Three most overrated college football teams in 2022: Don't believe the USC hype

Oct 16, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) is tackled with the football during the first quarter against the Army Black Knights at Camp Randall Stadium.
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Sam Avellone

NCAAF · 1 week ago

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Long-time suffering Browns fan born and raised in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area who now resides in SEC country. University of South Carolina alum. Sports handicapper for close to 10 years with a primary focus on NCAAB while enjoying NFL, PGA, NCAAF, NBA, and Soccer.

It happens every year. Whether it is because of the previous season’s results, program pedigree, a new coach, or a returning quarterback, there are always a few college football teams that are overrated by oddsmakers and the national media. Last year was no different, as three of the AP Preseason Top 10 – Iowa State, North Carolina and Texas A&M – did not finish the season ranked. In fact, there were 15 teams in the 2021 AP Preseason Top 25 that ended unranked. Even with a team full of returning talent, repeating success in college football is difficult — unless your name is Nick Saban. 

While the 2022 AP Preseason Poll has not yet been released, we can utilize conference championship odds and win totals to get an idea of how each team is expected to finish this season. When comparing those odds to returning talent, schedule and coaching/scheme changes, there are a few teams that stand out as a bit overrated heading into this season.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were extremely successful last season, which is fueling expectations for 2022. Oklahoma State won 12 games behind one of the nation’s better defenses and came inches short of winning the Big 12 championship. Last season the Cowboys’ defense ranked second in first downs allowed per game, fourth in yards per game and 10th in points allowed. Looking forward to this year, the defense is going to look a lot different. The Cowboys lost more than 300 combined starts from the defensive side of the ball along with their coordinator. Jim Knowles left Stillwater to take the same position at Ohio State and was replaced by Derek Mason, who left Auburn after one season. The Cowboys are projected to return just four defensive starters and will have to replace six of the eight leading tacklers from a year ago, including the two leading tacklers in linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper. Overall as a unit, the Cowboys bring back just 40% of the production from last year’s defense.

With the defense losing so much talent, Oklahoma State will rely more on its offense and specifically its quarterback. Spencer Sanders returns for his senior season after passing for more than 2,800 yards and rushing for more than 650 yards, but the offense returns just 55% of its production as a whole from last year. Oklahoma State lost leading rusher Jaylen Warren as well as leading receiver Tay Martin, which will present big shoes to fill for running back Dominic Richardson and the young wide receivers in Stillwater.

Mike Gundy’s offense was more run-heavy than we have seen in recent years and it averaged just 5.4 yards per play — which ranked 77th out of 130 teams. Oklahoma State was also turnover prone, ranking 71st in turnover margin and 96th in turnovers lost. That should be a big focal point for Gundy this offseason, as the offense will not have an elite defense to rely on after a turnover. Oklahoma State won six of eight games last year by one score and have another eight games that are currently projected to be between a pick ’em and 8-point spread this season. Without its veteran defense to rely on, Oklahoma State could struggle in those projected one-score games — making its win total appear a bit lofty. Look to fade the Cowboys in conference play, especially if the offense does not show signs of improved efficiency.

Check out our Heisman Trophy best bets

USC Trojans

This is one prediction that could make me look very silly. Lincoln Riley will surely find success in Hollywood, but I am not so sure it will come this year. The Trojans won just four games last season and Riley will have to replace seemingly the entire roster in an attempt to get USC back to national relevance. He started well by bringing Caleb Williams and Mario Williams with him to Los Angeles from Norman, but Caleb will have to make some improvements to take the next step and compete for national championships. His production dropped off against some of the better defenses he faced in the Big 12 last season. After all, that is why Riley was brought to USC — to win championships.

Ultimately, the offense does not worry me as much as the defense. Williams will be playing behind four returning offensive linemen who helped lead last year’s unit to a top 20 ranking in opportunity rate and will be throwing to a trio of stud transfer receivers in Jordan Addison (Pitt), Mario Williams (Oklahoma) and Brenden Rice (Colorado). Riley’s air raid system needs a reliable run game to be effective, and the Trojans should get that from transfer running backs Travis Dye (Oregon) and Austin Jones (Stanford). Defense is the real question mark. Alex Grinch comes to USC to be the defensive coordinator with a history of improving poor defenses. He will have his hands full with this unit, which is made up of underperforming high-level recruits. The Trojans surrendered more than 31 points per game and over 400 yards per game last season, which were both historically bad numbers for the program. While most of the defensive production from last season will be replaced with transfers, it is still a unit that projects to be below average and thin on the depth chart. 

Per FanDuel, USC currently has the fifth-best odds to win the national championship at 20/1 and is the favorite to win the Pac-12. These seem like lofty expectations for a program going through so much change. The defense will likely take some time to build up to an elite level, leaving the offense to carry the weight with little room for error. This could be an issue against some of the better offenses the Trojans will play, and I will be looking to fade USC in games that are expected to be high scoring because of it.

Which team could be this year’s Cincinnati? Our expert names their non-Power 5 CFB dark horses

Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin won nine games last season because of its defense. The Badgers were first in opponent yards per game and yards per play and ranked third in opponent points per game. Jim Leonard is a defensive mastermind, but he loses eight starters from that rockstar defense — which will likely lead to regression.

On the other side of the ball, the Badgers averaged just 25.4 points per game (83rd) and replaced their offensive coordinator because of it. Bobby Engram takes over with no prior experience running an offense. He was most recently the tight ends coach for the Baltimore Ravens and has just one year of experience coaching in the college ranks (Pittsburgh, 2012-2013). Engram will have a returning quarterback who was underwhelming last season en route to throwing for just 1,958 yards and 10 touchdowns with 11 interceptions and a QBR of 56.1, despite playing all 13 games. To make matters worse, the Badgers — who are historically known for having an elite offensive line — return just two starters from last year’s unit. One of them is switching guard to left tackle. The pass-catching unit leaves a bit to be desired, as well. Chimere Dike is the most experienced pass-catcher on the team despite just 19 receptions, 272 yards and one touchdown last season. The bright spot of this offense will be the rushing attack with Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi. But if that is the only threatening part of the offense, defenses will stack the box and force the quarterback to beat them. Mertz has not shown the ability to do that quite yet, especially against good teams. He threw just five touchdowns to 13 interceptions last year against teams with winning records.

The Wisconsin schedule is tricky for a team with so much turnover. The Badgers will be met with some high-powered offenses and it remains to be seen if the new faces on defense will be able to live up to the expectations set by last year’s squad. As it currently stands, FanDuel lists the Badgers as the favorites to win the Big Ten West with a win total of nine. With nearly a full defense to rebuild and an offensive coordinator with no experience leading an offense, I am skeptical of the Badgers being the division favorites. This is a team I project to win fewer than nine games and will be looking to fade once the conference schedule begins.

Lock in our CFB National Championship best bets, including a +8000 longshot!

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