending national champs Week 1 is pretty daunting.
Elsewhere, the Dawgs’ slate looks pretty manageable. UGA will be favored in its SEC West games against Auburn and Mississippi State. In the SEC East, it gets Tennessee at home, but has to go on the road to face South Carolina, Missouri and Kentucky. That South Carolina game looks interesting, given the Gamecocks’ turnaround in 2021, but Georgia should still be a road favorite.
Schedules aside, Georgia will also be returning starting quarterback Stetson Bennett in 2022. The Dawgs also get back defensive backs Christopher Smith and William Poole and linebacker Nolan Smith on defense.